The “Big 8” Essential Books for Preppers

Would you like to be as ready as possible for the unexpected? In the event of a natural disaster, military operation, or any kind of emergency, it pays have the knowhow to survive.

I recently combed through my “prepper” books and tossed out about 75 percent of the outdated, useless ones. As the technological age advances, much of what was written (and which I purchased!) more than 10 years ago is now obsolete. It was time to upgrade, and update, my emergency preparedness library, small though it was.

The situation was like a good news, bad news joke: there is a lot of good news when it comes to the wide selection of prepper/emergency books available today, as opposed to a decade ago. The bad news is that I can’t possibly afford to buy everything I want, so will have to be selective as I rebuild my library of useful topics.

After sifting through hundreds of online bookstores, some specialized and some not, I came up with the following “must have” titles for my new prepper bookshelf. Note that I avoided overly technical volumes that were beyond my scope of understanding, as well as a few “advertorial” titles that seemed like nothing more than ads for one or two products.

There’s always something new to learn when it comes to prepping and disaster preparedness. In the event we are forced to survive without electricity and computers, books might be the only reliable way to store useful information. With that caveat in mind, here are the eight books I’m in the process of adding to my personal collection, with a short review of each:

When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, 2nd Edition: Matthew Stein’s tour de force for preppers touches all the bases, not only offering ways to live wisely and frugally in everyday live, but spelling out exactly what you need to do all conceivable emergency situations. There’s a very handy introduction to self-reliance and a frank discussion about social and economic trends that could spell trouble in the near future. The author delves deeply into supply strategies for water and food, with detailed sections on foraging, hunting, storing and growing. Survival clothing, heat, electrical generating basics, metalworking, building shelters on the go, the basics of metalworking, and storage know-how are all in the mix in this comprehensive, interesting guide to life after a technological breakdown. The scenario he paints is bleak, but the solutions are ingenious. 

The Urban Survival Handbook: The essential guide to dealing with emergencies at home, at work and on the city streets: This short handbook is tailor made for people who worry about safety in urban and post-catastrophe environments. In addition to standard topics like emergency medicine basics, the authors cover bomb-blast recovery, hostage situations, vehicular accidents, floods, fires and break-ins. Knowing how to keep your property secure is the overarching theme of the book, though there is also a core emphasis on practical skills and learning how to react properly in every adverse situation imaginable. Survival often comes down to protecting yourself from people who mean you harm. This book delivers on its promise to explain the essential skills needed for doing just that.

Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills: A prepper classic from the people at Reader’s Digest, don’t be put off by the book’s age (first published in 1981). It is truly a user-friendly textbook for self-sufficiency and it covers all the basics, like alternate energy sources, home crafts, how to make herbal medicine, how to build a simple shelter, food storage and gardening. This unassuming little guidebook has been an emergency standby in millions of home libraries for more than three decades.  

Secret Rooms and Secret Compartments: This clever, slightly unusual entry calls itself a “design manual” for anyone who wants to build a secret room or hiding place for valuables. As the author notes, if a thief can’t locate your goods, he can’t steal them. While traditional safes and security cabinets are burglar-magnets, a secret compartment or secret room is not. With 80 pages and almost 50 drawings that show you exactly how to construct hidden rooms and impenetrable hiding places for your valuables and yourself, this small book is a treasure in itself.

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century: Sometimes we preppers forget about basic financial independence, one of the best defenses against catastrophic events. Face it: if you’re not financially solvent in tranquil times, how will things be any better when a catastrophe hits? This newly revised edition outlines the nine commonsense steps for becoming financially stable. Even though it isn’t widely known, this book should be in every prepper’s library.

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation: Here is what survival is all about: a book that teaches people how to use ancient European techniques to store and preserve food the “natural” way, without artificial chemicals or freezers. Farmers in France and elsewhere have used these strategies for centuries in order to bring out the best flavors, but the methods also work for modern-day catastrophe scenarios. Not overly technical, this little gem is an interesting read even if you are the world’s biggest canning and freezer fanatic.

Micro Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage in Partnership with the Earth: This is the go-to reference book for micro-farming and gardening. Its unique crop-yield secrets for tiny farms are both ingenious and practical. For long-term survival, high-yield food gardening is one of the most essential skills a person can master. The authors walk us through the whole process with simple diagrams and explanations about how to grow food quickly, cheaply and in abundance.

Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America (Process Self-reliance Series): I debated whether to include this one, but even though its overly political tone can be a bit of a downer, it does contain valuable information for anyone who wants to leave the U.S. and settle elsewhere. It includes useful guides about visas, passports, residency requirements and how to find a job in dozens of places where Americans are welcome and relatively safe. Not a prepper book per se, the massive volume (at 320 pages) is packed with solid information about survival in challenging overseas environments.

What’s On Your Shelf?

There’s no way any one person can assemble every useful prepper book, so we want to hear from you about the ones you think are essential. Leave comments below or on our Facebook page. Our goal is to build a list of emergency preparedness titles that are useful, not too technical, and inexpensive. Everything is game, from best-sellers to free PDF downloads, so let us know about your favorites and we’ll consider adding them to our master list.

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