89 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
Should some future archeologist stumble across a copy of Survival+ while rummaging through the detritus of Western civilization, he will have found a veritable Rosetta Stone, unlocking the secret of what went wrong with this incarnation of Homo sapiens. Along with it, he's likely to find The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (James Howard Kunstler, 2005), The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future (William H. Kötke, 2007), Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (Richard Heinberg, 2007), and others of that ilk, because members of the choir to whom those authors preached tended to accumulate libraries of secular revelation. You could pretty much get by with just this volume, however, if solving the mystery of modern man's hubris and fall were your only goal.
Smith warns his readers that "we face not some isolated, temporary `financial crisis' or even a political crisis, but an interconnected, self-reinforcing series of crises and challenges which span every level of modern life, from the internal politics of experience to depleting resources to degraded environment to financial and political domination by Elites of capital and State and on to demographics and the host of ills triggered by over-reach." He forsees collapse but not apocalypse. He is hopeful that survivors will learn lessons from the experience--lessons that he painstakingly elucidates--and fashion "a new model of governance to replace the failed Savior State/Plutocracy partnership." This is, after all, a book of "survival." No, even better than that. "Survival Plus."
Having frequented the author's website, the always timely, insightful, and literate oftwominds dot com, I knew not to expect that Survival+ would be something along the lines of John Wiseman's The SAS Survival Handbook: How to survive in the wild, in any climate, on land or at sea (1986), or other works of that "survivalist" genre, written by manly men for an audience of the lost, doomed, forsaken, or survivor want-to-bes. But Smith's title did seem to promise some practical tips for making our way safely through the coming collapse, perhaps like those offered by Sharon Astyk in Depletion and Abundance: Life On the New Home Front (2008), which serves as a manual for "surviving in place." In Survival+ that promise was largely unfulfilled. Smith has a gift for conveying complex information in a way that readers can understand, and he sees through the noise of events and data to the human motivation that drives our society. Penning a book of survival tips is not his purpose.
If you start at the end of a book, as I often do, in this case you'll come upon the signature of the author of Survival+. It reads, "Charles Hugh Smith, citizen and taxpayer." That's the heart of Survival+. A man writing passionately about politics and economics, writing an encyclopedia of our political and economic failures. And as with any encyclopedia, one can open the volume and read any page without needing to have read preceding pages for it to make perfect sense and to be of interest and value. Like daily posts on a website, which were, in fact, the source of much of the book's content. This is not to say that Smith's book is disorganized, or that it offers no useful advice to its readers. It has a smooth and logical flow, and it offers, in the words of its author, "not `advice' in the usual sense, but an expression of what I consider self-evident principles."
There are fifteen principles, ranging from "Engagement" to "Pare complexity to simplicity," followed by a sixteen-item "Action List," which ranges from "Add a feedback loop" to "Work from core principles." That last action item illustrates an aspect of the author's style, which is to reiterate, restate, and summarize. It comes across as helpful rather than didactic in a work of this density. But whole books could be written about each of the "self-evident" principles, as Henry David Thoreau did with "Pare complexity to simplicity," and the action items need considerably more fleshing out than Smith provides. He's thinking big thoughts, like that call to "establish a new model of governance." The details he leaves to us. Perhaps the most important details we'll have to look to Astyk and others to provide are those needed if we heed Smith's exhortations "to opt out."
Early on he writes, ". . . The Power Elites of cartel/crony/monopoly capital (who own or control 2/3 of the productive assets of the nation) and State fiefdoms (which absorb 40% of the GDP) influence the entire economy to enlarge their shares of the national income. With these two hands firmly squeezing their throats, the declining class of productive non-Elites have no choice but to submit to debt-serfdom, devolve into insolvency/penury or opt out." Later he observes, "Once the middle class opts out of earning large sums of taxable income and the debt-dependent `American Dream,' then the ailing dinosaurs (the State and Plutocracy) will fiscally implode." And finally he advises, "Opt out of consumerist passivity and construct a self-reliant alternative which is independent of the devolving State and over-reaching Plutocracy. . . . Opting out is legal and non-confrontational: turn off the media and 'starve the Beasts' by reducing consumption, debt and income. Own/control your own means of production."
Well, don't turn off the internet just yet, because you'll want to keep visiting Smith's website until the power grid fails, and before you cancel your credit cards, pick up a copy of Survival+ so that you and that future archeologist can figure out why everything went so terribly wrong. (Review also posted on my website, truthalyzer dot com.)
UPDATE: To his credit, Charles Hugh Smith has responded to readers and reviewers who found Survival+ lacking in "practical tips for making our way safely through the coming collapse," as I put it above. He is posting "concrete suggestions" on his website and he is "expanding" Survival+ to include such content in subsequent editions. He has also redesigned the book's cover to depict a Swiss army-style pocket knife, which has the effect of doubling down on the promise a book entitled "Survival+" seems to be making about its content.
UPDATE2: On January 30, 2010, Smith announced publication of Survival+ The Primer: "Reader feedback persuaded me that a 396-page book is a justifiably daunting prospect for many, and so I decided to create an Introduction to Survival+ that is only a third the length (48,000 words, 134 pages) of the full version. . . . I have no idea if the world needs a short version of Survival+ or not, but the only way to find out is to publish it and see what happens." It is not clear whether Smith still intends to expand the long version of Survival+ as described in my previous update.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The value I extracted from this book required too much sifting and sorting. It could do with a complete revision to about half its considerable length.
I bought it because of a recommendation and because the reviews on amazon were good. Initially I thought I was on to something big, but then I began noticing the inconsistencies, sloppiness and redundancy.
Readers are warned to "be skeptical of any `natural laws' which are being applied to human culture and history" (83), after which they are oriented to our present world through a long discussion of just such "natural laws." E.g., "If we apply the Stick/Slip hypothesis to the global economy then we understand that ... [etc., and] .... If history or the Peter Principle is any guide we will not do this consciously or voluntarily because we are incapable due to incompetence" (87).
A fairly large number of typos suggest the book was carelessly edited.
Utterly banal observations like the following are common: "A free people will want control of their own lives, sustenance and destiny" (322).
General statements of questionable validity abound: "humans tend to fill every available niche to the maximum carrying capacity (123) ... States tend to expand whenever the opportunity presents itself as the spoils of conquest ... outweigh the costs (124)."
Thumbnail comparisons of today with the 13th, 16th and 18th centuries (128) are glib and superficial.
Many of the author's claims just don't strike me as accurate. For instance, regarding the intellectual framework of Elite dominance, "this process of gaining compliance is not a conspiracy; it is a complex mixture of conscious and unconscious realignments of incentives and disincentives (27)."
While there is truth in the second clause, conspiracy cannot be so easily dismissed; it's part of the mixture. The public's consciousness is subverted with diabolical art and precision, as Smith himself recognizes in his frequent allusions to such phenomena as "ginned up deceptively packaged quantifications" (170), "the self esteem industry" (231), and "the mass marketing/propaganda system" (229).
I was a bit put off by respectful appeals to the authority of Karl Marx (e.g., 141); also by the listing of a book by Noam Chomsky, a former hero that I've come to see in a very different light; and the listing of a book by the neoconservative Ben Wattenberg. Several usages of the term "common purpose" (e.g., 213, 214) made me wonder if the phrasing was merely accidental or whether this book is informed by and/or surreptitiously dispensing a politically correct totalitarian subversiveness. Do a google search on "common purpose" if you don't know what I'm referring to.
I lost count of how many times the word "ontological" appears. Even after looking it up in the dictionary, I'm still not sure what it means. How does this word add anything essential in a phrase like, "capitalism's ontological drive to deploy capital and knowledge" (279)? Smith seems to be aware of this problem, for at one point he actually explains what the word means in parentheses: "superficial and ontologically (that is, inherently) misleading quantitative traps" (278). This smacks of inflated diction, as does a term like "cognitive bias" (171). How is this any different from just plain "bias"?
The sloppily circular wording in a phrase like the following is the footprint of a mind that lacks keenness and isn't fully engaged in what it's formulating: "Solutions and responses are dynamically evolving in response to changing circumstances and feedbacks" (286). Doesn't this guy have an editor?
Note the repetition, almost word for word, in the space of less than twenty lines: "Even if it [sic] a single tomato vine in a pot, everyone must gain the experience of nurturing, harvesting [etc.] .... Even if it [sic] a single tomato harvested from a single vine in a single pot on the deck of an apartment, then the experience is necessary [etc.]" (320).
Or this, in a paragraph of only six lines: "The responsibility for educating our young does not fall on some distant amorphous bureaucracy, but on parents and the community .... the ... education of the young people is still the responsibility of the parents and community at large" (370).
I would not put up with writing like this in a freshman research essay. Clearly, we are not dealing here with a mind (or a book) of the first order.
Despite these obvious and very annoying flaws, however, I did find a good bit of value in Survival Plus.
It includes a fair sprinkling of valid observations - "the entire college degree industry is largely a skillset trap" (171); good advice - "Place your money in credit unions or small local banks which actually recycle the money into your own community" (339); and instances of pithy wording - "a politically potent entertainment of divisive finger-pointing and rancor which works to create superficially appealing `us and them' ideologies" (105).
Smith's critique in Chapter 5 of the "splendid isolation" strategy for confronting social collapse is engaging and correct.
His extended discussion of the interplay of social classes - Plutocracy, State technocratic elites, the productive (or middle) elements, and the bread-and-circus-placated dependents at the bottom - furthered my understanding of what we are living through in these times.
Thus, under pressure to support the burgeoning demands of parasites above and below, members of the productive class have three choices: (1) to work ever harder for the material comforts they esteem - a recipe for heart attack; (2) to try and reform the system - with the cards stacked impossibly against them; or (3) to opt out - the beauty of which is that it's non-confrontational, it's perfectly legal, and it starves the beast. By the end of Chapter 21, I was feeling pleasantly vindicated, since I understood this intuitively long ago and have lived accordingly.
Later chapters develop the principles and methods of constructively opting out. One almost welcomes the challenge, despite the immense hardships it will entail, as starving and flushing out the cancer of corruption can only be of benefit in the end. Smith calls for a reset to our original Constitution, passes on some insightful guidelines from one of his correspondents, and underscores that only a fully engaged citizenry can make the "Great Transformation" a lasting success.
There are two areas, however, to which I think Smith gives insufficient emphasis in his macro-analysis.
First, we are in the late stages of a whole raft of mathematically exponential crescendos - with population growth, drying up of cheap energy sources, expansion of money and credit, loss of forests, fisheries, farmland and so forth all coming to a head at once. Chris Martenson's website has a 3-hour "Crash Course" video seminar that explains these aspects of the present crisis much more crisply and professionally than Charles Hugh Smith's book is written.
Second, there's the little matter of the police-state tyranny that's taken deep root all around us, which is actually integrated and global in scope. If this development doesn't make your blood run cold, you haven't been paying attention, and you're ignoring the last hundred years or so of history.
Smith is right that we shouldn't succumb to either complacency, at one extreme, or fatalism at the other. Decent, engaged, productive folks ought to be in this game to win. Though I don't know how you reconcile this with the extremely dire prospects humanity is facing, Smith's book glosses too lightly over these twin realities.
Overall, Survival Plus has a lot of useful content, but it's intermingled with way too much that's unsound, incomplete, poorly executed and superfluous.
So ... two stars or three? That was a tough call.
The book is itself a simulacrum - one of Smith's most frequently used terms for identifying the fraudulence our culture is choking on. The book is a counterfeit, a pretense, a shadow of what it attempts and really ought to be.
In the end I followed an age-old principle, focusing on the positive, and gave it a three.
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2009
This book is hard to classify, but I know many people from economists to survivalists have read the original, but shorter, version. The "Survival +" philosophy is built upon many of Smith's popular and insightful essays which include "When Belief in the System Fades" and "The Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States". Smith uses a combination of short personal stories mixed with academic discourse and teachable moments to take the reader on a journey through his macro-level life philosophy.
Despite this book containing "Survival" in the title, it should not be considered in the same vein as all the other books on how to stockpile canned food and shotguns. Smith does not address those menial topics. His book is a "how to think" manual. Considering "mindset" is often cited as the most important aspect of "survival" by some other authors in the survival genre, Smith is the only one to have fully nailed it. Smith encourages the reader to think about a fully possible sustainable human future well within our reach without resorting to the safety of the usual sandbags filled with fear.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2009
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Charles was talking about the current economic collapse years before it happened. He has an uncanny way of summarizing huge forces that are at work (economic, social, etc) and drawing conclusions that are clear to a point that they seem like common sense. Reading his blog over the years has been time well spent. This book is a summary of the conclusions he has arrived at, given the topics he as covered over the years. Perhaps this book gives us an accurate look at the future, I wouldn't pay any heed to others attempting a feat like this other than CHS. He is constantly proved right again and again as time marches on and things play out. When he talks I listen.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I will admit I am partial to Mr Smith- I read his blog faithfully, with great interest, every day ([...]). So, I was not disappointed by this book. The author is right on target with his assessment of what exactly is wrong with the country and our economy today (too many entitlements/feelings of entitlement by many, massive govt complexity and overspending which is leading to collapse, overreaching/ bloodsucking plutocracy out to keep the debt-serfs in line, draining military expenditures among many others). He is neither "left" nor "right" but just *practical*. The book is not only a captivating read, but actually has clear solutions to what ails us. Not everyone will want to hear the truth (or what needs to be done), but Smith tells it like it is in his usual intelligent and thought-provoking way. Trust me, there are some hard facts to swallow here, but we must swallow the right pill or we will never wake up! This book is very different from the majority of books out there. I also enjoyed the "learning concepts" at the end of each chapter- amusing!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book holds no bones. It states clearly and concisely why the US (and thus to a greater extent the world) is in dire straits. I personally like the straight forward, no nonsense reality check in this book. Do not buy this book if you like to keep illusions on who runs the economy and what their motivations are. The truth is often not pretty and reading this book is refreshing in that it is really an objective view from someone not owned by media, education, business or government. Even if we do not accept all the ideas presented by CHS we must appreciate his excellent critique of modern society, culture and economics. Mr Smith also proposes concrete and viable solutions on how to help the country and ourselves at the same time - it is an optimistic book in spite of the title. Any doubts about buying it should be solved by checking his popular blog at [...]
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Dense, but accurate.
One mans' observations of where we are, how we got here, & how an individual might react accordingly.
I would have liked it at 2/3 the size, & more of a cut to the chase writing style,, but I'd recommend it for everyone.
He's an independent writer. Support free speech & buy his book.
You might not agree with him, but I'd love to see an argument to try to prove him wrong.
Go on, buy it now & learn about the reality you may not be aware of.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I have to say that this book has blown me away and may be the most important book that I have read for a long time. And that's quite a compliment, because I've been consuming a book or so per week for the last decade or two, including some meaty titles like The Creature from Jekyll Island, The Coming Generational Storm, and Atlas Shrugged.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2010
I've read this book three times and I am now reading it a fourth time. I'm also buying copies for friends and loved ones.
Survival Plus is toxic to the status quo. Why? Because it exposes the facade of the modern-day American dream. Have you ever wondered why "the right thing" never gets done in Washington? Like me, I'll bet that you have a litany of cliche'd answers to draw from. Smith thinks outside of the box, and through decades of observation and study, puts together the pieces of the puzzle to illuminate the big picture that eludes most of us.
The world as we perceive it is not what it is.
The first 100 or so pages weave together a case for how we Americans (and most westerners for that matter) live in a world of carefully orchestrated illusion. We live in a sea of simulacra where all self-serving actions are molded and recast as beneficial to humanity.
What I love about this book is that it doesn't end leaving the reader wanting to slit his wrists. Au contraire, the postive, upbeat regeneration that Charles speaks of leaves you both relieved knowing that "the world finally makes sense" as well as inspiration for a better tomorrow.
I rank this as among the top 5 best books of all time and implore you to buy it, read it, study it, and pass it along.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
This review is based on reading the free online version of this book. It lacks several chapters included in this one, so I may be missing some important point.
Overall, this reads like a mixture of Noam Chomsky and Ron Paul. Very well written and intellectually stimulating, with plenty of references to other books. I am reasonably familiar with the larger topics covered, but I still learned a few things like the 80 year horizon of cultural memory (4 generations) etc.
The problem with this book is that it does not seem to make any good actionable recommendations. The author as well as other reviewers are critical of more typical survival books and practices like stockpiling food etc, but at least those give you actionable advice on how to weather a sudden and major crisis.
What this author offers as "survival" guidance is sort of a middle-class version of Atlas Shrugged: opt out of the dysfunctional system early, and live less consumerist and more productive lives, perhaps surrounded by simple and caring rural neighbors.
What the author expects will most likely happen in the US (among several options) is that living conditions will steadily erode into an advanced Third World situation like in Brazil or Argentina. That seems plausible; a relatively slow and continuous decline instead of sudden and deep crisis. Even so, there are likely to be periods of discontinuity, local or widespread riots, higher crime, etc (based on recent historical experience in South America and Eastern Europe), so some of the more traditional survival literature is not to be ignored.
Normally I would have given this book 3 stars for lack of practicality, but its intellectual merits earn +1 :)