I'm amazed at all the glowing reviews to Les Stroud's new book... frankly I found it extremely disappointing on many levels.
Before Les' armchair fan-boys try to jump down my throat for insulting their hero (and he is genuinely likable), allow me to establish some points: 1) I'm another Canadian & the same age as Les. 2) I mentored my survival training since the early 1980's under Mors Kochanski, a recognized world-wide expert on boreal survival. 3) I've taught survival courses in the foothills & forests of Alberta for 20 years. 4)I completed the BOSS 28 day Field Course in '89 & instructed on their Winter Skills course in '90, after which I introduced their director to Kochanski (beginning a long relationship between those two survival icons). So, I've got my time in & done my homework (yes, I've actually previously done most of the survival skills that Les mentions) that allows me to be an intelligently critical consumer of survival literature & gear (a 'Thank You' to my survival mentor Mors for developing that vital conceptual paradigm).
So, I would likely love to spend time with Les & would no doubt find him a fascinating, like-minded person. I don't watch TV much, but what I've seen of Survivorman is well done - I think Les' 7 day solo approach is great & a breath of fresh air in the 'schlock-tastic' glut of 'reality' TV. However, I'm just not thrilled with his book. Of course, authors often don't get to write the book they really wanted to due to publisher concepts, budgets, etc. But many of my criticisms are, I believe, within the control of the author.
Can I say anything good about the book... absolutely. Survive does provide & repeat many great adages of survival that everyone should learn about prior to heading off into the wilderness. Les tosses in several real gems to get people thinking about maximizing their equipment & creating expedients. Although in many of those situations, Les willfully destroys his equipment such as car seats & hot air balloon because he knows what he's embarking on... he's already planned for a 7 day stint where 'anything goes.' I believe it's highly unlikely that average folks confronted by a wilderness emergency will immediately accept that it's life or death - so they won't readily cut the seats out of their car because they still hold to a mistaken belief that they're walking just a few easy km to help. So you can find lots of good, solid information (but some I'll contest below)... I just say it wasn't done as well as it could be.
On the style & layout: Not Les' fault most likely, but using matte paper with only 2 colors of ink & B & W photos really diminished the potential value of the book. The B&W photos in particular are often unclear or indistinct - color with glossy paper would have added greatly to the learning value. The overall layout seems also indistinct. In a book of this nature, I would prefer to see many more headings & bold (clearer) type to easily guide the reader to finding pertinent information quickly & memorably. I also found many of his quaint expressions distracting & counter-productive... like 'creepy crawlies'...'bugs' or 'insects' work.
Let's establish what the book purports to be: the subtitle is "Essential Skills & Tactics To Get You Out of Anywhere - Alive." So, we can expect a well-organized, clearly descriptive book emphasizing many skills & techniques for anyone to use in practical, outdoor emergencies. Writing a survival manual that encompasses enough info to properly address survival anywhere on the planet is a daunting task indeed & rarely successful. The venerable SAS Survival Skills by Wiseman attempts to do this but suffers from it's own problems. Instead, we seem to get a hodge-podge of miscellaneous stuff tossed together with many, frequent anecdotes of Les' recent global adventures.
I'm stunned that people said the book was 'well-written?' Even given that he used a ghost writer, I found the book to be inconsistent, rambling & repetitive. He jumps around from region to region with various concepts then (sometimes) attempts to tie it all together at the end of the chapter. For example, in the section 'Water' he mentions squeezing water from rotting birch wood (in the boreal forest), then immediately in the next sentence mentions banana & plantain trees (tropical). These were both in a section on water from plants, but still the organizational concept of the whole book seems to be that you could be dropped in ANY region of the earth at ANY time... which is likely illogical & confusing for readers who are typically going to be North American, European & possibly Australian. In the later chapters, he virtually repeats entire sections in Dangers & Hazards and Weather stating such things as blizzards are bad for you. Organize the specialized info (i.e. Arctic, Tropics, etc.) into regions once & leave it there.
Also, Les constantly refers to "consult a local expert beforehand" (to learn useful/dangerous plants, terrain, weather, etc. or in other words, everything this book is NOT teaching you)... which seems another discordant tone on the providing 'essential skills to keep the reader alive anywhere' idea. Perhaps because Les' recent adventures have all been pre-planned, he's had the foresight & luxury to consult local experts. Realistically, I doubt most readers are neither going to the remote adventure locales like the high Arctic, Amazon jungle or Kalahari desert NOR are they likely to consult experts in what they consider their own back-yard region doing the activities they've always done. Overall, I find the "consult a local expert beforehand" a dereliction of duty on the author's part.
On Shelters: he advocates the A frame with a small interior fire but poo-poo's the classic open lean-to. But then he ironically goes on to describe the gross inefficiency of the small interior fire inside his favorite A frame such that he has to keep waking up from the cold every 20 min to add a few sticks & has an awful sleep. One of the very few paramount needs in typical survival scenarios is to be warm enough to get 6-8 hours of sleep each day/night period (that & enough water). Perhaps he needs to learn how to make a proper body-length, parallel fire in front of a correctly built (almost vertical roof) lean-to with a proper bough/brush bed. And in the lean-to he does show, he should lose the ridiculous reflector wall with pounded stakes taken from every bad army/air force survival guide - pile up your firewood logs as a solid wall instead to create a sheet of flame throwing heat toward your shelter... then you can sleep about 1.5 hrs at a time in winter before adding more wood.
On fire: he mentions he made fire from combining potassium permanganate & sugar & he devotes a whole page of photos to lighting fire w/ potassium permanganate & glycerin on rhino dung. Unfortunately... he doesn't at all explain how to really do this innovative technique (but does reassure us that rhino dung - like most herbivores' - doesn't smell bad) nor does he suggest why one might be carrying potassium permanganate in the first place (FYI, it's a handy antiseptic & anti-fungal solution when dissolved in water).
Buy the potassium permanganate at a drugstore or swimming supply shop.
To make fire w/ sugar: equal amounts of pot. perm. & sugar on a flat, dry stone; grind in a twisting, circular way w/ another flat rock - sparking, popping noises are followed shortly by flame - add tinder, then fuel, then marshmallows. With potassium permanganate & glycerin (also bought at the pharmacy), you MUST first re-grind the PP to a fine dust (it's usual consistency is similar to white sugar) before sprinkling a few pinches onto a quarter-sized dollop of glycerin and waiting for bubbling to be followed by flames - experiment beforehand to better understand the ratios & times (perhaps print this section & insert in your copy of Survive?).
Why bother mentioning this if he doesn't explain how to do it fully? This sort of off-handed, yet incomplete, dropping of an idea occurs constantly throughout the book on many skills. I doubt most people will master the Figure 4 dead fall trigger with the few blurry photos. Line drawings work much better for showing the detail cut angles needed. Rafts for floating yourself or gear across water are best built with a diagonal cross piece to prevent them from skewing out of shape. Essential Skills includes knots fully tied with no learning sequence which most cordage novices will not understand (trust me, I've taught 7 knots to 100's of students - it's not an easy skill for some people to master). FYI, his bowline is incorrect - it's referred to as a Left Handed Bowline & considered by sailors for centuries to be inherently less secure - put the running end INSIDE the main part).
One reviewer mentioned the book gave a good overview of flora & fauna, yet I can't find ANY descriptive text/illustrations of any animals or plants to support that comment (he mentions some animal hazards like bears & bull moose - but it might help to know that white tailed deer DOES w/ fawn injure far more people in Yosemite park than any other animal - lot more of those than bull moose or bears). The back of the book claims to name the "top 3 edibles" in any environment... which is blandly reduced in the text to imprecise common name labels only (little info on how to prepare each item) with NO illustrations or descriptions to properly ID such 'top edibles'. We can pretty much assume that 'rodents' are recognizable by most people, but bull kelp is just another form of seaweed (or brown algae if you want to get technical, yet he lists them separately). He also mentions "wild teas" as one of the 'top 3' in more than one environment. Yet again he fails to specifically describe what plants make useful teas (oh yes...see: "consult a local expert before you travel there") & realistically teas contain virtually no caloric value, so they hardly qualify as a 'top edible' in my view. Knowing that the fairly toxic Bog Rosemary looks much like & grows in the same regions as the flavorful Labrador Tea is important to know... but you won't find that info here.
Basically, if you are going to suggest eating any wild plants, but especially the more esoteric plants such as sea lettuce you really need to provide the scientific name, description, a distinguishing illustration & preparation/use instructions.
And... now I know sharks are a real hazard in my outdoor adventures??
In essence I got the feeling I was reading a pamphlet for fans of his show to vicariously enjoy many of his more recent, exciting adventures... most of which will never be available to the majority of the readers. Too many anecdotes about "the time I was on the...." and how almost all the individuals in the case studies he quotes survived because of watching his show. In many ways, the books seems like a semi-organized 'memory dump' of all of Les' adventurous experiences, during which he's made some serious mistakes (which he readily admits in his shows) as well as made many clever improvisations.
Lastly, I laughed out loud when I saw the pic on page 336... our man, w/ a steely eyed glare... holding his homemade spear to fend off 'critters' in Africa. What's wrong w/ that pic? First, the knife is a joke... it's one of the ridiculous Rambo knives created for the movie series - too big (for an efficient bushcraft knife w/ completely useless sawteeth on the back - real saw teeth on knives were only intended to allow aircrew to cut themselves out of plexiglass & aluminum aircraft - not for wood). Second, any seasoned survivalist will never advise lashing your likely only tool, the knife, to a spear where you can dull/bend/break it on the rocks, or worse, thrust it into an animal & watch it run off into the dark woods w/ your knife. Make several pointed, fire-hardened wooden spears but make them all about a meter longer than Les' spear - any lion or leopard would still reach you w/ its claws before you pinned it w/ his short little spear. But NEVER tie your knife on a stick for a spear. Of course, maybe Les had that goofy big knife along as a spare, but again, he doesn't explain the context adequately. NOTE: one respondent to my review stated that he did have additional knives on that trip, but such information is never offered in the book (or is it implying that the reader needs to buy the DVD's & view all his TV shows to fully understand the context of each 'action' photo?)
Seriously, I could critique this book far more than what I've mentioned already... I really do see that many holes in it. But then I've always despised when writers mention something superficially without adequately explaining it to a potentially novice reader. John Wiseman's ubiquitous SAS Survival Guide has it's share of idiotic & erroneous material (the sheet bend knot was illustrated dangerously incorrect for 4 editions & 20 years; the spear thrower design is ridiculously inefficient & from the fantasy movie Quest for Fire; there is one column on how to make fire w/ a bow drill - go ahead rookie, that's all the advice you need, etc), but it gets republished regularly.
Sure, buy this book if you can, it does have some nuggets of useful information & some novel ideas, but I wouldn't take it as the bible of outdoor survival nor would I carry it in a pack... it could/should have been much better from a guy w/ Les' experience. You'd be better to first read '(Northern) Bushcraft' by Mors Kochanski on wilderness living skills; '98.6 Degrees' by Cody Lundin; 'Bushcraft' & others by Ray Mears; and the recent DK publication 'The Survival Handbook'.