Learning from other prepper’s experiences is a good way to prepare yourself, especially psychologically, for disasters. While accounts of survival experiences can be hard to find online, especially in the kind of detail we’d like, plenty of good books have been written by survivors of all kinds of SHTF events, from natural disasters to terror attacks, to nuclear incidents.
Whatever situation you’re planning for, these books are a good way to figure out what they would actually be like, and how practical your preps are.
To start, let’s talk about a book that doesn’t really fit into any category: “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” by Laurence Gonzales. It combines stories of all kind of real disaster and survival situations and suggests real techniques that help victims survive.
Gonzales was inspired by his father’s harrowing survival experience in WW2. Perhaps it is the admiration of his father that led him to believe that emotion and will are the most important aspects of survival. But I think that the books on the rest of this list bear out that good preparation is invaluable, too.
- 1 Books on Real Experiences During Natural Disasters
- 1.1 1. “Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone” by Joshua Clark
- 1.2 2. “1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina” by Chris Rose
- 1.3 3. “Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894” by Daniel Brown
- 1.4 4. “In the Path of Destruction: Eyewitness Chronicles of Mount St. Helens” by Richard Waitt
- 1.5 5. “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough
- 2 Books about Real Financial and Agricultural Disasters
- 3 Books About Survival Under Oppressive Governments
- 4 Books About Active Shooter Events/Attackers/Kidnappers
- 5 Books about Wilderness Survival
- 6 Books on Real Nuclear Events
- 7 Books on Real Epidemics
Books on Real Experiences During Natural Disasters
There are a lot of great books on real experiences during natural disasters out there. Unlike wilderness survival, however, most of these books will place the onus for survival during the disaster on the government.
I find the more modern the book, the less helpful it feels to preppers who want to gauge how useful their preps will be. But, those more modern books do give a better picture of what a SHTF event in modern America will really look like, in a way that older books and wilderness survival books just can’t.
1. “Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone” by Joshua Clark
Clark stayed in and survived Hurricane Katrina, and describes this disaster from a unique perspective. He is not the typical survivor from the 9th Ward, Instead, he lived in the French Quarter and had Critics have dwelt on Clark’s alcoholism, how tedious his relationship with his girlfriend feels throughout the book and what they view as his self-centered nature in not doing more to help his neighbors.
But, I have to give him credit for his interesting take. The book is full of thought-provoking moments, like his suggestion to have marijuana as a barter item, that’s a genius idea.
2. “1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina” by Chris Rose
Katrina was such an important event, especially to preppers, that it certainly deserves another book on this list. While “Heart Like Water,” is about the immediate disaster, “1 Dead in Attic” is about re-building life just after Katrina.
Rose collects a variety of experiences, including his own, and paints a vivid picture of exactly how tough it is to overcome such a tremendously bad situation.
3. “Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894” by Daniel Brown
In 1894, two forest fires converged to trap 2,000 people in the town of Hinckley, Minnesota. The residents had to attempt to escape by train, and over 400 people died.
Daniel Brown was not a survivor himself, but he collected stories and historical records about this disaster to create the book. One of the most upsetting revelations in the book is how panicked people fail to recognize their opportunity for escape.
4. “In the Path of Destruction: Eyewitness Chronicles of Mount St. Helens” by Richard Waitt
Mount St. Helens is a volcano in Washington State that erupted in 1980. 57 people died in the resulting ash, debris, earthquakes, and volcanic mudslides. These disturbing eye-witness accounts reveal what it feels like to experience a sudden and very unusual natural disaster.
5. “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough
While a much older disaster, the Johnstown Flood is an interesting case study for preppers firstly because it was so massive (over 2,000 people died) and secondly because it resulted from the failure of a dam.
How many of us think about how major infrastructure failure could affect our lives, especially when combined with a natural disaster? Not enough, I would say. In this flood’s case, the natural part of the disaster was simply abnormal rainfall.
Books about Real Financial and Agricultural Disasters
1. “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” by Fernando Ferfal Aguirre
Those who are concerned with financial prep would do well to learn from the crisis in Argentina. Fernando Aguirre lived through it and came out a prepper on the other side. Instead of political information, you’ll find Aguirre’s description of how he survived, and how the people around him reacted to the crisis.
English is his second language, he’s quite profane, and he focuses a lot on self-defense information which you may, or may not, agree with. His website has many of the same problems, so I suggest that before you buy the book you read a few of his posts.
2. “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl” by Timothy Egan
There’s a great deal of wisdom in the personal accounts of those who survived the dustbowl, but a whole lot of tragedy too, because it is specifically about those who chose to stay. It’s told partly in letters, bringing the real voices of these people to your ear.
Timothy Egan is a journalist and well-respected author of historical books. The only complaint I’ve heard is that this book gets repetitive, it is, after all, a tragedy.
Books About Survival Under Oppressive Governments
There are a handful of oppressive regimes around the world, more than enough to remind us that any country can sink into, if not horrifying depths, very uncomfortable ones.
These books, more than many others on the list, will have you thinking upon how evil humans can be, and how best you could endure in the face of that evil if you ever have to face it.
1. “Night” by Elie Wiesel
As a young man, Wiesel survived the Holocaust. This book is a horrifyingly true account of his experiences, first published not long after in 1955. It is a difficult read, but a very valuable one not just for your psychological prep, but for your understanding of history and humanity.
2. “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West” by Blaine Harden
Haden’s book is about Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to have escaped from a “total-control-zone” prison camp in North Korea. He was born there and had limited education and a fraught relationship with his family, to say the least.
Blaine Harden wrote the book based on extensive interviews with Dong-hyuk. After some veiled threats from the North Korean government, Dong-hyuk retracted some of his stories, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you still believe those aspects.
3. “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State” by Nadia Murad
It’s odd to consider ISIS a “government,” yet this book fits best here than in any other category. Nadia Murad is a Yazidi (a Christian ethnic group of the Middle East) who lived in a small Iraq village until ISIS forces arrived, slaughtered her brothers and mother along with most of the people in her town, and forced her into slavery.
How could anyone survive such an ordeal, not to mention escape it?
Books About Active Shooter Events/Attackers/Kidnappers
1. “Columbine” by Dave Cullen
The older the mass shooting, the better treatment it seems to get as far as books go. Shortly after the tragedy, it seems like up-lifting/recovery books are more common, which makes sense. For example, most of the books on the Boston Marathon Bombing are about triumph.
Lately, you’ll also find books that are more about gun control than the actual incident. These are not terribly useful from our perspective as preppers. But Columbine is no such book. Dave Cullen covered the story as a journalist, and his book deals both with the victims and offers insight on the killers.
2. “A Stolen Life: A Memoir” by Jaycee Dugard
Jaycee Dugard was 11 when she was abducted by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, and kept imprisoned and abused for 18 years. She wrote this memoir in her thirties, just a short while after she was rescued.
While there are a lot of adult perspectives on this list, Jaycee was a child at the time of her abduction. She had, obviously, very little education after her kidnapping and the book is, therefore, weak on grammar. It’s otherwise a powerful read and gives you real insight into what prolonged torture and brainwashing can do to a mind.
Warning: it is very graphic.
3. “The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence” by Gavin de Becker
There aren’t many books written on one person’s survival experiences in an acute, dangerous situation with a single attacker. But Becker here recounts a handful of these real examples, using his experience to describe the warning signs and the traps predators and attackers use to manipulate you and your children.
Personally, this book has gone a long way toward helping my sense of personal security and learning to follow my instincts. Learning to read people and foresee potential danger is a real help in your everyday life and, of course, when SHTF.
Books about Wilderness Survival
1. “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day” by Peter Zuckerman
You probably won’t be trying to climb K2 (the second tallest mountain on the planet) anytime soon, but this book will help you understand why some people survive the extreme conditions on mountaintops while others don’t.
The books delve deeply into the Sherpa culture, which is interesting and helped the survivors deal with horrendous conditions on the mountain. But, what honestly struck me most about this whole incident is the amazing hallucinations your mind can conjure up for you in emergencies.
One of the survivors, Wilco van Rooijen, describes his experience to National Geographic: “There were so many moments when I thought I saw a climber and thought I heard voices, but I knew there couldn’t be people there. It was a scary moment when I knew I was reaching my limits. I was thinking no one knows where I am and they will not be coming back.” Truly terrifying stuff.
2. “Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration” by David Roberts
Wilderness survival stories are a dime a dozen, but this one is something special. In 1913, Douglas Mawson, a member of the Australian Antarctic Expedition, was on his way back to base camp, close to starving when he lost his sled and the dogs.
He ends up alone, crawling, with the flesh of his feet ripped right off. And that’s not half the story. At times, this book can be a little scientific and some find that dry, but the detail can be elucidating too.
Books on Real Nuclear Events
1. “Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster” by Svetlana Alexievich
Hearing about Chernobyl from the survivor’s own perspectives is terrifying. Perhaps a more scientific, and less emotional book would impart what you need to know to protect yourself from any future accidents or, God forbid, intentional attacks.
But it wouldn’t capture the horror of experiencing Chernobyl. I think part of the terror of Chernobyl is that the victims didn’t know what would happen, and how do you prepare yourself for something like that?
2. “TMI 25 Years Later: The Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident and Its Impact” by Baratta & Osif
You can find accounts of the nuclear incident on Three Mile Island that are closer to the survivor’s themselves. The problem is that the authors of these books are often sparse on the scientific details that you simply need to make sense of the incident.
Books on Real Epidemics
There are plenty of books about plagues from the past, especially the Black Death, but they don’t specifically give you an idea of what a health disaster could look like in the modern day. These books do.
Paradoxically, this book is about how average Africans with no special medical training exceeded international expectations by containing the 2013 Ebola outbreak better than could be expected.
Without overlooking how terrifying Ebola is, Richards gives you a sense that its possible to handle an epidemic, at least better than you think you could, even when little is known about the disease.
2. “Zika: The Emerging Epidemic” by Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Though it is a little scanter on personal experience than the other books on this list, I still found this book to be a worthy inclusion to the list. It is, after all, quite rare for someone to write a book about their personal experience with an infectious disease, so I feel we have to take what we can get. McNeil provides interesting and useful scientific explanation of Zika and it’s origins.
Do you find that books about real SHTF events are helpful for your prep?
Author Bio: Ellysa Chenery can be found writing all over the web. She loves adapting traditional skills for new situations, whether in the wilderness, garden, or homestead. Her favorite smell is carrots fresh from the dirt.
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