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Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills (Second Edition) Hardcover – March 17, 1997

4.9 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Voluntary simplicity" has become a catch phrase for what seems to be a yearning for a simpler, more self-sufficient and economical way of living in the late 20th century. This book, first published in 1981 and recently updated, was probably many folks' first in-depth exposure to the idea of a simpler life, making things by hand, and enjoying a stronger sense of control over personal budgets, home projects, and lifestyles. Hundreds of projects are listed, illustrated in step-by-step diagrams and instructions: growing and preserving your own food, converting trees to lumber and building a home from it, traditional crafts and homesteading skills, and having fun with recreational activities like camping, fishing, and folk dancing without spending a lot of money. This book will have you dreaming and planning from the first page! -- Mark A. Hetts

From the Back Cover

"Open the book at any page and there's something of interest." -Chicago Sun-Times

"...it would be an asset to anyone's personal library at home. We recommend it highly." -Kansas City Times

"It is a superb reference book, better than any number of those that pretend to teach you survival skills by concentrating on just a few crafts." -Survival Tomorrow

"This is really an encyclopedia and, like a good encyclopedia, the narrative is clear and complete, the illustrations are plentiful and the whole thing is thoroughly indexed. You can spend a fortune on a library of neo-pioneer books or you can buy BACK TO BASICS." -Times & World News, Roanoke, VA

"If you're going to go back to the good old days you'll need something the good old days didn't have...an instruction manual." -Cincinnati Enquirer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Reader's Digest Association; 2nd edition (March 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0895779390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0895779397
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1.1 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #551,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By GENE GERUE on October 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A primer on self-reliance and rural skills, this is a large-format book of 456 pages lavishly illustrated with photographs and drawings, about half in full color. Here are 57 subjects, many with subsets, as in gardening, which includes information on soil, cultivation methods, making and using a greenhouse, and specific information on many veggies, herbs, fruits. Some presentations are simplistic, like telling you how to find and evaluate a farm or can produce in only four pages. Building and using a smokehouse gets one page. Using dairy products butters ten pages. Woodworking and furniture making nail down thirty pages. Build and decorate a house and the chairs, tables, beds to furnish it. Build a springhouse, a dam, a well, a water system. Grow vegetables, fruits, grains. Raise bees, fish, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, hogs, sheep, goats, cows, horses. Make cheese, maple syrup, beer, wine, bread, soap, candles, baskets. Cook with wood. Spin yarn, use natural dyes, make cloth, quilts, rugs, hammocks. Learn tanning and leather work, tinsmithing, blacksmithing, toolmaking. Celebrate harvest and holidays with traditional decorations, recipes, toys, games, dances. Learn camping, hiking, fishing, canoeing, snowshoeing, skiing. Whew! This book will keep you happily occupied for several decades.
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By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
i was given this book over 15 years ago. it has become my "bible" for basic skills. we refer to this book at least once a week for advice and instruction - and always manage to find what we're looking for! it does more than touch on subjects! you get in-depth instructions with pictures to guide you through such things as building a foundation and canning your own garden goods. my copy is well-worn from much use! i treasure this book and all the things i've learned from it. for those out there who wish to live more self-sufficiently, you must have this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book touches on so many practical skills, it's terrific! You'll learn everything from soap making to building your own rough-hewn cabin by hand -- and what to look for when picking the best site for your homestead. There's something for everyone.
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By Hoke on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a really interesting book and I got a whole more than I expected. This book covers all kinds of traditional skills from chopping wood, building houses, plowing fields, food preparation, and so on. Just about anything you can imagine on everyday life skills from days long gone.

The bonus part to this was that it included a lot of modern day adaptations and applications for these skills. It could be a useful how-to manual for those that want to live a more simple life. It also includes a description of alternate eco-friendly fuel sources
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Format: Hardcover
My grandparents owned the first edition of this book years ago and I read it almost every time I was over at their house. When I saw it was updated, I bought my own copy. This is a how-to tome par excellence! In these pages you can learn to go far toward practical self sufficiency. Just about anything and everything you could ever seek to know regarding hands-on survival skills is explained inside this book. It's useful information for everyday life and a potential lifesaver in times of crisis. In here you can learn how to start fires under any weather conditions, make your own shoes from scratch, build furniture, houses, boats, find out how to raise animals, grow gardens and survive diasters. I feel more confident in my ability to get by in almost any situation than I did before I re-discovered this pragmatic classic. Knowledge, as they say, is power.
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Format: Hardcover
Not a step-by step guide, but usually has enough info on a particular subject to get you started. Some topic are covered in detail, like making braided rugs, while others understandably are only given a cursory review, such as building construction.

Tons of topics, with enough info to get you headed in the right direction for most, but you'll obviously want to get more detailed info on any of the more complex tasks they descibe.
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Format: Hardcover
I borrowed this book from a friend and became so attached I had to buy a copy for myself. If my home burns down tonight this would be one of the first books I would replace, the first being my Bible. I have put this book to use many times and plan to build a slipform stone house.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased several books on country living, this one is the best of the lot. I wanted a good reference book for a story I am writing. This book covers everything I was interested in, and more, providing me with a wealth of information and ideas. Along with being well written, the book is also filled with detailed illustrations and photos.
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