Back to Basics

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By Josh •  3 min read

Back To Basics- How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills is about just that, learning the skills that our forefathers used in their everyday life. Every independent minded American would enjoy this book.

It includes everything from building log cabins to churning butter the old fashioned way.  Back to Basics was originally published in 1981, but is now currently in it’s 3rd edition, published in 2008. It has 464 pages of information. The book is divided up into six major sections.

The Basics

The book is fairly easy to understand. There are some parts that are illustrated in great detail but they are not overly technical. The book is full of pictures and illustrations. Throughout the book there are interviews with people that have applied the skills described and their experiences.

  1. Land: Buying It- Building On
  2. Energy From Wood, Water, Wind, and Sun
  3. Raising Your Own Vegetables, Fruit, And Livestock
  4. Enjoying Your Harvest Year Round
  5. Skills and Crafts for House and Homestead
  6. Recreation at Home and in the Wild


Back to Basics was compiled by about forty members of the staff of Reader’s Digest. I am not aware of the individual qualifications of the authors but I do know that the book was very skillfully put together.

Survival Applications

Back To Basics is written to assist people in being self sufficient and in homesteading, not survival. At the same time Back To Basics is probably THE survival book I would want in a long-term survival/collapse of society situation, the reason being it’s full of information on everything you could ever want to know in a crisis.

It has in depth info on planning homes and building them out of a variety of materials including logs, adobe and stone. It also talks about developing a water supply and sanitation, as well as fireplace construction and design.

The energy section covers how to build and install wind mills and to harness the power of water. The farming and livestock section is full of great ideas on growing all sorts of plants and also gardening in limited spaces. It also covers the basics of animal husbandry.

Part Four: Enjoying Your Harvest Year Round is full of recipes and advice for drying, canning, baking and lots more. Skills and Crafts for House and Homestead talks about spinning, weaving, rug making, quilting, rope-making, tanning and leather-working, wood-working, broom-making, metal-working, soap-making and candle-making. The last part covers more modern outdoor activities like camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and wilderness survival.

Favorite Part

I remember going over to my great-grandparents house when I was younger and spending hours on end looking though this book. My favorite part was probably the part on skills and crafts. Everything in that chapter I found useful. I really got a lot from the part on soap making.


Some may argue that the information is out of date, but I think this just adds to the feeling of learning old fashioned skills. I really don’t have any complaints about this book.

Overall Summary

I found this book immensely useful. I would highly recommend this book as an overall guide for thriving self-sufficiently . There really is no reason not to get a copy of this book as it is very reasonably priced for what you get, almost 500 pages of information and illustrations.

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition is now in it’s Third Edition, which is available on Amazon.


Josh is a Boy Scout and an avid outdoorsman. He specializes in knives (and other such tools), various knots & lashings, traditional skills such as blacksmithing & woodworking, bushcraft and fire starting. Read his full interview here.