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Cover: 'The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook' ()

Stranded? Three Books To Save Your Life

by Jake Halpern
Aug 25, 2009 (All Things Considered)

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Just after getting married, my wife and I had a seaplane drop us off deep in the backcountry of New Zealand. We set out on our honeymoon with an "emergency locator beacon" in hand and a week's worth of provisions in our packs.

We soon reached a hut with a few cots, a potbelly stove, a bag of macaroni and a note that read: "Fishermen were here, enjoy the food we left." My wife and I unpacked our bags and then stepped out for a stroll. Upon our return, we discovered a family of New Zealanders devouring our provisions. Apparently, they read the note, assumed our unpacked food supplies were the fishermen's food and had themselves a feast.

"What are we going to do?" asked my wife.

I wish I could tell you that this was my MacGyver moment — that I made a fishing net out of dangling Spanish Moss and fed us for a week. But I had no reply to this question. It was humiliating. And we barely ate for the next week.

After surviving this ordeal, I discovered a wonderfully delicious genre of literature that will appeal to men (and know-it-alls) of all varieties: survival books.

'The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook'

The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, hardcover, 512 pages, Chronicle Books, list price: $24.95

First let me suggest The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht. It offers advice on how to escape from quicksand, land a plane or survive if your parachute fails to open. The language is pithy — so pithy, you could probably finish reading the chapter on quicksand, while still sinking in the sand. Then you could simply maneuver onto your back, spread your arms and legs, and float toward safety — or so the book says.

'When All Hell Breaks Loose'

When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes, by Cody Lundin, paperback, 450 pages, Gibbs Smith, list price: $19.99

For more nuanced advice, I suggest When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin. Lundin explains how to treat wounds, dispose of dead bodies, and — of course — how to cook mice and rats over a campfire. Don't bother to skin these critters, Lundin says; the fur will burn right off, and the guts will pop out naturally over the coals. Soon the mouse will resemble a "blackened hot dog-like object," though Lundin urges readers to eat quickly because "mouse brains suck when they're cold."

'SAS Survival Handbook'

SAS Survival Handbook, by John Wiseman, paperback, 288 pages, HarperCollins, list price: $19.99

If you're truly serious about surviving, pick up a copy of SAS Survival Handbook by John Wiseman, who is a veteran of Britain's legendary Special Air Service. This is an encyclopedic work, with detailed drawings of medicinal plants, venomous snakes and easily built shelters. True survival, the reader soon realizes, depends upon such mind-numbingly boring tasks as tying complicated knots and studying storm clouds.

All of these books allow me to fantasize about that cataclysmic day when I will explain how I intend to land an old seaplane or escape a swarm of killer bees. My advice will be of questionable value, of course. What matters, however, is that when my wife beseeches me for my opinion — at the critical moment — I will, at long last, have something to say. Now that's peace of mind.

Jake Halpern is the author of Dormia, in which a young boy named Alfonso has more than a few brushes with death.

Three Books is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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