“Everything that follows is based on recent, real-life experience that has been proven to work” — James Shepherd-Baron
First off — the title. Shepherd-Baron was clearly aiming for the hard-bitten no nonsense “Dettol-does-what-it-says-on—the-tin” approach when naming this comprehensive world survival guide, but has ended up producing the clumsiest and most ungainly titled book of the decade. On the other hand, it does make it stand out doesn’t it? And so, I suppose, it works.
And ‘what works’ is very much the priority for James Shepherd-Baron, formerly a UN peacekeeper, and latterly a humanitarian aid worker, whose valiant travels have led him to some of the most dangerous places on earth, including Bosnia, Rwanda, Lebanon and Afghanistan at the height of their respective conflicts. The book is separated into broader sections such as health and hygiene, personal security, and disaster, which in turn lead to an efficiently thorough look at any tricky or hazardous situation you could care, or not care, to imagine. These range from the relatively mundane such as using a CB radio (complete with all the code words and call signs), or deducing which way is north using only the stars for a guide, to withstanding earthquakes and tsunamis (counter-intuitively — you should usually stay inside), firing an AK47, finding yourself in charge of a plane, dealing with a having a grenade thrown at you, and surviving being held hostage.
Some tips are more expected, in line with what common sense would assume although it is still good to see them if in cold authoritative print (ie. Don’t pull shrapnel out of wounds as it increases the loss of blood) while for those of us not raised in the cubs and brownies, a complete guide to tying knots is of interest too. Others are more unexpected – such as learning that the effects of alcohol can be greatly reduced by consuming rather foul sounded “kos” or curds beforehand, or that if your house comes under fire in an African zone of conflict you should retreat to the bathroom — it has usually been lined with lead as the “safe-room” of the house.
Others are downright startling – if attacked by a tiger or lion your best bet is to run at it arms outstretched and shouting, but if attacked by a wild dog you should back off, slowly and silently, maintaining eye contact. Still others are rather mournful – if you accidentally run someone over in a conflict zone you mustn’t stop, local people will be disinclined to believe it is an accident, and you are liable to be lynched.
Shepherd-Brown writes a dry and factual style, as is appropriate for the subject matter, but the poignancy, drama and horror of the situations he has seen can’t help but seep through. Much of the advice is accompanied by a “reality check” giving a real life example of where the advice was either used or not, and the consequences for those involved. Many involve Shepherd- Barron himself, others are anecdotes he has learnt in his intrepid trade. When reading of the car-jackings, the hotels on fire, the diseases withstood and the limbs lost, it’s hard not to be humbled by the bravery of those involved, or to wonder at those who willingly give their lives for the good of others.
Only once does the author digress from his clinical professionalism. After admitting it is hopeless to even attempt flying a helicopter in an emergency situation, (unlike the easier aeroplane, which also has its own section) he then goes on to detail the myriad specifications of various helicopters over three pages, serial numbers and all, with next to no use for the reader. Clearly Shepperd-Barron is a helicopter enthusiast who couldn’t help showing off his anal interest in this area. Such as the quality of advice elsewhere however, I think he can be forgiven this endearing eccentricity.
In all this book is a useful tool for anyone entering into even a small fraction of the situations on display, the consummate guidebook for anyone entering into full time humanitarian aid work or other full-on survivalist situations, a vicarious thrill ride for those who want to read about firing guns, and a testimony to humanitarian bravery. As guide-books go, that’s good going.