Alibi fast-food critic Nick Brown knows a thing or two about survival. A member of the highly secretive Green Chile Militia for the past 19 years, he spends three weeks every summer training with fellow survivalists deep in the Gila Wilderness near Silver City.
Not surprisingly, Brown, who once killed a mountain lion with his bare hands, keeps a comprehensive selection of survival guides in his bathroom. "I find that I'm at my most receptive during bowel movements," he says. "Something about reading while sitting on the can makes dense, complicated information easier to absorb."
With this in mind, we asked Brown to provide us with a few of his favorite bathroom reads. He shared with us a veritable treasure trove of survivalist lore. If you want to get the skinny on everything from how to set a hanging snare to how to construct your own bow and arrows to how to dress an abdominal wound, these guides are ideal references. Most of them are fun to read, too.
Department of the Army Field Manual FM 21-76: Survival, Evasion and Escape
(Department of the Army, paper)
Brown's edition of this manual was published in 1969. This compact but full color field guide is a survivalist classic. It's broken into three sections. The survival section provides information about how to keep yourself alive when you're not being pursued. The evasion section gives advice on how to get away from an enemy that's pursuing you. The escape section gives information for helping you get free when you've already been captured.
For our purposes, of course, the first section is the most relevant. It begins with a helpful mnemonic device. Remember this the next time you find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere with only a pocket knife and half a bag of Cheetos:
Size up the situation
Undue haste makes waste
Remember where you are
Vanquish fear and panic
Act like the natives
Learn basic skills
If this seems a little too abstract, not to worry. The guide is also chock-full of useful advice on the nitty-gritty practicalities of survival. One subsection shows you how to use the stars and sun as a compass. Another illustrates how to build your own raft. Still another talks about how to construct your own improvised fishhooks.
The writing style is a simple, no-frills affair, but it's surprisingly poetic for a government tome. Take this sentence, for example, from a subsection called "Danger from Mammals": "Old exiles or hermits such as elephants, boars, or buffaloes that have been cast off by the heard are often cantankerous or belligerent." Has a kind of simple yet profound lyricism to it, don't you think?
The guide's visual attractiveness alone is enough to recommend it. Despite the plain beige cardboard cover, the innards are filled with attractive line drawings and color illustrations of edible berries, birds, poisonous snakes, etc. This is a nifty little book that would make a fine addition to your own bathroom survivalist library.
Outdoor Survival Skills
Larry Dean Olsen (Brigham Young University Press, paper, 10.95)
Olsen's book is an entirely different animal from the Department of the Army guide described above. Outdoor Survival Skills isn't just an instruction manual. Although it contains plenty of detailed advice on how to make your own bow and arrows and how to make a fire using a bow drill, Olsen also seems intent on presenting a genuine survivalist philosophy.
In his introduction, he states that "a survivor possesses determination, a positive degree of stubbornness, well-defined values, self-direction, and a belief in the goodness of mankind." Throughout the remainder of the book, he treats his techniques for survival as if they were an art form. He shows you how to construct spears that look like they should be displayed in a museum. Likewise, the many traps he describes to catch animals look like beautiful masterpieces of ancient engineering.
I have no idea how effective any of these designs are. I do know that since the book was first published in the late '60s a lot of people who know one hell of a lot more about survival than I ever will have considered it a classic of the genre.
Just keep in mind that unlike the Army guide, this one isn't designed to help you stay alive until you're rescued. It's designed to stick into your backpack when you're finally fed up with our psychotic contemporary culture. You'll need Outdoor Survival Skills when you head into the woods with the intention of staying there for good.
Reader's Digest Action Guide: What to Do in an Emergency
This book seems to be out of print, but that shouldn't disappoint you too much because this was the least entertaining of Nick Brown's bathroom book-of-the-month-club selections. Ironically, its biggest flaw is that it puts too much emphasis on run-of-the-mill practicalities.
Yeah, if your kid is choking to death on a Pop-Tart, it might be nice to have this book around. Ditto if your coworker starts having a seizure, if your grandma fractures her ribs or if someone shoots you in the arm. Of course, all these topics are fairly entertaining in and of themselves. Still, you can definitely tell this is a Reader's Digest manual. The descriptions and illustrations are just too vanilla to make for a classic bathroom browse.
That said, there are a couple unintentionally amusing moments sprinkled into the mix. I particularly enjoyed the "How to Deal with an Obscene Telephone Call" chapter. Another good one is the "How to Stay Comfortable in an Airplane" chapter, which doesn't really strike me as qualifying as an emergency, but depending on your fear of flying, I guess that's debatable.
Busted! Drug War Survival Skills
M. Chris Fabricant (Harper, paper, 13.95)
This last guide doesn't belong to Nick Brown. Mr. Brown tells me he is vehemently opposed to all illicit drug use. I just received this one in the mail the other day and thought it would be worth mentioning.
Busted! just came out last month, and it's exactly what it purports to be. Fabricant is a defense attorney who goes well beyond simply advising you to head for the toilet when you see the flashing lights and hear the loud thumping on the door.
To take one example, Fabricant claims that wooden pipes are far superior to metal, ceramic or glass ones due to the fact that fingerprints can't be lifted off wood. To take another example, in one of the book's most fascinating chapters, Fabricant draws a host of wise conclusions from Rush Limbaugh on how to score, use and abuse hardcore drugs, get nabbed for it, and get off scot-free. You can learn more about both the author and this book at drugwarsurvival.com.