I’m sure everything will be completely fine in 2016, but it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few new, precautionary skills just in case.
Young people should begin with Danger Is Everywhere and Danger Is Still Everywhere (Little, Brown; $12.99 each), primers for avoiding trouble, written by David O’Doherty and illustrated by Chris Judge. The books introduce Dr. Noel Zone, the planet’s only dangerologist, who sees our wonderful world “as an awful place where terrible things can happen all of the time.” Dr. Zone reveals where many hidden dangers lie. For instance, I was unaware of the threat posed by certain family members, the most insidious of which may be Granny Danger. “There are many questions we love to ask our grandparents,” Dr. Zone explains. “But one we fail to ask very often is: ‘Granny, are you a robot?’ ” I also learned to look for threats lurking in public parks, such as the possibility of getting kidnapped by swans. And I now understand the proper way to dress for danger: “DO choose a bright color for your danger-onesie,” Dr. Zone recommends. “DON’T combine a brown onesie with a green helmet. To short-sighted animals, you will now resemble a tree.”
You have to love the audacious, American promise of Uncle John’s How to Fight a Bear and Win (Portable, $14.95). In this country, we don’t just survive bear attacks; we slay those bears that dare infringe on our liberty. “If you were unable to get away and the bear was not discouraged by your growly face, it’s time to tango,” Uncle John advises. “If you’re lucky enough to have a gun, now’s the time to start shooting.” Elsewhere, the book offers less obvious survival tips, like how to make your own aspirin from the bark of a willow tree, how to construct a slingshot from antlers and how to power a smartphone with a flashlight. It describes the benefits of eating roadkill — “ ‘free range,’ organic, and free of hormones” — and it offers step-by-step instructions for making your own loincloth: “First, you’ll need to kill a critter that has enough fur and skin to cover your naughty bits.”
But as someone who lives in Washington, I’m pretty sure the threats posed by the natural world pale in comparison to those posed by enemies of the state. So, to hone your skills for detecting foreign agents, I recommend The Cold War Spy Pocket Manual (Pool of London, $12.99). Edited by former British diplomat Philip Parker, these “briefings, counter-briefings, instructions and orders”contain recently declassified material on American, Russian and British spycraft that was in play during the Cold War. The book includes the KGB’s instructions for checking agents, the CIA’s “Manual of Trickery and Deception” (which, it’s worth noting, was authored by a renowned 1950s stage magician), and a wonderful code-breaking challenge, which I have so far failed miserably.
While “The Cold War Spy Pocket Manual” makes the world of espionage feel alarmingly real, it won’t necessarily prepare you to go toe-to-toe with a violent assailant. For that doomsday wisdom, turn to Clint Emerson’s 100 Deadly Skills (Touchstone, $18). Filled with illustrated instructions for winning a knife fight and making improvised Tasers, this “SEAL operative’s guide” will weaponize anyone who reads it, even those of us whose best self-defense move has always been the fetal position. “Developed by highly trained operatives who regularly face life-threatening conditions, these skills push the limits of human endurance, precision, and ingenuity,” Emerson proclaims. “And often, the boundaries of the law.” The book also contains sections on freeing yourself from handcuffs, zip ties and duct tape (perform a “snapping action rather than muscle power”), and it provides instructions for concealing escape tools and stealing a plane. “Once an operative has broken into the plane, he will likely be able to take off and fly away without attracting any notice,” Emerson claims. Perhaps the most valuable advice in this book, and the best counsel for getting through 2016 and beyond, is to avoid peril in the first place. “When confronted with unexpected danger, in many cases the safest course of action is escape,” Emerson writes. “Be deadly in spirit, not in action.”
Wilwol is a writer in Washington.