Many survivalists I know are voracious readers. Whether we read online or we read actual books, we love to read. We read because we want to learn. We are all aware of the fact that everything we need to know in order to survive is written somewhere in a book.
I don’t know what type of reader you are or how you like to learn new things, but I find that what works best for me is learning from a narrative, rather than from a factual book. A well written fiction, belonging to someone who knows the lessons they want to convey, can impart more knowledge than some dry textbook.
That’s because of the emotions they generate, which help us remember things easier. There’s just no way for a textbook talking about how to survive an earthquake to convey the fear of feeling the earth move up and down beneath you. But the narrative of someone who has survived one can.
When we seek to increase our knowledge of survival, seeing how other people lived and survived certain disasters definitely helps. For instance, when I was younger I learned a lot about living in the wild from reading Louis L’Amor’s books about the Old West. Even though they were novels, the author had ridden the trails he wrote about and knew how to live in the wild, just like the characters he wrote about did.
The best books are those written by people who went through harrowing survival situations and lived to write about it. Even though these books will also talk about the mistakes they made, we can still learn a lot from their mistakes too.
The books listed below are some of the best stories out there about survival. Some are pure novels, while others are stories about real life experiences that real people had. We can use all the books I’ve chosen to learn valuable lessons. This way when it’s our turn to survive, we will be ready.
One Second After
William Forstchen’s acclaimed story about post-EMP America is probably the best, and best known modern post-disaster novel around.
It is clear from his description of the events in that small North Carolina town, that the author has a very clear understanding of the effects of an EMP.
We see this played out through the life of the main character, his family and the small town he lives in.
With the potential threat of an EMP being one of the biggest existential threats facing us today, “One Second After” is a must-read for anyone interested in survival. While the author’s focus is more on community survival than personal survival, he gives a very accurate depiction of what it will be like to live in a post-EMP world.
One Year After
“One Year After” is the sequel to “One Second After”, taking up the story where the first book ends. In this book, the focus is on the town and its neighbors working to restore lost technology, using information found in the basement of the library. It gets more political than the first book, as the central government is not in favor of their local efforts to self-govern.
The Final Day
This is the final book in Forstchen’s trilogy. This book segues the story from one of survival to a political fight between the locals and the central government that wants to control them. While it doesn’t really talk about survival all that much, it does give additional insight into what may survive an EMP and how we could use it to restore our crumbled society.
Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
This classic deals with the true-life story of Steven Callahan, who was put adrift six days into a sailing trip on a sloop.
Once his sailboat capsized, Callahan stayed afloat in an inflatable raft for more than a month. He is the only man to ever survive such an ordeal.
While “Adrift” predates most of today’s action adventures, it brings an element of truth that can only come from real-life experience.
Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West
Nobody can study the American West and the push to settle the western part of the country, without running into the story of the Donner Party, a pioneers group traveling west by wagon train.
Taking a new trail, which had supposedly been thoroughly scouted, they found themselves caught in the mountains, with winter snows falling. Their struggle to survive that first winter caused most of the party to turn to cannibalism, eating the bodies of those who died.
The lessons to be learned from this book come from the mistakes the party made and the mishaps that befell them. Perhaps without the mistakes, they could have survived the mishaps; but regardless, only 48 of the original 87 members reached their destination in California.
Hugh Glass was a mountain man who got into a disagreement with a grizzly bear, surprising her and her cubs. Greatly injured, he was left for dead by his companions, yet remarkably survived.
He set his own (broken) leg, treated his injuries as best he could and started crawling to the nearest settlement, at Fort Kiowa, over 200 miles away.
As he traveled, he sustained himself with roots and berries. Reaching the Cheyenne River, he made a raft and floated down to the fort.
The majority of the book is about Glass’ desire for revenge, which he never received. Yet his remarkable story is a testimony of what one can do, injured and in desperate condition. Glass is an inspiration to anyone who reads his story.
Related: How to Survive a Bear Attack
27 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Aron Ralston was an experienced outdoorsman who experienced what nobody should ever have to. Out on a solitary hike through a remote Utah canyon, he dislodged a 800 pound boulder that trapped one of his arms against the canyon wall. Over the next few days, the flesh of that arm died.
Five days later, still trapped, Ralston was sure he was about to die. Then inspiration hit him and he broke the now dead bone in his arm and amputated it with a dull pocket knife. This allowed him to find his way back to civilization and survive.
If anything, this book shows the lengths that us humans can go to, in order to save ourselves. While Ralston made many mistakes, including not telling anyone where he was going, he was still able to save his own life, albeit at the cost of his right forearm and hand.
Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingram Wilder’s series about life on the American frontier may not seem much like a series on survival, but it is filled with insight into how the American Pioneers survived on the Great Plains.
Through these books, countless people have become aware of our country’s pioneering spirit and background. But to you and I, they contain timeless lessons about overcoming nature and danger to survive in the midst of poverty and hardship.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
“Endurance” was the name of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, which was on a journey of exploration in the South Atlantic.
Trapped in the ice in October 1915, the ship was crushed, leaving its crew stranded on the ice pack. Left to fend for themselves in one of the world’s most hostile regions, they survived.
Shackleton and his men managed a 1,000 mile voyage in an open boat, as well as an overland trek through glaciers and mountains. Amazingly, they survived and lived to tell their tale.
This is perhaps one of the most dramatic stories of survival there is.
The War Within
The German siege of Leningrad was one of the longest in the history of warfare. Certainly one of the longest in modern warfare, it lasted 872 days.
This book is a collection of writings, gathered from 125 personal diaries. Through the writings of these unknown authors, we see the struggle that ordinary citizens had to survive in a world at war.
Lost in the Taiga
Harried by religious persecution, the Lykov family head into the Taiga, the great forests of Siberia in 1936.
Moving through the forest, they build a succession of dwellings, before finally settling in the place which would become their home.
For the next few decades nobody bothers them, until they are discovered in the late 1970s, by a Russian pilot who was flying in a geological survey team.
The story of this family is truly inspiring. They survived on very little, as they built themselves a new life, far away from the only home and the only civilization they had known. Their devotion to each other and their religious beliefs were what enabled them to survive.
Yet the story is not over. The youngest child of this family still lives in the remote homestead that her father built. Now an old woman, she has lived alone for over 30 years, surviving through what she gathers from nature and what she grows in her garden.
This is the story of Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onada of Japanese intelligence. Told by his commanding officer not to surrender, Onada hid out in the jungle of the Philippines until 1974, when he emerged, not realizing that the war was over. Through more than three decades, he was hunted by American soldiers, Philippine police, Japanese and others in turn.
If there is anything that can be said of this man it is that he survived by the strength of his will. Three companions that went into the jungle with him all succumbed to one thing or another, yet he endured. It wasn’t until he found a letter, written by his former commanding officer and left where he could find it, that he believed the war was over. Had he not found that letter, he would probably still be hiding out and surviving in the jungle today.
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