Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Review: Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs

I have just finished reading a book, as I have strained my knee, so I'm supposed to be 'resting'. Remarkably I have been sickness free all winter, so I have had little opportunity for reading and this book has been on the go for at least 6 months. It is called 'Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs' by Wendy Brown. and I feel it is well worth a quick review.

"Let's pretend that we know that in 21 days life as we know it will come to an end. It does not mean that life will cease to exist, and it does not mean that humans will be obliterated from the Earth. What it means is that all the things we have come to expect, all of the luxuries we enjoy, all the accoutrements of modern life that are part of our day-to-day existence will be harder to get or just no longer available."

To me this is a really useful exercise, because we don't know what the future holds. Major events often happen too quickly for us to take stock and prepare. Thinking and preparing now can stand us in good stead for all kinds of eventualities.

I know it seems unlikely that anything drastic will happen here in Britain, but just think back to some of the events that our grandparents lived through. World War II and rationing, the North Sea Flood of 1953, the Big Freeze of 1963, the 3 Day Week of 1974, the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79, and the Fuel protests in 2000, to name a few. Technology may have advanced, but if anything that makes us even more exposed and vulnerable to loss of power or shortages. For instance do you know the phone numbers for your family, friends or doctor if you can't charge your mobile?

In her book, Wendy takes a day at a time and looks at the priorities that you may need to think about in order to be better prepared for eventualities. Starting with Day 1 looking at Shelter, she works through subsequent 'days' discussing water, food, cooking and so on, all the way to Day 21, which is about transportation. Some of it is common sense, but it is still good to hear again, because it makes you wonder why you haven't done anything to improve that aspect or be better prepared. For instance I know that in a power cut my boiler doesn't work because the controls rely on electricity, so what could I do about it? Wendy offers lots of solutions from the perspective that shortages are likely to be a long term problem for us in the future.

Wendy is clearly very knowledgeable about many aspects of what we call 'self-sufficiency'. I have certainly learnt more from her book about keeping animals, alternative healthcare and how to make my own vinegar. The only are where I disagree with her ideas is about wind turbines though, which I feel she dismisses rather too easily, based on them needing high-tech equipment to manufacture and maintain them. Wendy seems to have missed the potential for small scale wind turbines to provide useful mechanical energy or electricity. Many parts of the UK are still scattered with old windmills, that were used for milling wheat into flour, and have been recorded at least as far back as 1250. This is surely testament that we can harness the wind without the need for fossil fuels and modern day technology. The first wind turbine that was installed 30 years ago at The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales was made with wood and canvas sails. In strong winds someone had to climb up and furl the sails to prevent damage, but it was still a viable low tech solution.

Wendy also sees solar PV as lasting only 10 years, but with no moving parts they are expected to last at least 30 years. They probably aren't much of an option in Maine where Wendy lives, as summers are short, but in the UK and Europe prices have been dropping with government subsidies and these could potentially provide a partial alternative source of electricity for the next 30 years.

On the whole 'Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs' is a very easy to read book, with lots of good tips. It isn't very apocalyptic, so no zombie hordes or nuclear meltdowns, which suits me fine. There is the tiniest mention of guns in the chapter on security, but Wendy also points out that having a loud dog is the best security measure. I have yet to find a British 'preparedness' book, but I think that having read a few other American ones, Wendy's book is the best substitute. It is a calm and sensible evaluation of everything you may need to consider. Whether you decide to read the book or not, it is well worth thinking what you would do if you knew you only had 21 days to prepare.


  1. Sounds intriguing might have to check that book out.....thank you for sharing :)

  2. Happy to loan you mine if you want and you don't mind posting it back. Just email me your address ( Otherwise I will put it in my collection on loan for the Transition Group :-)