Top critical review
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An interesting, but somewhat misguided, book
on March 18, 2011
First off, I'm not a "Rawlesian". The author has an active blog with lots of followers who are "Rawlesians". That is, people who believe that in the not-too distant future, society will collapse, mostly or entirely, leading to people fending for themselves. If you are a Rawlesian, or think like one, then this book definitely is worth a 4- or 5-star rating. But I don't think that way. It would have to take something a lot worse than a terrorist EMP, or a serious pandemic, or a major economic crisis to knock modern civilization back into the stone age around the planet. Another depression? Sure. Times of hardship or serious disease? OK, I can see that. But a near-complete collapse of civilization? No, I don't see that happening in the West any time soon.
Which is largely why this book gets three stars. It's not very practical advice for short-term situations like power-outages, economic crashes, or realistic terrorist attacks. The book basically aims at describing how to live a modern life without modern civilization. That's it's second big flaw. If civilization really goes down the tank, then things like night-vision goggles, solar-electric panels, cars, modern gun ammunition, etc. are going to disappear in a few years and you're back into the 19th Century or earlier technology. This book gives next-to-nothing about living under those conditions. Skills like septic tank cleaning won't matter much when you can't replace the parts of your PVC plumbing under the house concrete. So the book isn't helpful in a really serious social collapse, and it's not really helpful in a short-term set-back.
What it is generally good at is describing what to do if society collapses enough for money to be worthless, for gangs to start roaming, and for the government to come after you (why is it that survival types worry about the government tracing VISA records to find and confiscate their hidden supplies of rice when the government in question has collapsed to the point where it can't even maintain civic order?), but for law-and-order, the economy, and the rest of modern civilization to return before things really go medieval. The author's solution is to move you (and your family) to a safe haven now before the stuff hits the fan. That's right, sell your house, find a new job (preferably self-employed), and build a shelter far enough away from other people to serve as your new fort. And I literally mean fort. The author clearly states how poor modern homes are for defense, advocating layers of defenses like moats, fences, barb wire, hedges, motion sensors, seismic sensors, night-vision goggles, and above all, some good guns. Rawles calls most North Americans "idi@ts" for doing stupid things like not always locking their doors and not having a gun at the ready. While I don't doubt that some people will turn ugly when a situation turns ugly, up here in Canada I can't imagine large roaming gangs of gun-toting maniacs (unless they come up from the US!). To be fair, Rawles is also a devout Christian who emphasizes the value of charity by helping (covertly so no one can find your hideout/fort and raid/attack it) those less well-equipped.
If you leave that paranoid view behind, the author does give good advice about getting, growing, making, and/or storing food, water, power, vehicles, and medicine. That part of the book (which in fairness, is a good chunk of the book), is quite a good read. Even the section on bartering is quite interesting (although in some cases, it's US-specific- I doubt that M-16 and handgun magazine clips would be hot bargaining items up in Canada). The bottom line for the book is that if you want to prepare for future disasters, it's best to start thinking ahead now. While I don't necessarily think that's bad advice, I guess I don't agree with Rawles about the scope of the disaster, and thus the scope of the necessary preparations. I'm all for more independent living, but I just couldn't buy into the right mindset for this book. Again, if you think that way, then this is a 4-5 star book for you. If you think more along my lines, it's about a 3- a fun read, but not all that useful.