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Book Review: How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It by James Wesley, Rawles

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It only takes one large-scale disaster to remind us of the fragility of civilization. Post-disaster media saturation demonstrates the outcomes of infrastructure collapse. With images from the aftermath of events such as typhoons and flooding in the South Pacific, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and major earthquakes such as the one last year in China and most recently Haiti, we are confronted with the realities of the intricacy of our supply of basic needs. Most of us are reliant to some degree on outside sources for the maintenance of our food, water, shelter, sanitation, protection, medicine, and transportation. For many of us, particularly in urban America, that reliance is very nearly complete.

Whatever else can be said about James Wesley, Rawles book How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, it is timely. The founder of survivalblog has produced a comprehensive primer on self sufficiency. How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It guides the reader through a detailed outline of planning and providing for water, food storage, fuel and home power, garden and livestock, medical supplies and training, communications, home security, evacuation (“when to get outta dodge”), and investing and barter in the event of an infrastructure failure.

Rawles' attention to detail cannot be faulted. In an era where many people think that meat grows in plastic-wrapped Styrofoam trays, and that home-grown produce is a faddish hobby akin to knitting (another useful skill), he offers step by step instructions toward a self-sufficiency that most of us have lost. However, the book is stylistically maddening.

Rawles is overly enamored with acronyms – his favorite being TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It.) If the prevalence of alphabet soup were not irritating enough, Rawles’ narrative voice is the bark of a drill sergeant.

The above is, for me, a common complaint regarding self-help books. Personally, I find books that make me feel inadequate or defensive to be off-putting. Logically, Rawles’ argument that we have forged an infrastructure that is an elaborate house of cards upon which we are entirely dependent has merit.

One has only to look at recent disasters to have an awareness of our folly. I type this sitting in a house with enough food for maybe a week, using electricity from an outside source, while my husband showers with water drawn from our well by that same mysteriously provided electricity. Our only stored water is in the Brita pitcher on the kitchen counter. The house is heated by propane from a tank less than a quarter full. Our yard has returned to the wild, and my attempts at beginning a vegetable garden have failed entirely. I do have a freezer full of meat, but no backup to keep the freezer running in case of power failure. My son just got the last dose of children’s Advil this morning. The list could go on and on.

My life, like that of most people, is predicated on the assumptions that the store will have Advil and food, that the power company will continue to send electrons mysteriously through the wires to my house, that the propane truck will come when we call, and that today will be the same as yesterday.

This ostrich mentality is common, and dangerous. Despite his tendency to proselytize, Rawles does provide a comprehensive depiction of the skills needed to develop self-reliance that could be used by many of us. While some of his points are probably not practical for the average, middle-class urban or suburban family (raising livestock, the provision of a survival “retreat”) the mentality Rawles espouses could benefit us all.

He does give detailed lists of items needed for each category of survival and information on obtaining some of the more obscure things such as a grain mill. He also provides instruction and sources for further information on topics such as food storage, alternate power, first aid and field surgery, and much more.

While I, and probably most readers, will be unlikely to alter my lifestyle to fit Rawles’ ideal of preparedness, I admit that he has gotten me to think more clearly about changes that could significantly impact my family’s chances of survival in the event of an emergency. In our increasingly complicated and unstable world, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, while somewhat alarmist in tone, provides clear guidance toward self-sufficient preparedness.

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