My top 6 list of books for the prepared: A brief review and list

Jesse Mathewson – Review Editor

No matter how much you plan, how many times you run the numbers, look at the variables or weigh the odds there is no reasonable way you can prepare for every scenario. And regardless your preparations, training, defenses and approaches there will always be someone or something that can overcome it. What matters more than objects, training and ones approach or beliefs is the simple reality that the ability to adapt is key to surviving in ANY situation that is outside the normal day to day.

This is why I am suggesting the following list of books as the most important ones you can read and absorb, not just own and have on a shelf, but actually read and understand them.
These books have been a great help to myself in my approach to being prepared physically and especially mentally. Your list may vary, however, I doubt the argument can be made that the idea behind my choices is not a sound one. Be fluid in your approach with life, rigid thinking, only one approach, my way or the highway; these are quite easily the fastest ways to bring harm to yourself and your loved ones. Adaptation is key to survival in any scenario, always. Everything else is secondary, though still extremely important, train (absolutely), gather supplies, build fortifications and more, but unless you can mentally adapt in a split second, the reality is, you will suffer as a result.

Sun Tsu “The Art of War” digitally it is available for free via many outlets, it can be easily downloaded in pdf form and printed. I recommend the following translations as being the best and easiest to understand. Lionel Giles (available in print for a price, or available for free download) Thomas Cleary’s translation and lastly Gagliardi’s translation. The first two are well done, and have selected translations of a variety of other contributors to Sun Tsu’s texts. It is in my strict opinion one of the best if not the keystone of practical tactics. It has been used for dozens of (self-help)books and is used in every major military school worldwide. What I have learned from it is simple, adapt, always adapt. Planning is key to victory, more importantly is the ability to utilize the five factors of war/life. The moral law, heaven, earth, commander, method and discipline. I highly suggest reading this and applying it whenever possible.

Machiavelli’s “The Prince” again, digitally available for free, this tome was written by a gentleman whose very name is defined as someone who is scheming, cunning and unscrupulous. The book itself outlines the “principles of power”, and more importantly explains how and why government and modern leadership regardless name given to them, socialist, democratic, republican, dictatorship, communist and any of the other approaches used. More importantly when applied it shows almost exactly how and why things occur as a result of or a lack of government interference. Quite literally one of the most important books on the philosophy of man and his relationship to government and rulers, as well as why the rulers do what they do. Essential when planning for or prepping for potential disasters as most if not all disasters can be attributed to government in some form. Even natural events that cause havoc within populated areas, the havoc is almost always a result of government intervention. Think Katrina, recent flooding and more. Private citizens helped, it was not until government “intervened” and removed the ability of private citizens to help or defend themselves that problems became glaringly apparent.

A book on edible and useful flora and fauna (plants and animals) in the area where you reside. For myself, the Delena Tull book on the Southwest (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona etc.,) but make sure you find the one that has either the best reviews or is the best for your area. Especially if you live where there are plants that are quite similar but have drastically different uses and affects on a human.

Foxfire 1-3 at a bare minimum, the entire 12 volume series if you can afford the weight and money. You will never find a better series of first hand approaches to bush-crafting, wilderness living and backwoods home-crafts. (Yes this technically puts us over the 6 book limit)

The Survival Medicine Handbook (Joe Alton MD – another contributor) my one recommendation is that you take the time, money and effort now regardless your abilities to learn hands on with one of the solid schools being taught at this time with regards to survival medicine, eg., Patriot Nurse or something similar. While the book is amazing, and definitely must have, hands on learning with this in advance is essential.

Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat (MD Creekmore) honestly, I have read dozens of “survival” books from the infamous Rawles through “Ex Navy Seals” and the SAS handbook…I gave all of them away, except this one. Simply because, it is practical, logical and extremely well put together. While the grid remains, you can also ask him directly via his website without getting charged $100 a minute for a 900 phone call like others tend to do. (slight exaggeration but, lets be honest, if you have thousands or millions in disposable income, why are you even reading a budget preppers blog, except that you understand the great value in saving money!)

Honorable mentions and books I have in my truck/ trailer kit also include several sets of classic books, Dickens, Doyle, Stevenson, Carroll and for non-fiction I also have Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness by Ron Melchiore which I recently ordered and completed and really enjoyed! Here is the thing, I have most of these in digital AND paper format. As I carry Kindle Paper’s/ solar panel- generator(with Faraday caged backups of all these times two) pre-loaded with these books and a few thousand more for just enjoying myself reading, (reading levels ranging from first grade through collegiate.) In addition I try to keep a full set of educational books, english, math, science, etc., as well on the kindle. There may come a time when rebuilding is essential, and education is the difference between another dark ages and a bright future.

What are your thoughts and why? Remember, these are my choices, some of you may prefer military textbooks, however, I am a civilian, and like most Americans, I cannot hump 20 lbs 20 miles let alone 60 or 120. There are ways however, to overcome the differences in physical ability and these include using ones head. Hence my selections and why.

Free the mind and the body will follow


  1. Although I have developed quite a library of eBooks (mostly for free) and store them on subject specific tablets, we have gone back to buying more reference books in book format. Although space is at a premium, the DW has agreed to give up some of her paperbacks for eBooks and make room for a larger reference library.

  2. Enjoyed this. Have to get The Art of War, been putting it off for too long.
    One minor drawback, or maybe I missed it, is a lack of focus on obtaining meat; or meat substitutes. The books from the Southwest address this issue- thx for including. Trapping & snaring may become paramount. Good traps last; while snares are good for traveling light, they are almost never reusable. A heavy duty snare, this is for information only, will kill a full size deer in under a minute. Snares are always illegal in Illinois, where I temporarily live.
    Many traps & snares ‘from days of yore’ are simply neither reliable nor easily constructed.
    Sorry to get off topic & be repetitive, but this ‘art or science’ rounds out the prepper stash & skillset.
    VG article, thx.

    • As I dont see a benefit personally in vegetarian approaches, meat substitutes were not at the top of the list for me. Generally flora/fauna books will include a solid variety of good food balance!

  3. Essential books should be kept in printed form and digital in my opinion. I would add a few more titles like ‘where there is no dentist/doctor’, garden/herb books, any livestock specific books to compliment herd/flock.

  4. Still like Rawles’ book – How To Survive The End of The World As We Know It, which is a classic in my opinion.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Red I have this book and it does have a lot of good ideas other then the idea of buying a used fire truck just in case your house catches fire.

      It would cost a fortune to keep a fire truck ready for such an event. Not sound advice at all.

      But like any book if it gives you a few ideas it’s worth it, and this book gave me several ideas I expanded on to fit my situation. I bought it at a B&N store for $8.00

  5. ladyhawthorne says:

    I would also suggest books on old time farming, gardening and animal husbandry if you don’t already have some. I also have a couple of camping/trapping/woodcraft books aimed at boy scouts since they are clear and easy to understand. You may know this stuff already but you never know who may need to know it in the future.

  6. azrealityprepper says:

    While I agree with all your books, the first two are a little esoteric and are not readily usable without thought. The others are practical and immediately usable information. I would recommend other practical books such as Red Cross First Aid Handbook, Ball Blue Book of Canning, and Storey’s Basic Country Skills. I too have an extensive collection of hard copy books, I do not trust e-books due to losing computers over time and a potential for losing total access.

    • I agree, though I have found life can be more easily lived through application of sun tsu, as for the prince it is a great book too show us the system we live within, and how to better avoid entanglements that may cause problems.

  7. Chuck Findlay says:

    PUBLIC WORKS – A Handbook For Self-Reliant Living by Walter Szykitka

    I’ve had this for years, it tells you how to do just about everything.

    And don’t forget The Encyclopedia of Country Living” It’s a Must Have book.

  8. I haven’t many of these books, but the first one. I’ll probably pick these up since they’ll be on sale during the holidays, as well as a basic first aid book or two.

  9. karl b theis says:

    some of these works are worthless, the foxfire books are nice to read in a arm chair, but will do nothing to keep you alive in a Teotwawki , if you live in the city ,and have no bug out location prep for survival in the city, Ragnar Benson’s work ( live off the land in the city and country) (C) 1982 isbn 0-87364-200-7 is as good as any,and offers insight into city survival. Movement in times of teotwawki will always be at great risk. Fiction work, about teotwawki,can help one not being in a unfamiler mind set,in these times.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      The foxfire books are nice to read in a arm chair, but will do nothing to keep you alive in a Teotwawki.

      I decided that 15-years ago when I bought 6 of them from a flea-market, read them and found them over hyped as far as what is in them. I sold them at a hamfest (ham radio flea-market) because they didn’t offer much real value to a prepper.

      I don’t need to make dulcimers or wooden locks. I have metal locks that work many times better and cost nothing. I don’t need to be told how to make moonshine as I don’t drink alcohol.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        PS: If someone really wants the Foxfire books the first 3 to 5 of them can be found on-line for free in PDF format.

        • Hence my suggestion regarding the first 3. 🙂

          And they actually have allot to do with loving off grid. You are all right, if you are city folk. – however, if you understand and embrace the benefit of off grid living…

      • “I don’t need to make dulcimers or wooden locks. I have metal locks that work many times better and cost nothing. I don’t need to be told how to make moonshine as I don’t drink alcohol.”

        Me neither. I think the people who promote the Foxfire books haven’t really read them. Nice to know about how things were done in the past, but the information is not meant for survival.

        I just got Jim Cobb’s “Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide: food, shelter, security, off-the-grid power and more life-saving strategies for self-sufficient living” from the library. Only in the 3rd chapter so don’t know how useful it is, but so far – not very. Just basic information you can get anywhere.

  10. I bought on survival from a well known author. In the book he proudly showed a picture of his home/bunker and it’s 10″ thick concrete basement walls. The rest of the house was made of logs. and the whole thing set against a slope full of pines trees. Pines here, there, below and most of all against the house.
    The bunker to me looked more like a dutch oven than a bunker. One match upwind and BBQed expert.
    I take my own advice now.
    Avoid natural disasters. Avoid crowds and avoid pine trees.

    • Ron Melchiore says:

      Expat, I got a kick out of the dutch oven reference. Yep, pine trees will burn with a vengeance. Having survived forest fires, there is no way on earth I’d want to be in a bunker riding a firestorm out.

      There are ways to make peace with the pine trees though. I have a post in the queue on the topic of forest fires.

  11. Crazy Joe in South Jersey says:

    Read the first 4 on your list over and over for some . My edibles book is for the Northeast , also a college course for the that in the Northeast . Studied med books but not the one you mention besides Red Cross training .

    Never heard of book # 6 by a M.D. Creekmore ? ? ?

  12. Storey’s “Basic Country Skills” is good. It references Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living”. In her book, Carla references “The Have More Plan” by Ed and Carolyn Robinson which was written in the 1940’s. I love all 3 of these books for different reasons. The Have More Plan has farm duties divided strictly along gender lines – complete with Carolyn’s chapter called “A letter to wives”. If you can get past the way things were in the 1940’s , the book really is a blueprint for self sufficiency on a small piece of land.

    When I think of what life might be like after SHTF, I am inclined to prepare to go as low tech as possible. I stockpile what I can understand and repair myself. For example, there is no sense having fancy electricity producing equipment. Light source for my family will be lanterns, homemade candles and using daylight hours to accomplish tasks that need light. I will stock bicycles parts, and continue to train the horse to pull a cart. My favorite books support my philosophy. If I should one day join forces with someone who is competent with machines, electricity and such, I could adjust my Luddite tendencies.

  13. Ron Melchiore says:

    Jesse, I was browsing through to add a few titles to the list and was really blown away that you put a mention of my book as worthy of reading. Thank you so much for the honor.

    Some of the other readers have already mentioned books I would have included. Carla Emery’s book The Encyclopedia of Country Living is excellent. (although we have the first version out which was called Old Fashioned Recipe Book)

    Readers Digest Back to Basics is another excellent wide topic book we have referenced to in the past.

    There are a number of great bush craft skills books we have such as Tom Browns Field Guide to Wilderness Survival and Bushcraft, written I believe by Richard Graves. As well books more specialized for seed saving like Nancy Bubel’s The new seed starters handbook. There are some wonderful books out there for specialized topics. I’d be happy to pass on other books we have used if anybody has a specific topic in mind.

    • Hey Ron, is your Carla Emery book the one with the green pages?

      • Ron Melchiore says:

        Hello B, The book is packed away now so uncertain what the page color is. But this is the version we have:

        Please tell me it’s the most rarest version on the planet worth a million bucks.

        • Ron – it is priceless! The information written on those pages is more valuable than gold and if you read, understand and practice the art (which of course you do already), you will not need those million dollars for you are already man very rich in wisdom. 🙂

          • Ron Melchiore says:

            I agree B, It has been our most used all round reference source over the years and it shows. It’s a little rough around the edges but if I only had one choice for a homesteading book. That’s the one!

            • I think the best part is when she starts talking about a subject and then winds her way through the story of how she gave birth to another child or a story about the book tour or collating pages by hand and then ties that in with an elderly neighbor’s advice on how to can peaches and then gets back to the original subject. I like that she’s not afraid to talk about her successes and her failures and clearly sees the humor in the craziness of life. As single farm mom of 7 home schooled kids who is trying oh so hard to be self sufficient, I can relate to so much of what she says and would have loved to meet her.

              • Ron Melchiore says:

                Good day B! It’s been a long time since I’ve read Carla’s book. I know it was my “go to book” in my early years. But I know she was a down to earth lady and I do remember she wasn’t afraid to tell a story or tell of previous failures. Johanna remembers the part about collating the pages with neighbors or friends. She was ahead of her time. We were saddened years ago to find that she had died way too young. Looks like her daughter has taken up the cause.

    • I love the readers digest one! Completely forgot about it, but its on my shelf.

  14. After reading Lucifer’s Hammer, I did go online and order Vols. 1 and 2 of The Way Things Work. I don’t expect I’ll be in charge of rebuilding civilization, but they are interesting and they do make one think about how complex our modern technologically-dependent world really is.

  15. Chuck Findlay says:

    There is no replacement for a working knowledge of how to do things, we all need skills and you can’t get skills without getting out and doing it. Always learning and always improving our positions is a must do.

    We all need to have a healthy library to support that working knowledge. Websites you find useful should be printed out, hard copies of information is a must have.

    I also like my NOOK E-Reader, in the space of a paperback book I can store thousands of books on the NOOK and the card in it. I have the E-Books backed up to several DVD’s I burnt so I can reload them or transfer them to a new E-Reader. I also have a backup NOOK I bought at a garage sale.

    I tend to have paper copies of all survival books I like, but also have many of them in electronic form.

    For a full blown event (Atomic war) paper books are probably the way to go. But for events that fall short of this electronic books are still going to be useful.

    My Nook is the simple NOOK (black & white) that runs for 3-weeks on a charge so it doesn’t need much power. I have solar panels to charge it. My small Goal Zero panel easily charges it in a few hours.

    It’s also worth having an old notebook computer to store Word files, PDF files and web pages and other info. You only need a bit of power to fire up a notebook computer and be able to read info. Lots of info can be stored on a computer hard drive and with a case for the computer it’s a good grab & go info source to have with you. Just make backup copies with the computers DVD burner drive. And also have them on USB thumb drives. And the nice thing is old laptops are inexpensive and easy to find. I’m typing this right now on a Dell laptop I bought off Craig’s List for $120.00. And if you don’t want net access (WiFy) and a new battery you can find laptops for $25.00. Hard to come up with a better priced way to store a lot of info.

    Like I said, in less then full out war these electronic info devices are still going to work and be useful. Post economic SHTF your computer is still going to fire up and work. All you need is a small solar panel to charge it if for some reason you can’t or don’t have grid power.

  16. Jesse, I find your postings especially helpful. I have a couple of questions for you on subjects you’ve covered in the past: computers, emp’s, etc. Any/best way to contact you?…Tx!

  17. Always feel free to contact me, I love sharing information and dont know everything, I figure if that magically happens, I have lived a good life. Lol

    Thank you all for the invaluable feedback

  18. BulldogBeau says:

    My Junior High School science teacher Mike Krebil wrote this book. I remember going on trips into the wilderness and tasting different wild edibles. If only I had the prepper mindset then I would have paid more attention and retained. Lucky for us he just published this book.
    “Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles”

  19. Chuck Findlay says:

    Here is somrthing I just ran across.

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