The year is 1986. The Soviet Union has dozens of thermonuclear warheads aimed at the United States. It's ballistic missile submarines prowl silently off our coasts. Soviet "Bear" bombers patrol just outside our airspace. Saber rattling on both sides has the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist's "Doomsday Clock" mere minutes 'til "midnight." While students at Brown University and Colorodo State University vote concerning stocking cyanide capsules in the student health center for suicide in the event of nuclear war, there are other people who are determined to ride out even a nuclear exchange. The people are hung with the label...Survivalist.
Not content to be hand-wringing fatalists, Survivalists knew the truth: Everyone wants to live. That the majority of people who bleat "But who would want to live in a world like that?" are denying the drive to live inside them. That only a very few would actually take a pistol to their kids, wife, then themselves to escape. They would claw, scratch and fight to survive, like humans have done since time immemorial. The Survivalists knew that a little pre-planning would make that fight a little bit easier.
Thus it was that much of the Survivalist literature from that time is "hard core." Deciding to survive nuclear war is not for the fainthearted. It is with the above having been said, that I bring you the best Survivalist books of the 80s. Some of the information contained in them is dated, but much of use can be gleaned from their pages.
First is Bruce Clayton, Ph.D.'s Life After Doomsday
Dial Press, 1980, 185pp. ISBN: 0-385-27148-4
This is the book that started it all for me.
Life After Doomsday has 8 chapters and 7 appendices covering disasters in general, and nuclear war in particular. He details protection factors, showing how many feet of earth, wood, steel, books or other materials will stop how much radiation. Overpressures. Blast radii. Primary targets. Secondary targets. Tertiary targets. Fallout patterns. How to build improvised fallout shelters. Homemade radiation meters. Air pumps.
He touches on the topics of water purification, food storage/production, medical care, defense weapons/tactics, life in a shelter, and communication.
Dr. Clayton does an excellent job of presenting this material in a clear, easy-to-understand method, and rather than trying to be a definitive work, he also provides references for the reader to delve more deeply into these topics.
Perhaps because it's a sentimental favorite, I give it a 8/10
Next is Tony & Jo-Anne Lesce's Checklist for Survival
Desert Publications, 1980, 174pp. ISBN: 0-87947-441-6
Far from simply a checklist, the Lesce's tome is assistance in creating your own strategy for survival. They discuss several scenarios and ask probing questions about what YOUR actions would be in these events. An interesting and thought-provoking style to set you thinking.
One aspect of the book I find amusing (perhaps it is just me) is that the authors outline Plan "A" and Plan "B." Plan "A" is a thoughtful and judicious aquisition of good and skills to weather whatever storm may come. Plan "B" is essentially theft, such as getting a job at a grocery store and stealing food to circumvent panic buying and possible government rationing. By and large, this is a 3 page detour from common sense which -thankfully- does not continue throughout the book.
The Lesces cover the standard water, food, medical, defense, but include a chapter on foraging, tools, transportation and the survival economy. Most have some kind of checklist or list of items to consider.
My personal rating is a 5/10
Third is Robert B. DePugh's Can You Survive?
Desert Publications, 1973, 214pp., ISBN: 0-87947-442-4
Mr. DePugh was instumental in founding the 1960's group the Minutemen, and was a guest of the Feds for a few years oweing to weapons and conspiricacy charges. His book draws in small part on his experiences on the run from the feds.
As you may surmise from the above paragraph, Mr. DePugh's take on survivalism is a more martial one, and more closely aligned with the press' view of survivalists. His book lightly covers the standard "beans, bullets and band-aids" as other survivalist books, but he also details chosing and organizing a group, what to do if you are arrested, resistance warfare, patrolling, outdoor survival and mindset.
My rating: 4/10
Fourth: Mel Tappan's Survival Guns
The Janus Press, 1977, 458pp., ISBN0-916172-00-7
Mel Tappan is one of those people who used to be introduced with "And now, a man who needs no introduction..." Mel wrote for Guns and Ammo for many years, and was described by the New York Times as "The Survivalist's voice of reason."
As you may gather from the title, this book deals almost exclusively with the aspect of firearms in a survival situation. Mel was a proponent of the "working gun" and "defense gun" delineation. By his line of thinking, a guy shouldn't go stalking elk with his H&K-91 battle rifle, and wouldn't try to defend his home from a bloodthirsty mob with a Weatherby.
Mel goes over firearms suitable for both defense and working roles in great detail. His considerations of each firearm are well-reasoned and seem insightful, and he also discusses air rifles as well as non-lethal weapons and ammunition. Tactics, holsters, cleaning equipment and modifications round out the topics covered int his lavishly illustrated tome.
The problem with this treatise is not what is in it, but what is left out of it: Glock, Springfield XD, Kydex, synthetic stocks, .40 S&W caliber... All sorts of things which have been developed since 1977. However, a careful read of Mel's work will provide the criterea for which each firearms was evaluated. These criterea can then be applied to current firearms.
Survival Guns is a '57 Chevy: Time has passed it by, but it remains a classic.
My rating: 7/10
Fifth is Ragnar Benson's Survivalist's Medicine Chest
Paladin Press, 1982, 69pp., ISBN: 0-87364256-2
Mr. Benson is one of the 80's most hard core and prolific authors. His books include Improvised C4, Survival Poaching, Live of the Land in the City and the Country, Mantrapping, Homemade Grenade Launchers, The Survival Retreat and about 20 others.
Survivalist's Medicine Chest is a small book, both in size and in length. It is essentially a guide to using veterinary medications for human use. It is filled with first-hand anecdotes regarding Mr. Benson's life growing up on a farm, and later his time in Africa, where he used equipment and medications manufactured for veterinary use on humans.
He points out that although not an optimum solution, veterinary-grade medications have the same purity as their human-grade counterparts, and have the virtue of being available without prescription. The trick with using ANY medication of course is knowing when, when not, and how much medication to use. All the antibiotics in the world will not cure the common cold. Mr. Benson provides some guidance in this area as well, indication what medications should be used for what type of disease process...in 1982. Medications and bacteria have changed since then.
Mr. Benson does not purport to know everything in this arena, and throws in a few examples of where things did not go as planned, including the demise of his childhood pet badger due to an overdose of chloroform.
I am a fan of Mr. Benson's work, and can recommend essentially any of his works.
My rating for Survivalist's Medicine Chest is 7/10.
Sixth is Miles Stair's Survivalist Weapons & Ammunition Reloading
Metolius Press, 1980, 206pp.
The first portion of this book is very much like Mel Tappan's work, enumerating Mr. Stair's choices regarding weapons for the survivalist. While his choices are sound, they seem to echo nearly every period book and article regarding weapon selection. As well, he gives a decent overview of knife choices, crossbows, pnuematic rifles and pistols, and some tips on knife fighting from the legendary Rex Applegate.
What sets Mr. Stair's book apart is the reloading section. Mr. Stair explains the reloading process concisely, and delineates the equipment needed on three levels: Basic, intermediate and advanced. He discusses both bullet casting and bullet swaging.
The gem, the golden find of this book is his reloading tables: He has provided load data for virtually every cartidge in existance (in 1980) with only 3 powders. This is incredibly helpful to the survivalist reloader who may anticipate reloading ammunition for themselves, and possibly others. By storing only 3 types of powder one may reload everything from the 219 Zipper to 300 Weatherby Magnum to .44 Special and everything in between.
This book is out of print, but Mr. Stair is alive and well. He runs the "End Times Report" web site, which sells a pamphlet containing the reloading data in the "booklet" section.
My rating: 7/10
Lastly is C.G. Cobb's Bad Times Primer
The Times Press, 1981, 334pp., ISBN:0-9606608-0-1
Bad Times Primer delivers. It delivers just what the title suggests. Chris Cobb has written a book that has good advice for us nearly 30 years after it was written. Delving into the book, you could easily forget that the situations described therein occured in 1981. Concerns about the economy, terrorism, and even embryonic concerns over peak oil/food production seem as timely today as they did then. Cobb has a easy to follow, conversational writing style, and his reasoning is sound.
Cobb covers the standard food, shelter, location, transportation, energy, communication, tools (he's very thorough in the tools section), information, trade goods, etc. These are not cursory overviews of the topics. they are covered to a reasonable depth, with an eye toward the budget-minded survivalist. His advice is practical and rife with common sense.
Though in some respects Bad Times Primer suffers from the same handicap as the other books listed -that of the dated specific information- this does not seem as noticible here as in other books.
My rating is 8/10. Even 29 years later, it's more useful than half the books on preparedness available today.
That's it folks. Thanks for taking a walk with me into the cold-war heyday of the hard-core survivalist. For you younger folks, it's fun to marvel at the "paranoia" of those who have been into preparedness before it was preparedness, but remember a lot of these guys have laid the foundation for us during a time of the very real threat of nuclear war.
If you have a chance to pick up one or more of these at a used book store, Amazon.com, gun show or even a garage sale, I think you'll find a kernel or two of wisdom passed down through time to you.