A wilderness survival instructor looks at past catastrophes to inform our responses to future ones.
Archaeologists study how cultures and civilizations fall, and Begley, an underwater archaeologist and anthropology professor, begins with three once-flourishing civilizations that collapsed: “the Classic Maya civilization in Central America and Mexico, the Western Roman Empire around the Mediterranean, and the many Native American societies in eastern North America after the arrival of European colonizers.” Disease wiped out 90% of North American tribes, jungles teem with abandoned Maya cities and monuments, and the “decline and fall” of Rome remains a staple of literature and “the most discussed decline globally.” Yet, unlike fictional apocalypses portrayed in countless books and movies, these were not sudden events. Maya culture waxed and waned for centuries, and few Romans understood the forces that were leading to their eventual fall. Thankfully, Native Americans have worked for centuries to maintain what they can of their culture. Apocalypses in Hollywood—and in the minds of doomsday preppers—destroy civilization, leaving a few groups behind, mostly heroic, well-armed men who fend off unruly mobs, usually from cities and thus unable to take care of themselves. Begley points out that this is not how humans respond to disasters in real life. Social breakdown is fleeting, and people “rise to the occasion.” The author emphasizes that the most important skill for the future is not self-defense but the ability to cooperate. After an insightful overview of the fantasies and realities of catastrophes, the author describes what to do if you get lost in the wilderness: These are the lessons he teaches in his survival course. They have little to do with the book’s major theme but make entertaining and educative reading: Staying warm, dry, and hydrated must be the first priorities. While food is necessary, you can survive without it for a few days.
Solid pop-science analysis of apocalypses and survival.