There are only a handful of books that I’ve read that really changed my life. One of those books was The Game by Neil Strauss. It’s a book I liked so much I even mentioned it in my book. While those who have not read it may think it’s just a book on how to pick up girls, it’s really a lot more than that. Neil Strauss uses that premise to hang an entertaining and informative narrative, and then goes one step further by not just showing various pick up techniques but showing where the limits are on that sort of thing. After reading The Game, I instantly had more confidence when it came to women and for the first time in my life really felt comfortable in any given social setting. The Game changed things for me.
It’s because of the effect The Game had on me that I picked up Neil’s latest book: Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life. Instead of Pick Up Artists, this time around Neil submerged himself in Survivalists. Like a lot of people, the past eight years has scared the hell out of Neil Strauss, but he’s not the sort to just be scared. Instead, he started looking into ways to assuage his fears. Nowhere else are you going to find a book that talks about everything from living in the forest to cryonics and the benefits of owning goats.
Like The Game, Emergency is told in an entertaining narrative format. At first this didn’t seem like it was going to work as well as it did in The Game. The first hundred pages or so have less to do with survival techniques and more to do with the reasons for his various fears. Luckily, all of that was just laying the groundwork for the rest of the book.
Once the book gets rolling, it’s a lot of fun. The cast of characters may not be as colorful and crazy as his friends in The Game, but they’re a hell of a lot more dangerous. One of the things that makes Neil Strauss’ books so damn readable is that he approaches these ‘experts’ with the same sort of wary eye that most of us would. When he goes to Tom Brown’s infamous boot camp, he thinks most of the people there are crazy. He pitches his tent wrong and it floods. He hates it. And yet, he’s learning. He takes what he can from the camp without drinking the Kool-Aid. That’s what makes Emergency such a good read. Unlike most Survivalists, he’s not trying to brainwash anyone. He’s just talking about what happened to him and what he went through.
About two-thirds into Emergency, Neil Strauss has turned himself into a force to be reckoned with. He can live off the land indefinitely. He’s trained to use various forms of firearms. He can build a shelter out of just about anything. He can track and identify an animal by its prints. He is prepared for the shit to hit the fan. That would be enough there to recommend this book, but then something else happens.
The last third of the book surprised me. He goes from being a survivalist to being something else. Something better. I don’t want to say too much because I think it’s better that you read it for yourself, but yet again, like The Game, he turns out to be a better person than you’d think. Even if he did kill a goat.
Whatever Neil does next, I’m looking forward to it. He’s one of the best Stunt Non-Fiction writers* out there.
* Stunt Non-Fiction: A term I made up to describe non-fiction books where the author essentially takes a subject, throws himself into it, and then writes about it. Other Stunt Non-Fiction writers include AJ Jacobs and me, among others.