C.J.’s Book Review: Long Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age, by James Ballou

I had long been interested in buying Mr. Ballou’s book Long-Term Survival In The Coming Dark Age: Preparing to Live after Society Crumbles. He has several compelling titles out there about survival skills. I selected  this one because the cover caught my eye: a Foreword by Ragnar Benson. For those who don’t know this author, he has written many excellent books on the subject of Survival and Preparedness. He is considered one of the originals along with Mel Tappan, and Kurt Saxon who were among the main Survivalist writers  in the 1970s.  Benson also often disagrees with his contemporaries, making him even more interesting to read. The political and economic situation in the present day reminds me of that  time when the word Survivalist was first invented.  Benson, to me, is my favorite author on this subject. He combines a unique writing style with real world experience in Survival and Preparedness.  I often re-read Mr. Benson’s work for entertainment and review of essential skills and philosophy. I figured anyone of his caliber who would put his name on a recent book was worth buying.

Ballou starts out with the usual “Why Prepare?” argument citing possibilities of what could happen if society collapses. Unless the book is for beginners or entry level readers, a chapter like this  should be omitted. Most Preparedness-Minded folks don’t need to be convinced. If they do need to be convinced there are plenty of publications out there for free. Personally I just go to work in the Emergency Room and observe modern American society in all it’s glory.

Mr. Ballou lists the need for the usual: Wood Stoves, Tools, Water Purification Filters etc. Again, an entry-level discussion would be good  for the completely clueless, but not for more advanced Preparedness people.  He lists many survival items,  but the problem is he always qualifies with “Could be useful” or “Could Possibly” or “Might Be”. Unlike Benson, he indicates little or no real-world experience with the supplies he writes about. Often they are just basic common sense. Do people really need to read that a bathtub could be filled with water for emergency use? That’s FEMA stuff, not Dark Ages stuff. Still,  the illustrations are a fun reminder of some tools and equipment to have. You may just want to take a picture of your own stock-up items for later reference. Or keep and read  those free tool catalogs. If you want pictures, don’t buy this book.   

The chapter on underground caches is interesting, but there is nothing new here either. Advise such as making sure no one sees what you are doing, cover your tracks, etc. also goes without being said (or written). One interesting note on the subject of burial of survival items p. 27:
Survival author Ragnar Benson has written about using a post auger for boring deeper holes. Keep in mind, however that a full size . . . auger will be more difficult to conceal if you travel on foot to your cache site and you might draw unwanted attention to your activities . . .

That’ is quite a thing to say: contradict a survival expert with more than four decades of real-world experience-who endorsed your own book! Especially since  Benson’s own book on Caching is a great, informative read. Did Mr. Ballou consider a post-hole is faster to dig, or disturbs the ground less thus offsetting other disadvantages? What about breaking down the digger into component parts to be re-assembled at the dig site? A post hole digger handle looks a lot like a hiking staff. Mr. Ballou does not discuss advantages, disadvantages or alternatives to this, other than he does not think  it’s a good idea. Before I would go toe-to-toe with an writer and survivalist like Ragnar Benson, I would make sure I had some solid points to make other than what seems to be vague speculation.
He also said to be sure to carry some water with you when you go digging. Thank you Mr. Ballou for the sage survival advise.

Chapter 3 was worth the price of the book. The Survival Workshop. I could tell that this is the area where Mr. Ballou has experience and expertise. The basic metalworking, riveting and shop set-up ideas are well presented, with less “could-be” or “might be useful” and more “normally very effective”. I like to read “is” instead of “might” when it comes to life-or-death analysis of what I may have to do in a societal collapse. I am not a hobbyist.  I really like the idea of making a thread cutting die from a file, or a vise from 2 x 4s.  Now those examples are  something that could be potentially used in the Dark Ages! This chapter, like quality survival books, really got me thinking. He has a book dedicated to this subject I want to buy.

Chapter 4 is also very good, a  review and reminder of the countless things that are thrown away of potential use in a later time when they may not be able to be manufactured on a large scale. Still, it’s not survival in the Dark Ages, it’s things one can do now, while there are dumpsters to dive. I scavenge in cities I visit. I find this  fun and sometimes of financial benefit. I share the writer’s inclination to look for wheel weights and other small items in parking lots. This is a skill common in Third World countries.  All preparedness-minded people should at least think about routine scavenging. Forget about the image of the homeless degenerate culling for food in a back-alley garbage can like an animal. Be discreet. Dress with durable clothing.  I have found climbing rope, drills, hardware, electrical supplies new-in-box among other things too numerous to detail here. I do it while jogging while carrying a cloth shopping bag. I even sometimes wear a silk mask if the dumpster is under surveillance. One has to keep warm,  right? Good points are made by Ballou, but this could have been a separate article or included in another book. It’s not post-dark-ages survival guidelines.

The rest of the book covers the subjects of fire making, cordage and what trade goods to store. Again, this is very basic information. The Bushcraft skills would be better reviewed by reading  Ray Mears. Ragnar Benson also covers trade goods in his writings including the specific need for spare tool handles. No one can argue against the possibility that,  in a Dark Age, things like matches and other high tech manufactured items be scarce or unavailable.  Ballou directed the reader to more complete, already published works, rather than attempt to re-introduce the entire subject in a few pages. If he has direct experience, maybe just discuss his first-hand problems with bushcraft techniques and his own personal solutions, if any.  This is what another important bushcraft writer John McPherson does.

Mr. Ballou has written a pretty good introduction to the world of preparedness with two strong idea-based chapters on survival metalworking and improvisation from found objects. Other than metalworking ideas, it has little to do with post-dark age survival.  It’s a basic primer  about getting ready. Again, other than metalworking his first-hand experience is not apparent to me in this book. If he does indeed have some experience in survival, then tell me.  I would buy the book for the chapters on metalworking and scavenger hunting.  Otherwise,  read the books by the man who wrote the forward: Ragnar Benson. Writers from the early Survivalist Movement are also what I consider essential and even fun to read. If you want to learn more about bushcraft then read Ray Mears and watch his videos. John McPherson is also an excellent bushcraft writer on the subject along with Bradford Angier who started in the 1960s and  earlier. These folks have done it.  Don’t forget that basic books about survival  have been written about in great detail before, sometimes more than 40 years ago.  However, nothing is a substitute for personal skill-building. That means put the books away and start doing it yourself.