The premise of Les Stroud’s TV series Survivorman is dead simple. In each episode, Stroud, an Ontario-based survival expert, gets dropped alone into a hostile environment, where he must stay alive for a week with minimal equipment, filming himself the whole time. The show’s charm is in the way Stroud is able to exaggerate the dangers he faces while still coming off as fairly grounded and modest; he never stops talking about the extreme dangers of the jungle or the Arctic or wherever, but given that the worst that usually happens to him is that he gets hungry or cold, he ends up sounding like someone trying to impress a drinking buddy.
Stroud brings that brand of genial self-importance to Survive!, an exhaustive and very readable guide to living through just about any survival situation that doesn’t involve other humans as the primary threat. He covers everything: shelter, fire, water, equipment, food, dealing with animals and insects, and even overcoming despair while stuck in the woods. (“If you play the victim, you will be one,” he declares.)
Refreshingly, Stroud is no gearhead, disparaging most high-tech equipment and advocating for simpler, more inexpensive alternatives. He also stresses the importance of self-reliance and research. That’s not to say that his patented overstatement is not here in full force: though the book endlessly hammers home the message that worst-case scenarios are always just around the corner (“This book is not about having fun”), he admits that the most harrowing and life-threatening situation he ever faced was being chased up a tree by an angry bull moose in Algonquin Park.