Including Old Books in Your Preps, Part 1, by Marica Bernstein

My aim in this essay is to convince you of the worth of building a home library consisting mainly of old books. I will not suggest that you pack a set of Encyclopǣdia Britannicas in your bug-out-bag. I’m addressing those of you who are, or hope to be, hunkered down in your homes when the lights go out. Throughout, I’ll be making the same assumption that JWR makes: “Survival is not just about guns, groceries and gadgets.” To my mind is it also very much about preserving Western Culture– the values, traditions, mores, histories, and even anecdotes and funny pages that shaped our lives and the lives of our ancestors. Western Culture– American Culture– is preserved in old books. These old books should be on your shelves.

Preserving Western Culture is a good and lofty goal. It is jokingly what I said I was up to years ago when I began collecting old books in earnest. A dollar at the junk store here, $40 at the library sale there, and my collection has grown to over 3,300 books. So be forewarned! Western Culture and Civilization are rich. Building a library can become an obsession.

A subset of my library contains 300+ old cookbooks belonging to my husband who truly believes America’s cooking heritage is the only thing worth saving. A fair number of his cookbooks are spiral bound and come from Ladies’ Auxiliaries. But that’s another story.

“There are three services books may render in the home: they may be ornaments, tools, or friends.”  – Lyman Abbott, “Books for Study and Reading,” in The Guide to Reading (1925, p.1)

A good and lofty goal is a good and lofty goal, and worth pursuit in and of itself. But its grandness can overshadow other, more practical reasons for a prepper to build a library of old books. So let’s turn to Abbott’s “three services books may render in the home: ornaments, tools, and friends” and examine each from a prepper’s perspective.

A note before we begin. I use the umbrella phrase, “when the lights go out,” to refer to all manner of, as JWR calls them, “hard times”– everything from a short-term kid-hits-a-light-pole power outage, to a weeks’ long weather-related disaster, to a full blown, nothing will ever be the same, TEOTWAWKI. Old books have a place in each.

Mere Ornaments?

Who needs ornaments when the lights go out?” This is a fine question, and at first pass you may be tempted to answer, “No one. When the lights go out, the last thing on my mind is ornaments!” I beg to differ. Preppers’ homes need at least a few books as ornaments– maybe more!

What is an ornament? In 1892, Webster’s defined an ornament as that which “renders [something] more beautiful to the eye.” In 1916, “that which adds grace or beauty.” Twenty years later (1925), that which “adorns, adds beauty to.” Abbbott’s claim is that one service books can provide is to add grace or beauty to your home even before the lights go out. But what about after? What good are ornaments then?

Old BooksLet’s say you’re prepared for the coming hurricane. Your ducks are literally in a row on a board spanning two chairs in their storm shelter. As is typical in your locale, the power provided by your electric co-op is already out, even in advance of the strongest winds, and you know it will not be coming on any time soon. You and your family smoothly transition from normal to running-on-generators-power stations-and-banks normal. It’s work, but you’ve done it before. At the end of the evening, perhaps with a freshly brewed cup of coffee or tea in hand (because you are supremely redundant in ways to boil water), you go to the shelf and pull down Glorious Gardens (1989).v

You know full well that your own garden cannot be described as “glorious”– certainly it will not be after the hurricane!– but you can dream. Or perhaps you choose the beautifully illustrated Riley’s Farm-Rhymes (1901, 1st ed. 1888)vi simply to look at its Country Pictures. Or maybe it’s the leather bound volume of Euripides (1980, written 431-405BC) vii, with its gilded pages, to stumble upon such passages as this: “What has happened, Theseus, has not touched the old. It is the young whose death will break your heart.” No matter. The days ahead will be filled with chainsaws and cooped up ducks and, more than likely, lesser prepared friends to tend to. You deserve a few minutes in which to admire an ornament.

All well and good. I see your point,” you are nodding in agreement. “It is good to give yourself some relaxing downtime during hard times. But what about TEOTWAWKI? What good will ornaments be then?”

It is human nature to appreciate beauty, whether it be art, music, literature, the design of an elegant experiment, or Mother Nature’s handiwork. The end of the world as we know it erases one world– a world in which beauty is abundant if you care to look for it– and ushers in one in which, at the very least, access to beauty may be severely limited except as it is presented in old books. Consider the children– your grandchildren, perhaps– born post-TEOTWAWKI. What glorious gardens will they know? Would you deny them a few minutes from their chores to read from “The Brook-Song” (Riley Farm Rhymes, p41)

Little brook! Little brook!

You have such a happy look–

Such a very merry manner, as you swerve and

curve and crook–

And your ripples, one and one,

Reach each other’s hands and run

Like laughing little children in the sun!

so that they would know once, not so very long ago,

little children ran laughing in the sun?

Would you not want them to know of, through the old books you treasure as ornaments, a world transformed, across the span of thousands of years, from the primitive to the beautiful? And in so knowing, know that is is possible for humans to create beauty, even when the lights haven’t yet come on? So when you see Etchers and Etching: Chapters in the History of the Artviii or A Treasury of Grand Opera,ix (“with stories, history, and music described in detail,”) at the flea market, don’t pass them by. For a buck or two, you’ve just salvaged a bit of Western Culture’s beauty.


No doubt many of you appreciate the practical service of books– new and old– as tools, and have several “How-to” or “DIY” volumes on you shelter-in-place shelves. I see the value of being redundant across time. In other words, for each how-to task that factors into your circumstance and prepping, have an old book that describes how the task was accomplished before electricity or before the materials used today were available; another which is more “modern” in that it’s from a time when the world ran on electricity but wasn’t yet filled with bits and bytes; finally, one which is up to date– the internet does in fact go out just at the time the gas regulator freezes up.

The old books in this category (and there are others) of books-as-tools are rich in ways their contemporary counterparts are not. Consider the opening paragraphs of Shopwork on the Farm (1945).x Its author, Mack M. Jones, begins by asserting that “In order to keep the farm home, buildings, machinery and equipment in good repair, a workshop of some kind is essential.” The farmer needs to be an unspecialized mechanic who is systematic, orderly, and appreciate his tools.

Although the farmer needs to be an unspecialized mechanic, rather than a specialized mechanic, he should nevertheless be a good one. He should be thorough and systematic. Slovenly or slipshod methods have no more place on the farm than in any other business or occupation. Machinery that works well, gates that open and shut easily, and buildings and fences that are orderly and in good repair not only save time and money for the farmer, but contribute to morale and pride of ownership. (Shopwork on the Farm, p1)[my emphasis]

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t find anything about “pride of ownership” in my Big Box Store how-to book. Similarly, consider the first paragraph in the chapter, “Mending,” from Woman’s Institute Library of Dressmaking: Care of Clothing (1925).xi

Few women appreciate the importance of mending, forgetting entirely the old proverb, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Every housewife should form the habit of doing the weekly mending each week instead of allowing it to accumulate until it becomes a burden. Carefully mended garments denote thrift, industry, and economy; therefore, every woman and every girl should take pride in knowing how to darn a pair of stocking, to patch a worn garment, and to mend a tear. [my emphasis]

As cookbooks are the classic how-to books, one more quote, this from Meta Given’s, “The Food Shopper’s Creed” from The Modern Family Cook Book (1958, 1st 1942, p48):xii

Purchasing food is an important link in the business of feeding my family, thereforeI will make every effort to weight possibilities offered by various markets, by various foods, and the forms in which they are offered from season to season, to the end that I may take pride in a job well done. [my emphasis]

This is not a sort of pride which goeth before a fall. This is pride of the sort preppers know well. It’s that feeling you have looking at a well-stocked larder, or neatly stacked woodpile. It’s what you feel when you’re closing in on the end of the 12th day without electricity flowing from holes in walls (or maybe yours still does!) and no internet, and you step back and admire that room divider you just finished building (using plans from your 1956 edition of Popular Science Do-It-Yourself Encyclopediaxiii) to cordon off your sister-in-law and her three charming, polite, little urchins (all of whom you love dearly) who invited themselves to crash in your family room for the duration. An instance of classic Western Culture is pride in doing a job well done during hard times.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)


  1. I had been looking for a copy of” The Little Red Hen” for a couple of years. My wife bought one for my birthday this year but she said you probably won’t like it, to be politically correct they changed the end, the red hen shared with all her friends even though the hadn’t done any work. I almost cried! Thank goodness she was kidding, I would have had to use it for fire building material.

  2. I always thought I could make a pretty good living during TEOTHWAWKI with my sewing and mending skills. I even have a restored Singer hand-crank sewing machine for just-in-case. Thank you for reminding me to look into extra needles, belts, etc.

  3. Wonderful article about old books. I am addicted to collecting old books and have been for 60+ years. Especially history, geography, maps, classics (especially those handsome books with gilt lettering on cover), cookbooks – love those church lady cookbooks and ebay has many of them – old primers/textbooks, poetry, and on and on. A yard sale looms, and I go right for the books, and then the old glass and porcelain. TV is almost always OFF, internet sites give me the REAL news, and my Kindle is a best friend. But, REAL hard cover books my first love, and my best friend.

  4. Excellent article Marica!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts in various Preparedness sites and have learned from you.

    Stay vigilant and God Bless this once GREAT REPUBLIC!

  5. Great article. And great quote by Lyman Abbott.

    No one mentioned Amazon. I believe they have now captured the majority of print book sales. And they are expanding into the sale of used print books. Probably noting to see. Surely Jeff Bezos would never censor us like Facebook or twitter. He seems nice enough. /sarc

      1. JW, that is a smart move. I wish I could but most of my purchases are for a prison ministry.

        Get this. All Federal prisons (that I have dealt with) accept ONLY books from AMAZON and shipped DIRECTLY to them. They will not even accept used books from Amazon. There Is a wealth of information essentially censored by the federal government and denied to them. Many of these prisoners are working on their own legal defense.

  6. For comfort, and because they are also good starter sets for children, try a set of the Little House series and the Beany Malone series. Kindle and online text can be altered to conform to today’s diversity and inclusion requirements, which is why I have been slowly building my own library, including a Natural History book (animals, plants, rocks and trees) and one History of Ancient Civilizations book. Old high school level textbooks on arithmetic and English Literature and composition are good too (can’t tell you how many times I’ve winced, when reading books with terrible grammar and punctuation) Schoolhouse Rock, anyone?

  7. I’m enjoying the article so far. I certainly hope that under the tool category we do not miss that books themselves are the primary tool of the mind. They are not simply resources as a tool. Reading, above our current level, builds new neural pathways, increases IQ, teaches us to express ideas more precisely and therefore more clearly. Reading makes you smarter and this, as made in God’s image, is our foremost advantage both as humans in general but also as a civilization. Read complex and rich books.

    And, also write. Writing forces us to discover what we really believe and feel and think because it takes consideration to rightly express an idea. (stepping on my own toes here) A simple thought will manifest as a permanent cultural, historical, familial, governmental understanding if we write that thought down. Keeping a journal is good but not just a journal. Write is as though the grandchildren you will never meet need to get to know you and need how and why the world works.

    And, another, right down every instance where our LORD made himself known in the immediate, where you saw His work first hand and were stunned because He expressed it to you personally as a gift of the knowledge His making that result come to fruition. These are the most difficult things to express and will not only make you smarter but will build your Christian relationships with each other and with Father God.

    And finally, I’ll add this; throw your dumbed down and simplified NWO ‘translation’ of the bible in the garbage and get several, plain and without reference or comment of any form, King James Holy Bibles. No man need modify and modernize the things of the LORD. The Holy Spirit sent by Christ will guide you and edify you. Seek Him like your life depends on it, it does.

    1. Thank you.

      “I certainly hope that under the tool category we do not miss that books themselves are the primary tool of the mind.”

      Great point!

    2. If you are Catholic, get the Douai-Rheims version of the Bible. Like the King James, which is in part based on the earlier D-R, it is very literal and far more vivid than modern versions. It is like reading the Bible in hi-def. (Hey! I never noticed that before.)

      If you can find one, try to get a version that has English on one page, and Latin on the facing page. It is a wonderful way to learn the language.

      If you want one with commentary, try the Haycock edition of the Douai-Rheims.

      The footnotes in the Jerusalem Bible, scholars’ edition, are extremely good, but the introductions to the various books are pure modernist poison. Just use them for kindling.

      And whatever you do, do NOT get any Jerome Bible Commentary published after 1960. Scholarly heresy by the bucketful. The editor, Raymond Brown, repented of it before he died, but the damage was done.

  8. A wonderful article! I buy most of my books online from ABE One can find almost anything there. I normally only buy used books and they are very affordable. Just wish I had more shelves. Also, one of the hard things about books, who wants them when I pass to the next world.

  9. Some people like to read books, just for the fun of reading. Other people read books for needed information. … The J.W. Rawles series of books, and a few other books, can provide information, entertainment, and possibly a ‘safe room’ in a house. = A library of books may provide some bullet protection.

    See = “Oklahoma police department fires guns into textbooks to see if they can stop bullets. Really.” The Washington Post, March 2, 2018. =
    “The Panama Police Department in Le Flore County, Okla., fired rounds from various guns into textbooks of varying thicknesses to see if they would stop the bullets. The results, according to KTUL News: Two books stopped a handgun fired at close range, and three stopped a round fired from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.”

    Hickok45 on YouTube, June 11, 2015 ~500 S&W Magnum~ He fired that pistol at a thick Medical Textbook. The shot at the book started at 4min&15sec into the video. The bullet was stopped within a very thick book.
    There might be an opportunity to become a Contributor to SurvivalBlog, by simply shooting bullets at old books. +Surely, some books are more bullet resistant, because of a hard cover to hold the pages tightly together, and the quality of the paper used for the pages.

      1. You’re a >nice person, Marica. … Maybe, some other readers would consider becoming a possible SurvivalBlog contributor by shooting just a few books. Besides encouraging the use of books for physical protection, it just might save many books from the landfill.

        “Books in the Landfill – An Avoidable Waste”
        “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produces a biannual indepth report of materials in the solid waste stream, titled “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States, 2009 Facts and Figures.” Books fall into the “Paper and Paperboard Non-durable Goods” category, and the 2009 EPA report indicates that while 33.3 percent of books in the waste stream are recovered, approximately 640,000 tons are discarded into the landfill. Books comprise roughly 0.4 percent of total municipal solid waste generation.” (2012)
        [From the NationalWildlifeFederation]

  10. The best place to buy affordable books is St. Vinnies. Their price is low and they have a ton of books. Plus, unlike Goodwill, their book are is organized by type of book and alphabetically by author.

  11. I love books & I love reading. Although I have many books, I’ll need to look for books specifically about Western civilization. & I need enough elementary education books for 1-2 teachers to open a small school at TEOTWAWKI. Today’s teachers tell me that almost all curriculum these days are electronic & online. I still believe tomorrow’s teachers will use old methods.

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s column. & thank you, Marcia.

    1. Thank you! In a later part, I’ll talk about Will and Ariel Durant’s, “The Story of Civilization.” It’s an 11 volume set, usually way overpriced as a set, but you can pick up individual volumes fairly cheaply.

  12. Paul Harrel of youtube fame recently did a video on household items and their ability to stop rifle and pistol fire.

    The full book case did surprising well .

    1. Yes, … See ~Bulletproofing Your House – M4 Vs. Wall and Sideways Books.~ YouTube, April 21, 2010. VeryLowBudget Channel, “Ballistics expert Paul Harrell demonstrates how a wall and a bookshelf protects against an M4 assault rifle.”

      There is an excellent opportunity for someone to become a SurvivalBlog Contributor, by shooting bullets at books. … All Man-Created disasters don’t have to be a TEOTWAWKI event. In some strict gun control cities, the flying bullets zip through the neighborhoods day and night.

  13. Wife and myself have been collecting old how to books for several years. In the event of a grid down situation, we will have books to read how to do things instead of relying on a computer or electronic device that uses power. Just another back up system for “just in case”.

  14. Thanks for a great article! I’ve always thought that prepping should have four B’s (beans, bandaids, bullets and BOOKS). I very much agree with the goal of preserving the principles, culture and history of western/American civilization, and think that books are the best way to transmit that knowledge to the future uncorrupted an internet where history is rewritten daily.

    While the Encyclopedia Brittannica may not fit in a bug out bag, it belongs in any retreat. An older print version is a treasure trove and the only private publication that was regarded as so reliable that an entry could be used as evidence in court. If/When the world is changed forever, those 30 volumes contain the history, science, and practical knowledge that exceeds that of any current college education. My set (bought new in 1975) has substituted for access to a library on many occasions, and still acts as a fact-check on much of the current internet

    Yes, my cabin is also overflowing with old and new tool/how-to books and many, many book friends. Count me another kindred spirit–I’m looking forward to part 2!

    1. Thank you! I am a firm believer in redundancy– so I have multiple encyclopedia sets. It’s interesting to see how entries change over time. For good and bad. At one point, Marie Curie shared her husband’s entry.

  15. I called a book wholesale warehouse today looking for more copies of a book I’d bought there years ago. She pulled the books for me and we began to talk about this very subject. I bought a 10 x 20 building to turn into a library at our farm. I don’t mind loaning out my books to friends and relatives, but many times I forget who got them and then never get them back. In my library, just like a public library, each borrower will have to fill out a ‘checked out’ card for me to keep until they return the books.

    As my children were growing up, I told them ‘you don’t have to know everything, just how to find out’. No one person can know all that one needs to know in the event of a disaster, but the skill of a good researcher could be invaluable.

  16. The Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking Vol. 1 & 2, by Meta Givens are books I consider priceless. I have 2 copies of them. You won’t find better cookbooks anywhere.

  17. Yard sales ! At on sale, I picked up an entire box of Agatha Christie mysteries, approximately 31 of them. All for one price for the box, I think around $5. At another sale, I picked up 25 books by Robert Heinlein, including many that I had not read before. I have been collecting books from yard sales and thrift stores for years.

    1. Just in case society goes down completely and we need to start over, I have some technical books. I have some of the books from trade school where I studied manufacturing. I have books on mechanical drawing, strength of materials, manufacturing processes, machining, toolmaking, and more. I also have some basic schoolbooks- mathematics, geography, history, and others. Also a few children’s storybooks. And Bibles, hymnals, and even a manual of Christian (protestant) services. I only hope that someone in the next few generations can read.

  18. Totally agree with rat-holing your older books…before someone comes to burn them for “our own good.” We collected a substantial number of old textbooks from the 50’s and 60’s about 12 years ago and moved them to secure location. Good teaching tools for the next generation who likely don’t get much real American (or any other) true history in common core schools.

  19. Looking forward to part 2 also! My husband & I have been collecting books for ever…have a 40 foot cargo container almost full! But still looking for more!

  20. Great article! I could not agree more… you can never have too many books.

    I think knowledge is an essential commodity often over looked by preppers. Especially knowing how things were done before electricity.

    Furthermore, I believe its very possible we may have to rebuild civilization. Books on tools and manufacturing and science and gardening, etc. are important, but so are books on history and philosophy and government.

    You are going to need to teach your children and grandchildren what happened in the “before time.” Hopefully you can teach them what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Worst case scenario, there may be some future despotic government that really doesn’t want anyone to know what things were like in the past. Your books might be the last record of that time.

    On a practical note: you can’t carry a library of a few hundred books with you (although I’ll give it my best try if it comes to that.) However you can carry thousands of .pdf’s on a thumb drive. The only problem is you need a device like a laptop or a kindle to read them, and a way to recharge it. Also, be aware that thumb drives like any other media can fail, so you may want to make several back-up copies. And of course any computer can eventually fail.

    There are an amazing number of sources for free book downloads out there, many books even from the 1800’s and before. “” is a great source which covers many libraries. “Google books” can be a good source, although many modern books (after about 1920) aren’t available for free download. “” is another good source. “” has some interesting material but you have to pay a nominal fee for access.

    A last word: be careful. There are scores of random “free” book download sites. I suspect many of them entice you to download a particularly interesting title, and then it downloads malware onto your computer. Stick with the public sources.

    1. You can also use a tablet with a lot of memory or a slot that you can add memory and use a free epub reader like Calibre ( to read your books and pdfs from. A tablet e/reader can be easily recharged with power provided by the sun.

      The install from your computer will also install Calibre on your tablet.

      Calibre also has a section of downloadable books ( in 16 genres.

  21. A few copies of THE POCKET REFERENCE by Thomas J. Glover is money well spent. A concise compendium of materials and factoids all gathered together in a non electric form. A PDF version for e-readers would be good too, but a hard copy would be invaluable.

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