Mahaffey's Book Review: The Disaster Diaries

Monday, Feb 4, 2013

The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse

Reading level: Hardcover: 384 pages Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (January 24, 2013)ISBN-10: 1594205272, ISBN-13: 978-1594205279
This book goes way beyond the beans, bullets and Band-Aid counsel. In fact, he’s kind of ‘out there’- in one of the finest ‘structured’ swashbuckling adventure sprees that I have read in a long while.  The Disaster Diaries is fun, rousing, thoughtful, and provocative.  Zany (can that word be used today?) might describe more of the unconventional catastrophes depicted in the storyline. The dark humor orientation is evident by the Dr. Strangelove reference in the title.

After the birth of his son, Sam is beset by the powerful parental instinct to protect his child. He worries. He questions, “What would I do if X happened?”  A plague of Hollywood disaster type vignettes infect his dreams and waking thoughts in pandemic proportions. (Pun intended) He worries from A-Z (no, literally, aliens to zombies). He sets out to answer those ‘what if’s’ and so, our journey begins. I was reminded of the old television program Connections, one question answered leads to the next question. The inquiries arise from diverse scenarios delivered in snippets of Sam’s imagination interposed throughout the book. Sam talks to the experts, interviews experienced professionals, veteran and practicing specialist in various fields of study. He consults anyone who can educate him from heroes and celebrities and doctors to former gang criminals and Inuit dog runners. But the writer goes a step further and walks the reader through his internships, training camps and practicums. He makes a study of survivalism and shares his coursework with you, the reader. His humorous and engaging chronicle of his tutelages inspires the reader to commence their own quest preparing for the unknown. This book will light a fire.

Numerous quotable quips and clever, sage counsel are delivered by an assortment of colorful characters, teachers of the lessons that Sam sets out to learn. The educationalists are as interesting as the lessons they deliver. I chuckled out loud numerous times. Sam drops philosophical truisms and sprinkles substantive quotations from classic books and revered authors. His tone is matter of fact and knowledgeable, never underestimating the readers’ intelligence but never delivering his message in a vicar’s voice. You will not find hyperbole, proclamations or a political rant. As a writer, his descriptive panoramas of extreme environments are lyrical and graceful. From vistas of Montana to the cosmic northern lights to the arid deserts of the American southwest, the reader is beside Sam every step of the way. His imageries of physical encounters and actions are clear-cut. Sam’s wit is fresh and his imagination is untamed. His writing is a joy to read.

We know that major disasters happen. Even a small event can really wreck your day, your health, your routine. That’s why we buy flashlights, spare tires and fire extinguishers. Sam Sheridan makes the point “If 9/11 can happen, anything can happen.”  It’s not an outlandish proposition; consider Tsunami 2004, Fukushima, Katrina, Sandy, Aurora, and Sandy Hook…  Most of us prepare for the smaller calamities so why do people consider it paranoid to prepare for the big catastrophes? Yet that is the one of the major questions the author wrestles in Disaster Diaries. Preppers are often seen as paranoid and are portrayed in the media as… (Bluntly stated), nuts!

Sam leads the reader through his quests for knowledge to a deeper level of understanding of what it means to be a survivalist. He questions the role of one’s responsibility to survive. He questions, the rationality- is it paranoia or an internal mechanism of instinctual awareness? He questions the ethics and will to be a survivor and what that means to an individual, a community or even humanity. Although this book provides a treasure of information and some recommendations on ‘tools’ (read weapons), this is more than a how-to’ book. This is a story of a man coming to terms with responsibilities and his need for preparedness. How he came to recognize that to survive requires more than storing water and food. He probes and finds teachers to gain the desirable skills. He takes action and we, the readers, benefit.

This book is more suited to a more mature pool of readers, due to the (at times) graphic violent descriptions. There are no X rated sexual scenes. There are a few expletives in the book. At scarce times in the reading, I wanted to ship a bar of soap to Sam so that he could wash the potty mouth, but, as the cursing was sparse, I think he could get by with a good, hygienic rinsing.

I hope Sam is sleeping better these days knowing the knowledge (and experience) that he gained will help protect his family. I am sure this book will inspire others to do more than the 3 B’s and not feel like a loon for asking the ‘what if’s’. Good on You, Sam!

It’s a fun read well worth your time and money. I could go on in glowing praise, but I have some things to do … quests and all.

In disclosure I received an advance copy of this book. I have never met the author and have no known familial ties. No other payment/ compensation or fee was exchanged for this honest review.
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