Book Review: Dave Canterbury’s “Survivabiliy for the Common Man”

It’s tough to write anything bad about Dave Canterbury. He’s a really nice guy. That being said his book “Survivability for the Common Man” originally rubbed me very wrong. In a fit of being polite for once I decided to not post anything at all rather and post a quick “this sucks”. Having had time to read it again, my initial approach wasn’t the best.

For reference, I am reviewing (presumably the first) edition of the book in waterproof format. I preordered it fairly early on.

The two gripes I do think are important to make: The book desperately needs a copy editor and the “powerpoint section” could be dropped. The copy editor part is where paragraphs are misaligned, punctuation is either absent or incorrectly used, and sometimes the spacing itself is missing or has extras. It makes for a jarring read and I almost wanted to mark up the book and mail it back to him. I understand he’s doing this by the skin of his teeth and that he prefers the video format, but I feel you have some obligation to the medium you choose to know how to use it. It was never so bad that I felt like I missed information but it does make a jarring read.

The powerpoint section is just that. It’s a slide deck he wrote up and put into book format. It’s OK, but I feel like his efforts would have been better spent putting the pictures next to the relevant material. Also some of the pictures simply are out there with little in the way of explanation.

My initial tack on the book was coming from having read 100 other survival manuals. The book seemed overly basic. Upon a re-read, it became obvious that this is in concert with his objectives to provide a survival manual you can just toss in your backpack and go if you’re in most locales in north america. Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t do like I did and read the title. It’s not for the common man – it’s for the North American Man.  That being said, don’t expect the gold standard of survival manuals (SAS Survival Handbook and related materials) but understand the intended audience.

Once we understand the intended audience, we understand the target of the book. Similarly targetted books, in this frame of reference, don’t do nearly as well. The ghost written Les Stroud book Survive is much less well organized. Cody Lundin also grinds my gears by making his books too short. Or they deal with one topic and thus seem to require a library to survive. And that brings us to here, where we figure out why it’s done like this after examining the other books in the field – it just gives you enough to get by.

When you read it, keep a few things in mind. When Dave does something like come up with a list of ten uses for a bucket, he’s not telling you a bucket is useful. He wants you to come up with 10 uses for something else you’re going to toss in your pack and hes giving you an example. The tone of the book is written as he’s teaching a class, and you’re sitting in the class, and you’re expected to ruminate on what he’s saying. This probably also accounts for the formatting problems, but if you keep that tone in mind you’ll do fine.

Finally, is anything innovative presented in the book? With a market flooded by other authors, some even by our own military (and some written by people who never even went camping), does this book bring anything new to the table? The answer is yes. Things like the socks over the canteen or 10 modern things that start fires, there’s a new twist on old material. It’s obvious that Dave is used to this topic and he thinks about it deeply in each new situation. Sometimes I was left wishing he had a better developed writing voice, but this isn’t an english textbook. This is a book you keep in your pack when you’re doing other outdoor activities and might need it, just in case.