How To Books

Top Five Reference Books for the Apocalypse

A funny look at handy books to have around in a post-apocalyptic situation.

When December 2012 comes and the aliens riding on Nibiru descend to Earth and take your tinfoil hat away, will you be ready to hack out your survival in the wild chaos of the post-apocalyptic world? Do you know how to build a fire with rocks and sticks, create a functional shelter from found objects, or find food that is safe to eat?

Ever since the cut-rate survival supply sales after Y2K, I’ve been building up a reference library of ways to survive using primitive living skill methods and technology-free tips and tricks.

This would be a top TEN list, but I have to leave room in my rucksack for water purification tablets and jerky.

1 photo of Camping & Wilderness Survival Camping & Wilderness Survival by Paul Tawrell  
Paul Tawrell has compiled the absolutely ultimate reference book for surviving in the wild. It contains so much information that it’s really hard to digest were you attempt to read it straight through, but it contains appropriate indexes and appendices for finding what you need in a pinch.

My copy of Camping and Wilderness Survival is printed as a paperback, but it is surprisingly reinforced to be quite strong.  Also, the cover seems waterproof, but I’m not willing to test that theory with such my useful tome of lifesaving skills.

Thanks to this book, I know how to find water in the desert, set a broken bone, deal with a venomous snakebite, and it just might keep me alive long enough to win a billion dollars on a reality show.

2 photo of The Art Of Shen Ku The Art Of Shen Ku by Zeek  
“The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide Of This Planet” is also known as “The First Intergalactic Artform of the Entire Universe”
The Art of Shen Ku  is completely crammed with knowledge! It is my favorite book to use in the art of Bibliomancy, the oracular method that involves opening a book to a random page to find an answer within.This amazing book has taught me how to read palms, the benefits of a Yin diet versus the Yang diet I generally consume, how to amuse children, how to tie knots, cure impotence, defend myself when grabbed from behind, as well as containing herbal remedies and home cures for common complaints. 

The Art of Shen Ku is the closest thing to a real-life version of “The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” that I have ever found.

3 photo of The Tribal Living Book 150 Things To Do and Make From Traditional Cultures Revised Edition The Tribal Living Book: 150 Things To Do and Make From Traditional Cultures Revised Edition by David Levinson and David Sherwood  
I do so love this book!  It contains clean, easy guides on how to build a livable structure out of whatever is around you based on methods used by indigenous tribes from all over the world, with clear illustrations and plans that even I can decipher.

Do you know how to make glue?  I do, thanks to Tribal Living, and can use either pitch or hooves to do it!  Rope-weaving, water collection, and clothing construction from weaving to sewing is detailed within.

If the practicality gets to be too much, flip towards the back for instructions on how to beautify your hand-constructed shirt with bead-work, quilling, embroidery, and more.  It also contains a section of riddles and short stories, and spotlights of cultural differences in the interpretation of beauty.

4 photo of Herb Book Herb Book by John Lust  
When I first started to study herbalism, this small, simple paperback book was one of my first purchases to help me along my journey.

The book begins with details on how to prepare remedies, and defining methods of application such as tincture, sitz bath, infusion, decoction, and more.  It explains the difference between using roots versus leaves, and even provides an anatomical breakdown of plants with definitions for the botanical vocabulary (ovate, cordate, stipule).

One of my favorite parts of this book is the section where you can look up an ailment and find a list of plants that could assist with that problem, and page numbers for the detailed plant profiles.  (The “Boredom” section is amusing, but potentially dangerous to the untrained user.)

The bulk of this book is the plant profiles, given in alphabetical order. Each entry gives the standard name of the plant, as well as it’s latin name and a large list of common names.  It tells where in an ecosystem that plant may be found, and describes it’s appearance in great detail.  It breaks down what uses the plant has, and the different methods to use for proper dosage and effectiveness.

5 photo of Clan of the Cave Bear The Clan Of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel  
Now, don’t laugh.  The “Earth’s Children” series by Jean Auel has a lot of haters, but I absolutely love the first book in the series, Clan of the Cave Bear. It tells a good story, but it is the herbal lore and skill sets used in this tale that really serve to impress!

Jean Auel does an amazing amount of research for her books, set in the glacier-ridden tundras of Europe when mammoth still roamed the earth. The protagonist, Ayla, is a Cro-Magnon, an early human.  When her home is destroyed in an earthquake, the five-year old Ayla wanders alone until she is found and adopted into a Neanderthal tribe.

The Neanderthal woman who assumes responsibility for Ayla is a healer, and so the child begins to learn the trade from her new mother. Between the herbal reference and the detailed descriptions of hunting methods, stone-working, hide-tanning, and structure-building, this novel could actually be handy to keep around.

I’m certain there are plenty of useful reference guides out there that I have not yet come across. What other books would you add to this list?


  • I own 3 out of 5 of these books – I agree so completely with your exposition of them that I am going to go out and get the other 2.

  • Betting parts of the apocalypse will be dreadfully slow and drawn out. You need to add at least one book of fiction to your list to alleviate the eschatological tedium. How about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Nevil Shute’s On the Beach?

  • In my survival stash, I would include a dictionary. Keeping a language alive, and also learning new words, is a task suitable for any member of an isolated group. Without a dictionary, language will change more quickly making connections with other isolated groups more and more difficult as time progresses.

    Along these lines, and in the opposite direction is a charming book about the evolution of words. I am sure it is out of print, because it was written by a mentor of my mother’s who would now be 95.

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