Books by Rawles, James Wesley

Rawles, James Wesley. Expatriates. New York: Dutton, 2013. ISBN 978-0-525-95390-6.
This novel is the fourth in the series which began with Patriots (December 2008), then continued with Survivors (January 2012) and Founders (October 2012). These books are not a conventional multi-volume narrative, in that all describe events in the lives of their characters in roughly the same time period surrounding “the Crunch”—a grid down societal collapse due to a debt crisis and hyperinflation. While the first three books in the series are best read in order, as there is substantial overlap in characters and events, this book, while describing contemporary events, works perfectly well as a stand-alone thriller and does not contain substantial spoilers for the first three novels.

The earlier books in the series were thrillers with a heavy dose of survival tutorial, including extended litanies of gear. The present volume leans more toward the thriller genre and is, consequently, more of a page-turner.

Peter and Rihannon Jeffords are Christian missionaries helping to run an orphanage in the Philippine Islands wishing nothing more than to get on with their lives and work when the withdrawal of U.S. forces in the Pacific due the economic collapse of the U.S. opens the way for a newly-installed jihadi government in Indonesia to start flexing its imperialist ambitions, looking enviously at Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and ultimately the resource-rich and lightly populated “Top End” of Australia as their manifest destiny.

Meanwhile, Chuck Nolan, a Texan petroleum geologist specialising in explosive seismic exploration, working in the Northern Territory of Australia, is adjusting, along with native Australians, to the consequences of the Crunch. While not directly affected by the U.S. economic collapse, Australia's highly export-driven economy has been severely damaged by the contraction in world trade, and being dependent upon imported food and pharmaceuticals, hardships are everywhere and tragedies commonplace.

Back in the United States, Rihannon Jeffords' family, the Altmillers, are trying to carry on their independent hardware store business in Florida, coping with the collapse of the currency; the emergence of a barter economy and use of pre-1965 silver coins as a medium of exchange; the need for extraordinary security precautions at work and at home as the rule of law and civil society erode; and escalating worries about feral mobs of looters raiding ever wider from the chaos which was Orlando.

As the story develops, we exerience a harrowing sea voyage through hostile waters, asymmetrical warfare against a first world regional power, irregular resistance against an invader, and local communities self-organising defence against an urban “golden horde” ravaging the countryside. You will learn a great deal about partisan resistance strategies, decapitation of opposition forces, and why it is most unwise for effete urban populations to disarm those uncouth and disdained denizens of the boonies who, when an invader threatens, are both the first and ultimate lines of defence.

This book is meticulously researched with a wealth of local and technical details and only a few goofs and copy-editing errors. Like the earlier novels, the author dispels, often with spare prose or oblique references, the romantic notion that some “preppers” seem to have that the collapse of civilisation will be something like a camping trip they'll enjoy because they're “ready”. These happy would-be campers overlook the great die-off, the consequences of masses of people suddenly withdrawing from mood-altering drugs, roving bands of looters, the emergence of war-lords, and all of the other manifestations of the normal state of humanity over millennia which are suppressed only by our ever-so-fragile just in time technological society.

October 2013 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Founders. New York: Atria Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4391-7282-7.
This novel is the third in the series which began with Patriots (December 2008) and continued with Survivors (January 2012). These books are not a conventional trilogy, in that all describe events in the lives of their characters in roughly the same time period surrounding “the Crunch”—a grid down societal collapse due to a debt crisis and hyperinflation. Many of the same characters appear in the volumes, but different episodes in their lives are described. This installment extends the story beyond the end of the previous books (taking into account the last chapter, well beyond), but most of the story occurs in the years surrounding the Crunch. In an introductory note, the author says the books can be read in any order, but I think the reader will miss a great deal if this is the first one read—most of the characters who appear here have an extensive back-story in the previous books, and you'll miss much of what motivates them and how they found themselves in their present circumstances if you start here.

Like the earlier novels, this is part thriller and part survival tutorial. I found the two components less well integrated here than before. The author seems prone to launching into a litany of survival gear and tactics, not to mention veering off into minutiæ of Christian doctrine, leaving the story and characters on hold. For example, in chapter 20:

The gear inside the field station CONEX included a pair of R-390A HF receivers, two Sherwood SE-3 synchronous detectors, four hardwired demodulators, a half dozen multiband scanners, several digital audio recorders, two spectrum analyzers, and seven laptop computers that were loaded with demodulators, digital recorders, and decryption/encryption software.

Does this really move the plot along? Is anybody other than a wealthy oilman likely to be able to put together such a rig for signal intelligence and traffic analysis? And if not, why do we need to know all of this, as opposed to simply describing it as a “radio monitoring post”? This is not a cherry-picked example; there are numerous other indulgences in gear geekdom.

The novel covers the epic journey, largely on foot, of Ken and Terry Layton from apocalyptic Crunch Chicago, where they waited too late to get out of Dodge toward the retreat their group had prepared in the American redoubt, and the development and exploits of an insurgency against the so-called “Provisional Government” headquartered in Fort Knox, Kentucky, which is a thinly-disguised front for subjugation of the U.S. to the United Nations and looting the population. (“Meet the new boss—same as the old boss!”) Other subplots update us on the lives of characters we've met before, and provide a view of how individuals and groups try to self-organise back into a lawful and moral civil society while crawling from the wreckage of corruption and afflicted by locusts with weapons.

We don't do stars on reviews here at Fourmilab—I'm a word guy—but I do occasionally indulge in sports metaphors. I consider the first two novels home runs: if you're remotely interested in the potential of societal collapse and the steps prudent people can take to protect themselves and those close to them from its sequelæ, they are must-reads. Let's call this novel a solid double bouncing between the left and centre fielders. If you've read the first two books, you'll certainly want to read this one. If you haven't, don't start here, but begin at the beginning. This novel winds up the story, but it does so in an abrupt way which I found somewhat unconvincing—it seemed like the author was approaching a word limit and had to close it out in however sketchy a manner.

There are a few quibbles, but aren't there always?

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.  

  • In chapter 8 we're told that Malmstrom Air Force Base had a large inventory of JP-4 fuel. But this fuel, a 50–50 blend of kerosene and gasoline, was phased out by the U.S. Air Force in 1996 in favour of the less hazardous JP-8. It is unlikely that at least 16 years later an Air Force base would still have JP-4 in storage.
  • In chapter 11 we hear of the “UN's new headquarters in Brussels”. But, if the UN headquarters in New York had been destroyed, isn't is much more likely that the UN would fall back on the existing European headquarters in Geneva?
  • In chapter 17, Ken is “given a small bottle of flat black lacquer and a tiny brush from Durward's collection…”. But Durward was the farmer with whose family they passed the previous winter. I think either Carl or Graham was intended here.
  • In “President” Hutchings's speech in chapter 19, he states that more than 65 million people were killed by an influenza pandemic that swept the East and continues, “Without antibiotics available, the disease ran rampant until there were no more hosts to attack in the heavily populated regions.” Influenza is a viral disease, against which antibiotics are completely ineffectual. Of course, this may have been intended to highlight the cluelessness of Hutchings and how glibly the Provisional Government lied to its subjects.
  • In the glossary, CB radio is defined as a “VHF broadcasting band”. The citizens' band in the U.S. is in the 27 MHz range, which is considered in the HF band, and is not a broadcast service.
Spoilers end here.  

So, read the first two, and if you like them, by all means get this one. But don't start here.

October 2012 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It. New York: Plume, 2009. ISBN 978-0-452-29583-4.
As I write these comments in July of 2011, the legacy media and much of the “new” media are focussed on the sovereign debt crises in Europe and the United States, with partisans on every side of the issue and both sides of the Atlantic predicting apocalyptic consequences if their policy prescriptions are not promptly enacted. While much of the rhetoric is overblown and many of the “deadlines” artificial constructs created for political purposes, the situation cannot help but remind one of just how vulnerable the infrastructure of civilisation in developed nations has become to disruptions which, even a few decades ago, would have been something a resilient populace could ride out (consider civilian populations during World War II as an example).

Today, however, delivery of food, clean water, energy, life-sustaining pharmaceuticals, and a multitude of other necessities of life to populations increasingly concentrated in cities and suburbs is a “just in time” process, optimised to reduce inventory all along the chain from primary producer to consumer and itself dependent upon the infrastructure for its own operation. For example, a failure of the electrical power grid in a region not only affects home and business use of electricity, but will quickly take down delivery of fresh water; removal and processing of sewage; heating for buildings which rely on electrically powered air or water circulation systems and furnace burners; and telephone, Internet, radio, and television communication once the emergency generators which back up these facilities exhaust their fuel supplies (usually in a matter of days). Further, with communications down, inventory control systems all along the food supply chain will be inoperable, and individuals in the region will be unable to either pay with credit or debit cards or obtain cash from automatic teller machines. This only scratches the surface of the consequences of a “grid down” scenario, and it takes but a little reflection to imagine how a failure in any one part of the infrastructure can bring the rest down.

One needn't envision a continental- or global-scale financial collapse to imagine how you might find yourself on your own for a period of days to weeks: simply review the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornado swarms, and large-scale flooding in recent years to appreciate how events which, while inevitable in the long term but unanticipated until too short a time before they happened to effectively prepare for, can strike. The great advantage of preparing for the apocalypse is that when something on a smaller scale happens, you can ride it out and help your neighbours get through the difficult times without being a burden on stretched-thin emergency services trying to cope with the needs of those with less foresight.

This book, whose author is the founder of the essential SurvivalBlog site, is a gentle introduction to (quoting the subtitle) “tactics, techniques, and technologies for uncertain times”. By “gentle”, I mean that there is little or no strident doom-saying here; instead, the reader is encouraged to ask, “What if?”, then “What then?”, and so on until an appreciation of what it really means when the power is off, the furnace is dead, the tap is dry, the toilet doesn't flush, the refrigerator and freezer are coming to room temperature, and you don't have any food in the pantry.

The bulk of the book describes steps you can take, regardless of how modest your financial means, free time, and physical capacity, to prepare for such exigencies. In many cases, the cost of such common-sense preparations is negative: if you buy storable food in bulk and rotate your storage by regularly eating what you've stored, you'll save money when buying through quantity discounts (and/or buying when prices are low or there's a special deal at the store), and in an inflationary era, by buying before prices rise. The same applies to fuel, ammunition, low-tech workshop and gardening tools, and many other necessities when civilisation goes south for a while. Those seeking to expand their preparations beyond the basics will find a wealth of references here, and will find a vast trove of information on the author's SurvivalBlog.

The author repeatedly emphasises that the most important survival equipment is stored between your ears, and readers are directed to sources of information and training in a variety of fields. The long chapter on medical and dental care in exigent circumstances is alone almost worth the price of the book. For a fictional treatment of survival in an extreme grid-down societal collapse, see the author's novel Patriots (December 2008).

July 2011 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Land Of Promise. Moyie Springs, ID: Liberty Paradigm Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-475605-60-0.
The author is the founder of the survivalblog.com Web site, a massive and essential resource for those interested in preparing for uncertain times. His nonfiction works, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (July 2011) and Tools for Survival (February 2015) are packed with practical information for people who wish to ride out natural disasters all the way to serious off-grid self-sufficiency. His series of five novels which began with Patriots (December 2008) illustrates the skills needed to survive by people in a variety of circumstances after an economic and societal collapse. The present book is the first of a new series of novels, unrelated to the first, providing a hopeful view of how free people might opt out of a world where totalitarianism and religious persecution is on the march.

By the mid 21st century trends already evident today have continued along their disheartening trajectories. The world's major trading currencies have collapsed in the aftermath of runaway money creation, and the world now uses the NEuro, a replacement for the Euro which is issued only in electronic form, making tax avoidance extremely difficult. As for the United States, “The nation was saddled by trillions of NEuros in debt that would take several generations to repay, it was mired in bureaucracy and over-regulation, the nation had become a moral cesspool, and civil liberties were just a memory.”

A catastrophically infectious and lethal variant of Ebola has emerged in the Congo, killing 60% of the population of Africa (mostly in the sub-Saharan region) and reducing world population by 15%.

A “Thirdist” movement has swept the Islamic world, bringing Sunni and Shia into an uneasy alliance behind the recently-proclaimed Caliphate now calling itself the World Islamic State (WIS). In Western Europe, low fertility among the original population and large-scale immigration of more fecund Muslims is contributing to a demographic transition bringing some countries close to the tipping point of Islamic domination. The Roman Catholic church has signed the so-called “Quiet Minarets Agreement” with the WIS, which promised to refrain from advocating sharia law or political subjugation in Europe for 99 years. After that (or before, given the doctrine of taqiya in Islam), nobody knows what will happen.

In many countries around the world, Christians are beginning to feel themselves caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam on the one side and radical secularism/atheism on the other, with the more perspicacious among them beginning to think of getting out of societies becoming ever more actively hostile. Some majority Catholic countries have already declared themselves sanctuaries for their co-religionists, and other nations have done the same for Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christians. Protestant Christians and Messianic Jews have no sanctuary, and are increasingly persecuted.

A small group of people working at a high-powered mergers and acquisitions firm in newly-independent Scotland begin to explore doing something about this. They sketch out a plan to approach the governments of South Sudan and Kenya, both of which have long-standing claims to the Ilemi Triangle, a barren territory of around 14,000 square kilometres (about ⅔ the size of Israel) with almost no indigenous population. With both claimants to the territory majority Christian countries, the planners hope to persuade them that jointly ceding the land for a new Christian nation will enable them to settle this troublesome dispute in a way which will increase the prestige of both. Further, developing the region into a prosperous land that can defend itself will shore up both countries against the advances of WIS and its allies.

With some trepidation, they approach Harry Heston, founder and boss of their firm, a self-made billionaire known for his Christian belief and libertarian views (he and his company got out of the United States to free Scotland while it was still possible). Heston, whose fortune was built on his instinctive ability to evaluate business plans, hears the pitch and decides to commit one billion NEuros from his own funds to the project, contingent on milestones being met, and to invite other wealthy business associates to participate.

So begins the story of founding the Ilemi Republic, not just a sanctuary for Christians and Messianic Jews, but a prototype 21st century libertarian society with “zero taxes, zero import duties, and zero license fees.” Defence will be by a citizen militia with a tiny professional cadre. The founders believe such a society will be a magnet to highly-productive and hard-working people from around the world weary of slaving more than half their lives to support the tyrants and bureaucrats which afflict them.

As the story unfolds, the reader is treated to what amounts to a worked example of setting up a new nation, encompassing diplomacy, economics, infrastructure, recruiting settlers, dealing equitably with the (very small) indigenous and nomadic population, money and banking, energy and transportation resources, keeping the domestic peace and defending the nation, and the minimalist government and the constitutional structure designed to keep it that way. The founders anticipate that their sanctuary nation will be subjected to the same international opprobrium and obstruction which Israel suffers (although the Ilemi Republic will not be surrounded by potential enemies), and plans must anticipate this.

You'll sometimes hear claims that Christian social conservatism and libertarianism are incompatible beliefs which will inevitably come into conflict with one another. In this novel the author argues that the kind of moral code by which devout Christians live is a prerequisite for the individual liberty and lack of state meddling so cherished by libertarians. The Ilemi Republic also finds itself the home of hard-edged, more secular libertarians, who get along with everybody else because they all agree on preserving their liberty and independence.

This is the first in a series of novels planned by the author which he calls the “Counter-Caliphate Chronicles”. I have long dreamed of a realistic story of establishing a libertarian refuge from encroaching tyranny, and even envisioned it as being situated in a lightly-populated region of Africa. The author has delivered that story, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing it develop in future novels.

December 2015 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Liberators. New York: Dutton, 2014. ISBN 978-0-525-95391-3.
This novel is the fifth in the series which began with Patriots (December 2008), then continued with Survivors (January 2012), Founders (October 2012), and Expatriates (October 2013), These books are not a conventional multi-volume narrative, in that all describe events in the lives of their characters in roughly the same time period surrounding “the Crunch”—a grid down societal collapse due to a debt crisis and hyperinflation. Taking place at the same time, you can read these books in any order, but if you haven't read the earlier novels you'll miss much of the back-story of the characters who appear here, which informs the parts they play in this episode.

Here the story cuts back and forth between the United States, where Megan LaCroix and her sister Malorie live on a farm in West Virginia with Megan's two boys, and Joshua Kim works in security at the National Security Agency where Megan is an analyst. When the Crunch hits, Joshua and the LaCroix sisters decide to team up to bug out to Joshua's childhood friend's place in Kentucky, where survival from the urban Golden Horde may be better assured. They confront the realities of a collapsing society, where the rule of law is supplanted by extractive tyrannies, and are forced to over-winter in a wilderness, living by their wits and modest preparations.

In Western Canada, the immediate impact of the Crunch was less severe because electrical power, largely hydroelectric, remained on. At the McGregor Ranch, in inland British Columbia (a harsh, northern continental climate nothing like that of Vancouver), the family and those who have taken refuge with them ride out the initial crisis only to be confronted with an occupation of Canada by a nominally United Nations force called UNPROFOR, which is effectively a French colonial force which, in alliance with effete urban eastern and francophone Canada, seeks to put down the fractious westerners and control the resource-rich land they inhabit.

This leads to an asymmetrical war of resistance, aided by the fact that when earlier faced with draconian gun registration and prohibition laws imposed by easterners, a large number of weapons in the west simply vanished, only to reappear when they were needed most. As was demonstrated in Vietnam and Algeria, French occupation forces can be tenacious and brutal, but are ultimately no match for an indigenous insurgency with the support of the local populace. A series of bold strikes against UNPROFOR assets eventually turns the tide.

But just when Canada seems ready to follow the U.S. out of the grip of tyranny, an emboldened China, already on the march in Africa, makes a move to seize western Canada's abundant natural resources. Under the cover of a UN resolution, a massive Chinese force, with armour and air support, occupies the western provinces. This is an adversary of an entirely different order than the French, and will require the resistance, supported by allies from the liberation struggle in the U.S., to audacious and heroic exploits, including one of the greatest acts of monkey-wrenching ever described in a thriller.

As this story has developed over the five novels, the author has matured into a first-rate thriller novelist. There is still plenty of information on gear, tactics, intelligence operations, and security, but the characters are interesting, well-developed, and the action scenes both plausible and exciting. In the present book, we encounter many characters we've met in previous volumes, with their paths crossing as events unfold. There is no triumphalism or glossing over the realities of insurgent warfare against a tyrannical occupying force. There is a great deal of misery and hardship, and sometimes tragedy can result when you've taken every precaution, made no mistake, but simply run out of luck.

Taken together, these five novels are an epic saga of survival in hard and brutal times, painted on a global canvas. Reading them, you will not only be inspired that you and your loved ones can survive such a breakdown in the current economic and social order, but you will also learn a great deal of the details of how to do so. This is not a survival manual, but attentive readers will find many things to research further for their own preparations for an uncertain future. An excellent place to begin that research is the author's own survivalblog.com Web site, whose massive archives you can spend months exploring.

November 2014 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Patriots. Philadelphia: Clearwater Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4257-3407-7.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Robert A. Heinlein

In this compelling novel, which is essentially a fictionalised survival manual, the author tracks a small group of people who have banded together to ride out total societal collapse in the United States, prepared themselves, and are eventually forced by circumstances to do all of these things and more. I do not have high expectations for self-published works by first-time authors, but I started to read this book whilst scanning documents for one of my other projects and found it so compelling that the excellent book I was currently reading (a review of which will appear here shortly) was set aside as I scarfed up this book in a few days.

Our modern, technological civilisation has very much a “just in time” structure: interrupt electrical power and water supplies and sewage treatment fail in short order. Disrupt the fuel supply (in any number of ways), and provision of food to urban centres fails in less than a week, with food riots and looting the most likely outcome. As we head into what appears to be an economic spot of bother, it's worth considering just how bad it may get, and how well you and yours are prepared to ride out the turbulence. This book, which one hopes profoundly exaggerates the severity of what is to come, is an excellent way to inventory your own preparations and skills for a possible worst case scenario. For a sense of the author's perspective, and for a wealth of background information only alluded to in passing in the book, visit the author's SurvivalBlog.com site.

Sploosh, splash, inky squirt! Ahhhh…, it's Apostrophe Squid trying to get my attention. What is it about self-published authors who manifest encyclopedic knowledge across domains as diverse as nutrition, military tactics, medicine, economics, agriculture, weapons and ballistics, communications security, automobile and aviation mechanics, and many more difficult to master fields, yet who stumble over the humble apostrophe like their combat bootlaces were tied together? Our present author can tell you how to modify a common amateur radio transceiver to communicate on the unmonitored fringes of the Citizens' Band and how to make your own improvised Claymore mines, but can't seem to form the possessive of a standard plural English noun, and hence writes “Citizen's Band” and the equivalent in all instances. (Just how useful would a “Citizen's Band” radio be, with only one citizen transmitting and receiving on it?)

Despite the punctuational abuse and the rather awkward commingling of a fictional survival scenario with a catalogue of preparedness advice and sources of things you'll need when the supply chain breaks, I found this a compulsive page-turner. It will certainly make you recalibrate your ability to ride out that bad day when you go to check the news and find there's no Internet, and think again about just how much food you should store in the basement and (more importantly), how skilled you are in preparing what you cached many years ago, not to mention what you'll do when that supply is exhausted.

December 2008 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Survivors. New York: Atria Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4391-7280-3.
This novel is frequently described as a sequel to the author's Patriots (December 2008), but in fact is set in the same time period and broadens the scope from a small group of scrupulously prepared families coping with a “grid down” societal collapse in an isolated and defensible retreat to people all around the U.S. and the globe in a wide variety of states of readiness dealing with the day to day exigencies after a hyperinflationary blow-off destroys paper money worldwide and leads to a breakdown in the just-in-time economy upon which life in the developed world has become dependent.

The novel tracks a variety of people in different circumstances: an Army captain mustered out of active duty in Afghanistan, an oil man seeking to ride out the calamity doing what he knows best, a gang leader seeing the collapse of the old order as the opportunity of a lifetime, and ordinary people forced to summon extraordinary resources from within themselves when confronted with circumstances nobody imagined plausible. Their stories illustrate how even a small degree of preparation (most importantly, the knowledge and skills you possess, not the goods and gear you own [although the latter should not be neglected—without a source of clean water, in 72 hours you're a refugee, and as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote in Lucifer's Hammer, “No place is more than two meals from a revolution”]) can make all the difference when all the rules change overnight.

Rawles is that rarest of authors: a know-it-all who actually knows it all—embedded in this story, which can be read simply as a periapocalyptic thriller, is a wealth of information for those who wish to make their own preparations for such discontinuities in their own future light cones. You'll want to read this book with a browser window open to look up terms and references to gear dropped in the text (acronyms are defined in the glossary at the end, but you're on your own in researching products).

Some mylar-thin thinkers welcome societal collapse; they imagine it will sweep away the dysfunction and corruption that surrounds us today and usher in a more honourable and moral order. Well, that may be the ultimate result (or maybe it won't: a dark age has its own momentum, and once a culture has not only forgotten what it knew, but forgotten what it has forgotten, recovery can take as long or longer than it took to initially discover what has been lost). Societal collapse, whatever the cause, will be horrific for those who endure it, many of whom will not survive and end their days in misery and terror. Civilisation is a thin veneer on the red in tooth and claw heritage of our species, and the predators among us will be the first to exploit the opportunity that a breakdown in order presents.

This novel presents a ruthlessly realistic picture of what societal collapse looks like to those living it. In a way, it is airbrushed—we see the carnage in the major metropolitan areas only from a distance. But for those looking at the seemingly endless list of “unsustainable” trends underway at present and wise enough to note that something which is unsustainable will, perforce, end, this book will help them think about the aftermath of that end and suggest preparations which may help riding it out and positioning themselves to prosper in the inevitable recovery.

January 2012 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Tools for Survival. New York: Plume, 2014. ISBN 978-0-452-29812-5.
Suppose one day the music stops. We all live, more or less, as part of an intricately-connected web of human society. The water that comes out of the faucet when we open the tap depends (for the vast majority of people) on pumps powered by an electrical grid that spans a continent. So does the removal of sewage when you flush the toilet. The typical city in developed nations has only about three days' supply of food on hand in stores and local warehouses and depends upon a transportation infrastructure as well as computerised inventory and payment systems to function. This system has been optimised over decades to be extremely efficient, but at the same time it has become dangerously fragile against any perturbation. A financial crisis which disrupts just-in-time payments, a large-scale and protracted power outage due to a solar flare or EMP attack, disruption of data networks by malicious attacks, or social unrest can rapidly halt the flow of goods and services upon which hundreds of millions of people depend and rely upon without rarely giving a thought to what life might be like if one day they weren't there.

The author, founder of the essential SurvivalBlog site, has addressed such scenarios in his fiction, which is highly recommended. Here the focus is less speculative, and entirely factual and practical. What are the essential skills and tools one needs to survive in what amounts to a 19th century homestead? If the grid (in all senses) goes down, those who wish to survive the massive disruptions and chaos which will result may find themselves in the position of those on the American frontier in the 1870s: forced into self-reliance for all of the necessities of life, and compelled to use the simple, often manual, tools which their ancestors used—tools which can in many cases be fabricated and repaired on the homestead.

The author does not assume a total collapse to the nineteenth century. He envisions that those who have prepared to ride out a discontinuity in civilisation will have equipped themselves with rudimentary solar electric power and electronic communication systems. But at the same time, people will be largely on their own when it comes to gardening, farming, food preservation, harvesting trees for firewood and lumber, first aid and dental care, self-defence, metalworking, and a multitude of other tasks. As always, the author stresses, it isn't the tools you have but rather the skills between your ears that determine whether you'll survive. You may have the most comprehensive medical kit imaginable, but if nobody knows how to stop the bleeding from a minor injury, disinfect the wound, and suture it, what today is a short trip to the emergency room might be life-threatening.

Here is what I took away from this book. Certainly, you want to have on hand what you need to deal with immediate threats (for example, firefighting when the fire department does not respond, self-defence when there is no sheriff, a supply of water and food so you don't become a refugee if supplies are interrupted, and a knowledge of sanitation so you don't succumb to disease when the toilet doesn't flush). If you have skills in a particular area, for example, if you're a doctor, nurse, or emergency medical technician, by all means lay in a supply of what you need not just to help yourself and your family, but your neighbours. The same goes if you're a welder, carpenter, plumber, shoemaker, or smith. It just isn't reasonable, however, to expect any given family to acquire all the skills and tools (even if they could afford them, where would they put them?) to survive on their own. Far more important is to make the acquaintance of like-minded people in the vicinity who have the diverse set of skills required to survive together. The ability to build and maintain such a community may be the most important survival skill of all.

This book contains a wealth of resources available on the Web (most presented as shortened URLs, not directly linked in the Kindle edition) and a great deal of wisdom about which I find little or nothing to disagree. For the most part the author uses quaint units like inches, pounds, and gallons, but he is writing for a mostly American audience. Please take to heart the safety warnings: it is very easy to kill or gravely injure yourself when woodworking, metal fabricating, welding, doing electrical work, or felling trees and processing lumber. If your goal is to survive and prosper whatever the future may bring, it can ruin your whole plan if you kill yourself acquiring the skills you need to do so.

February 2015 Permalink