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Dining out: Wilderness survival books

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SAS Survival Handbook:
How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea
John "Lofty" Wiseman

Reviewed by

S ome survival books are compilations of the obvious: bring your compass, look for water, try not to drown if you find it, and watch out for da poison ivy. Others, like the U.S. Army Field Manual FM 21-76: Survival, Evasion, and Escape are more useful, but are oriented toward the soldier. Tips on shooting a moose with your .50-cal, or using one of your hand grenades to catch fish, probably won't help the average hiker who somehow finds himself on a desert island with only a laser pointer, a pair of toenail clippers, and thirty-seven cents in loose change, when the only food is one Blackberry and a guy named 'Chuck' from Accounts Receivable. This book will. (In fact, a laser pointer should be in everyone's survival kit.)

Wiseman's writing style is like a survival kit itself: no extraneous words, unpretentious, but full of useful little items that you never knew were in there. Reading this book gives you the feeling of being at a lecture by an SAS grunt telling the troops how to survive. If you have a survival instinct, it's also a page turner: if you don't pay attention, you may die.

It is also the most complete survival book I've seen (although admittedly, I haven't seen all of them). In addition to the usual advice about surviving in the jungle, on the open ocean or in the Arctic, there are sections on avoiding lighting and even volcanoes and nuclear explosions. Sections include finding food, water, and shelter, diseases, poisonous snakes and insects, natural medicine, and first aid. John "Lofty" Wiseman emphasizes over and over that the will to survive is your most important asset. He has dozens of illustrations of practically everything you need to know about, including cloud formations, animal traps, improvised fishing equipment (the non-concussive kind), knots, first aid techniques, and emergency signals. There are numerous color photos of various plants and animals, some of which can be used for food, and others that should perhaps only be invited as dinner guests. (FM 21-76 also has similar color illustrations). The emphasis is on natural materials that an individual surviving in the wilderness could use. Manmade items that might be needed in a disaster, such as firearms, vehicles, and communications gear, are not covered.

Wiseman packs a lifetime of survival facts into this book, like the fact that house cats taste like rabbit and a warning that polar bear livers contain lethal levels of vitamin A. Of course, in such a large book there are always a few details that contradict the advice of other experts (for example, the advice to lie flat on the ground in a thunderstorm--not a good idea). But in general, the only way this book could be more useful would be if the pages were edible. Highly recommended.

July 28, 2007

Edible Wild Plants:
Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate
John Kallas

Reviewed by

T his beautifully published book is printed on heavy paper, and features high-quality color photos of wild North American plants, both raw and cooked, on almost every page. The author might look like a hippie, but he's actually a Ph.D. botanist (which, come to think of it, is pretty much the same thing.) He's also apparently a good chef, despite his claims to the contrary: the cooked plants look delicious.

This is no Bear Grylls-style survival book: Kallas never once uses the phrase "an explosion of pus." It's oriented toward city slickers who can barely tell the difference between a pine tree and poison ivy. There are only fifteen or twenty different plants described in the book, and the emphasis is on identifying these with certainty. Recipes are included. Photos of other plants that are similar in appearance, but are actually poison, are included where appropriate. Mushrooms, which are extremely dangerous for beginners to eat, are not covered.

The book also contains some interesting botany trivia, like the fact that marshmallows are not made from the marsh mallow plant and that "gumbo" is the Cajun word for "okra." I just wish I'd seen this book before I sprayed all my plants with Deer-Out. Now all my plants are going to taste like spicy Italian meatballs.

Dec 17, 2011