Abraham Lincoln read books by the light of a wood burning fire. Thomas Jefferson had a massive library of books that later became the heart of the Library of Congress. It isn’t a stretch to say that the United States has been driven by both highly literate leaders, and a drive to extend literacy to the entire population. Today, we are blessed with incredibly cheap and attainable books, libraries, and a wealth of free books in digital format. Access to humanity’s collected knowledge has never been easier to get.
But not all books are created equal, and they, of course, cover a wide range of topics, and what one person finds valuable in a book, another might not. Sitting on your off-grid homestead, or even on your comfy urban couch, you probably still are wondering if there are good books for the prepper, ones that fortify the mind, and transmit knowledge that is important to somebody seeking self-sufficiency today. Well, good reader, there are, and here are my five favorites.
1. Walden And Civil Disobedience
This is a two for one package deal by famed early American philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Now you are probably sitting here going “What does this have to do with prepping?” and the answer is very simple, this book preps your mind.
The most important tool any prepper has is their mind, and that mind must be constantly exercised and developed to grow and expand. A strong mind counts for more than all the tools and cans of beans in the world, and Thoreau helps with that.
Any prepper or off gridder should appreciate Thoreau’s account of living off-grid on Walden Pond. In fact, Thoreau went off-grid before there was really a grid to go off of. Already disgusted by the change of life in a rapidly industrializing world, he settled down in an isolated cabin to basically live free of the hubris and hustle of a world grown too urban for his tastes.
As a work of philosophy, introspection and early off-grid living, Walden gives the modern prepper a sense of the mindset and lifestyle needed to successfully go off the grid, and to live a simple life, free of the distractions and encumbrances of the modern world.
Civil Disobedience is another philosophical tome that examines what it means to participate in the American system of government, and the role of the individual within that system. Taken as an important work of early American philosophy and government study, this is something that should be read by everyone, but preppers will especially appreciate the way it empowers the individual.
2. The US Army Survival Manual
This is one that is strangely hard to find a decent print copy of, unless you happen to get a proper government printed one. Because it is a public domain work, there are a lot of crappy black and white copies out there, and a number of bad scans. But enough of that, here is an excellent PDF you can view or download for free, so let’s look at why this is a book every prepper should own.
As a 600 page document of survival advice and strategy, this is the gold standard for survival guides. Naturally, it cannot be comprehensive about everything, but if you master the skills and knowledge in this book, you will be better prepared for survival than most people.
As an added bonus, it is a useful guide for common medicinal herbs, edible plants, and emergency shelter construction in different environments, plus advice on securing clean water, trapping small game, fire construction, and even evasion in a hostile setting.
When you factor in advice on how to mentally deal with a survival situation, you’ve got a rock-solid book that gets the job done, and is a fast, ready reference for the off gridder or prepper. In fact, this book is constantly copied and plagiarized in many survival guides and how to articles. Why waste time with those when you can have the original source material?
3. Edible Wild Plants
A lot of plant guides have mediocre line drawings or equally useless black and white photos. While these might work fine for somebody who already knows what they are looking at, nothing beats a good colored photo, and this book features hundreds of color photos of edible plants that can be found throughout North America.
If you are going off the grid, or just want a survival edge, learning the local edible plants is an important skill to have. At the very least, being able to go out and pick your own salad from plants growing around you is a fun thing, and under difficult circumstances, being able to forage food could be a literal lifesaver.
Edible Wild Plants is a handy guide to keep in your emergency kit, bugout bag, and of course on your bookshelf at home. Anybody who interacts with the outdoors, or who is planning to, should carefully study this book and become familiar with the plants around them.
Obviously, a prepper can find much value in a book detailing edible wild plants, and the detailed color photos are a must have. This book is so easy to use, even children can start mastering the art of identifying and harvesting edible wild plants using it. If it isn’t already on your prepper bookshelf, it should be.
4. Bushcraft 101
This handy guide to important bushcraft skills is a must have for any prepper seeking to understand how to survive in a wilderness setting.
Written by survival expert Dave Canterbury, Bushcraft 101 is a single book that transmits enough often forgotten knowledge to allow you to not only survive but thrive in a wilderness survival setting.
This book teaches how to build a functional wilderness survival kit, how to use the tools in it, and what you need to know to trap, build safe, dry shelter, effective campfires, find food in the wild, and much, much more.
I’d consider this an important companion to the Army survival manual, inasmuch as it isn’t a survey of survival skills, but rather an in-depth examination of a very specific set of survival skills that serve as foundational knowledge that any prepper should know.
Even if you live in an urban environment, you will find this book invaluable. The basic lessons of self-sufficiency, adapting to materials around you and working with nature, instead of against it translate over to almost any kind of survival situation. So even if you never expect to need bushcraft skills, you still need to learn these skills.
5. The Survival Medicine Handbook
Described as a “guide for when help is not on the way”, The Survival Medicine Handbook is a must-have for anyone who even remotely considers themselves a prepper.
While in an ideal situation, a medical emergency is quickly met with paramedics, ambulances and even a helicopter to airlift, we should all understand that ideal situations don’t always happen. Sometimes you absolutely must provide medical care yourself, not knowing when – or if, professionals can arrive.
As another highly focused book, this guide gives you foundational and advanced skills to handle many common emergency medical situations on your own. While this shouldn’t be a substitute for trained medical care, there is a reason it is called “first” aid.
Adding this book to your prepper library will give you one more invaluable skill set that will leave you feeling, and actually being safer.
Why You Need Books
The invention of writing helped humans transmit information in a consistent, reliable and repeatable form. Once the ability to make a permanent record of something existed, that data could be transmitted as far as people cared to take it. The fact we are still reading books and documents from thousands of years ago is proof of the power of writing.
However, simply owning a book isn’t enough. You must read it, and master the contents. A shelf of survival guides and manuals won’t make you an expert prepper or survivalist, nor should you just stick one in your bugout bag and think you can reference it when you need it.
Instead, you must read and learn the skills in books now, while you have the time and luxury of doing so. Rarely too, will simple reading to the trick. Preppers must learn different skills, and that means a practical application of those skills. Practice first aid, build bushcraft shelters, test skills, and ideas, learn new things.
Books will set you on the path to greater self-sufficiency, but only if you use them. Prepping is more than just buying cool survival gear, and piling up cans of beans, and sacks of flour against the apocalypse de jour. It is about freeing your whole person, including your mind from reliance on an increasingly unstable society that could crash and burn at any time. Books free you from that tyranny as surely as an off-grid cabin or a rifle.
Steve Coffman is a freelance writer and consulting historian. He has a BA in US history from The Evergreen State College and lives near Tacoma, Washington. He collects antique telephone insulators and is presently researching labor union relations in Washington State during WWI.