Lessons from the Book of Eli

After the nuclear ash snowfall ended, there was very little left.  Their known world suddenly and inexplicably became unknown.  That was the reality for the mystical-fictional character named Eli found as the theater lights went down.

It’s a movie (Book of Eli) all Survival Cache followers or interested parties ought to watch, if not to learn, then just for its entertainment value.

Survival Nuts

Sometimes we have to explore other points of reference regardless of how farfetched they might seem at the time.  After all these Doomsday Preppersdays reality is pretty much farfetched anyway is it not?  A great deal can be gleaned from the so-called post-apocalyptic type movies.  Certainly there are those in the audience jaded by their own escapes from reality to feel safer presuming no such scenario could ever happen on our sophisticated, metropolitan, one-world Earth.  Then on the tail end of the coin are those we oft term with tongue-n-cheek as the “survival nuts” rallying to decipher the worst case play out of the sum of the events all the while shoving more rounds into their AR magazines.

Somewhere in between is what might really happen.  We Cache folks know the event or SHTF could come from a number of possible actions and reactions.  It could be an election gone sour, an executive order, the crack in the foundation of our economic stability (or lack of it) that leads to a total crumble, a dirty bomb finally released by a fringe group of crazies hoping to send the infidels to their heavenly after world sans virgins.

There are endless possibilities to the scenarios that could develop.  The threat is enough that tens of thousands of good, honest, God-fearing, hard working (or none of that) people are prepping and stocking supplies and gear just in case.  They are planning and fine tuning.  They practice.  They hone old skills and acquire new ones.  They stock up everything from the essentials to weaponry, games, and books, batteries, tote boxes full of needs and some wants.  Maybe none of it will ever be used, but it could be.

So, why not watch a movie like The Book of Eli?  I mean there might be some bits and pieces, hints, tactics, deployment skills or Doomsday Preppersother pieces of information to roll into our own planning.  The philosophical sketch behind the movie could offer some value to our mental preparations for what could come or what we might encounter ourselves.

We can surely pick out the outlandish parts, but then, come to think of it, how do we know what will be too far out there, and what won’t be?  Isn’t that part and partial to prepping after all?

Essentials to Life come First

Likely everybody will see this movie differently.  It would be quite fun to discuss the film around the Bug Out fire ring as to its merits to our mission and perhaps its fallacies.  As to the later, I just factor in the fact that it came from Hollywood after all, though I thoroughly enjoyed Denzel Washington’s portrayal.

Perhaps the obvious struck me time and time again, but it seemed the most single important pivotal aspect of Eli’s “survival” boiled down to water.  Take it as a pun if you wish.  Water was the No.1 premium item throughout the episode.  It was even used as an attractant or ploy to deceive the weak or easy to prey upon.  Eli was not subverted.

Eli was of course constantly on the move to deliver “The Book” to a predetermined destination and to the appropriate Doomsday Preppersauthorities.   I took note he only carried one canteen.  That seemed woefully inadequate even though he was on foot.  During the whole movie it looked like the climate was pretty hot, dry, and harsh, thus the ever constant need for water replenishment.  Take note of that.

The movie ploy of course had the main character on the move all the time.  But that fact illustrates just how difficult it is to sustain one’s self on the road as it were.  Ideally a Bug In or Out prep would secure a decent water source.  At a remote site plan for a water supply even if you have to boil and filter it.  A stream, lake, or pond is wonderful or perhaps a well you can revive.

At home the municipal water might still work or it might not.  As the SHTF unfolds, fill up everything you have, ration it, and pray things are stabilized before you run out.  As with Eli, water will gravitate to the top of the list.  Obtain it, and then protect it.

What Do You Value Most?

Eli’s mission was clear cut.  The book he carried was the most important thing he saved.  It was his first and foremost mission to get it safely to its home.  He had to physically defend not only the book but himself.  The “bad guy” character in the movie named Carnegie (classic) played by Gary Oldman was a book collector of sorts who pursued Eli until the bitter end.  Oldman’s end.

So when you Bug Out, or stay home, decide what things are most important outside of the essentials required to live and sustain Doomsday Prepperssurvival.  It is perhaps unwise to give up everything including water and food for a book, or a bag of gold coins.  As they say, you can’t take it all with you, so that coveted collection of wax 45 music records might have to be burned in the fireplace to cook or keep warm.  The album jackets at least.

If you have family, then they are the most precious possession you have.  Prep with their welfare totally in mind in both offensive and defensive modes.  Once those bases are covered, then you can consider hiding back that shoebox of baseball cards or that red velvet wall hanging of Elvis.

Offense and Defense

Eli was pretty resourceful in defending himself only carrying a long bladed machete type tool in a back scabbard and a single handgun.  As I recall and I could be wrong as it has been some time since I first watched the movie, it appeared to be a Beretta 92, likely in 9mm.  I sure can’t argue with that choice at all.  It is one of my favorites.

There is no mention in the movie of any training that Eli might have had in wielding his weapons so effectively.  He seems a naturalDoomsday Preppers born when it comes to swinging the blade with impunity.  Same on the use of the pistol, how he procured it or supplied it with ammo.  Again, Hollywood managed to leave that out.

All that part of the movie stands on its own merit in terms of his own self defense against factions trying to steal the book.  It does illustrate that the zombies out there or any other sort of collective bad guy gangs will try to take anything and everything you have, whether they value it or not.  It’s just the mindset.

As to offense, Eli appears to be traveling the back roads as much as possible, but he is always exposed by walking out in the open.  He does hide out from time to time in various places, some fairly decent choices, others not, such as the lone farm house out in the middle of the field.

This permits the Survival Cache audience to evaluate the smartest modes of travel and hide out strategies.  In particular any proposed Bug Out site ought to be highly remote with difficult points of access.  In other words don’t pick an otherwise abandoned building at an intersection with multiple points of access.

If any of you have been watching the Mountain Man series on the History Channel, the guy in the somewhat remote wilds of the North Carolina woods still has a road coming into his quasi-primitive compound.  Otherwise access has to be through the woods.  There is plenty of fodder for a debate in that series as well.  Keeping vigilant on both the defensive and offensive fronts is paramount to successful survival.

Miscellaneous Lessons from Eli

Watching this movie poses a number of questions.  Do voices in your head tell you where to go or not?  They did for Eli.  For me, Doomsday Prepperssuch “voices” are thoughts of random remembrances of things I need to do to prep or tasks in that regard I need to take care of eventually.  At my age I translate these unsolicited synapses into detailed work lists so I can keep track.  Every prepper should keep a journal or a sort of “to do” or “have done” list.  This should include a comprehensive list of gear, supplies acquired or needs.

What voices do you follow?  Remember to follow your survival planning process and continually update it.  Practice the training you have already completed and seek out additional opportunities.  Always sharpen and hone.  Practice, then execute.  Work out the kinks then go at it again.

As Eli demonstrated, he walked by faith.  What faiths do we follow?

Faith in our skills, our abilities to work hard and secure the prep goods we need, faith in family or teams we coordinate prep activities with or perhaps a higher power to see us through the tough times.  These are questions worth pondering.

Eli taught us other things as well.  One such ideal was “Do for others more than you do for yourself.”  Some preppers are isolationists.  Others believe in sharing what they have with extended family or even neighbors.  You’ll have to wade through that quagmire sooner or later.  Sooner is better.

There are plenty of other lessons to be learned from The Book of Eli. I recommend you watch it.  Reflect on what happens to Eli and those around him then ask yourself what you would do better or differently.

Lessons from The Book of Eli

Just in case you have not yet rented this movie I will not give up the catch plot of the whole movie revealed at the end.  Perhaps you will view it with an open mind and pass judgment on your own.   For entertainment value alone it is worth the investment of a couple hours of time, but perhaps not if the flat screen is running off a generator after all the power grids have gone down across America.  In that case, the Eli prophecy comes too late.  Save the gasoline.Photos by:
Dr. John J. Woods
The Book of Eli


Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

62 thoughts on “Lessons from the Book of Eli”

  1. I have seen the movie and for a SHTF movie I liked it.
    Sense I first watched the movie Panic in Year Zero!
    I alweys look to see what I would do better or different.
    Even a bad or poor SHTF you can see these things!
    I too think most will like the movie The Book of Eli.

  2. Great movie, but a very poorly researched and fact checked review/article. Maybe you should have watched it again before writing this piece? If you're going to give advice….

    It was 30 "seasons" or years that Eli walked. It was not predetermined where to other than West. He would know the place once he arrived there. Back roads? It appeared most roads were destroyed or eroded away after 30 seasons of no one to care for them as with most things. Why all the coats, sweaters and scarves if it was dry, hot and harsh as you say?

    I understand the point to your "story" is water, prep it! I agree.

    Since purchasing an iPad, the 1st thing I did was download all the FREE copies of ANY Bible that I could find in the App Store. Eli, thank you for the idea. I also have solar power to charge the pad and some lights. Thank you Goal Zero!

    If you have room in your pad, install the great classic reads and any survival manuals, books and personal docs that you think you might need.

    • If there are 4 "seasons" in a year, would'nt that make it 7.5 years for the journey? Seems much more reasonable… otherwise Eli (and I've not watched it yet) would start the movie as a young man and end it as a rather old one.

      • um no because he doesn't really specify that seasons meant years and if you actually watch the damn movie you will start to understand what he actually means

    • Hannibal, I would take caution before making assertions about Dr Wood's review.

      You are correct that desert environments are very hot during the day. They are also incredibly cold at night, as there is nothing to hold onto the heat. If you've ever been outside for an extended period of time, you also know how important it is to have every inch of skin covered so that you don't get severe sunburn. Sand is also a serious problem, so its important to keep your body covered so the sand comes in contact with your skin very minimally and hopefully not at all. Its also much easier if you have a small pack to carry extra clothes on your person rather than cramming them into a pack that already has very little space.

      "30 seasons" or years is a huge difference…they probably meant actual seasons. 7.5 years with no maintenance and the roads certainly would not have broken completely down. Especially not in a predominately dry environment. They very well may have been covered over by sand, however.

      As for the mistake about the exact make and model of the handgun, Dr Woods never claimed to be a firearms expert. He pointed out that he thought the gun may have been a 92FS and that he liked that particular firearm.

      Its great to have those books in an iPad…might be better to have them in actual print form in the event that your solar powered thingy breaks.

    • Hannibal,

      Coats, sweaters and scarves are there for a few reasons. First, they may be what's left after 30 years (seasons). Second, have you ever actually lived in a desert? I have most of my life. There is no vegetation to trap heat/act like a blanket. Nights in the desert can be damn cold. Third, all those items protect you from the sun. Constant exposure can cause….. sunburns. Maybe you should take some of your own advice and do some research?

  3. I think if we were all prepared even for the small event..we would be a better country…everytime some disaster comes it seems as though people are waiting for someone else to save their behinds..it does not take a lot to just have a few batteries..some canned food..matches and water on hand…I feel so much better now that I have stocked up to keep me warm ..fed and safe for at least a month…just the basics…you can then sit back and say..OK bring it on..I am ready..gun..ammo..food..water..oh yea and a roof over my head..and if that goes…a tarp..matches and some fire wood..and extra blankets…

  4. Why did Eli not travel at night?

    The sun hurt their eyes, it was hot, hostile, and not like anything they did in day time could have not been done at night.

    Just my thoughts from the movie.

  5. the book of eli was filmed in. One of the most remote and at times hostile places in the country, Carrizozo New Mexico, I was born there. in watching thw film… Little is reconizable. The first atomic bomb was set off near there, I thought the film exurated the skills of Eli… He did unlikly things with his wepoms, was not carfull about his travel, frequently skylined himself… made some obvious blunders that should hacve gotten him killed.

  6. I've watched the movie a couple of times. It is good entertainment. I would have to believe that divine intervention helped him in some of the scenes. Considering his mission, divine intervention seems most plausible.

  7. I also enjoyed the movie, my main complaint being the entire purpose Eli had in transporting the book to the west coast where he encounters other survivors intent on rebuilding the civilization that had been destroyed. why rebuild something that so clearly failed and ended in catastrophe? why not try something more sustainable?

    • all i remember is that he found people operating in a group (albeit on alcatraz island) salvaging the bits of knowledge and literature that could be found.

      people will have to operate in groups no matter what happens and knowledge is not a bad thing.

  8. Don't forget the bow and arrow and knife to complete his arsenal. Not to mention his martial art skills, and the fact of being somewhat bullet proof.

  9. Awesome article, and I think you're spot on about the importance of water in almost every survival scenario. Of course some people may be blessed to reside in (or plan to bug out to) a wonderfully plush environment will water out the wazoo… but for most people it's a major concern that cannot be stressed enough. While we can't make water (well, if you have a $100k, a huge generator and tons of gasoline then you can buy a machine the military uses to draw water from the air), we can have the tools and knowledge necessary to locate and access it.

    For me, I know every pond, stream and water source in my general area and it's mapped out. The area that I believe I would bug out to is likewise mapped out, with water sources clearly marked. In this same vein, Nalgene type water bottles are great, but why not use the lightweight aluminum or other metal canteens that allow you to more easily boil questionable water right in the container? If you are taking a plastic bottle, make it a clear one that you can leave out in the sun all day to use the power of UV to purify questionable water.

    As for the movie, I own it and think it's my favorite Denzel movie. Sure, it may not resemble a scenario I'll face, but it's great anyway and it forces us to think about things we might otherwise not.

    Great site here at SurvivalCache… you guys make a difference.

  10. good movie, but a little far fetched. water, food and radiation.. and enemies seen and unseen and of course ZOMBIES!!! or zombie like mutants.. blind…. most likely scenario if nukes are popped off, but the worst scenario is what moms will do to protect their kids, or wont do.. still it was a work of fiction and needs to be put into some context that sheds light on survivability versus wanton violence

  11. Good movie , didnt expect the ending . If he was such a "man of god " ………….why did he hate animals so much ? …………I found that disturbing ………..Grandma always said " never trust anybody that doesn't like animals " ………..its almost the truth .

    • that point was very clear ……….I just question the animal cruelty scenes in the beginning …….what possible relevance to the plot did that have ? …….it just didnt need to be there and had absolutely nothing to do with the story . I was a very low and cheap attempt on the part of the filmaker trying to get controversy just sell more more tickets . The movie didnt need it . Only crap movies need that . Just sayin

      • no, you're wrong on that part. Just because you didn't appreciate it doesn't mean that it was un-called for. Hunting animals is not animal cruelty, either by way of legal definition or even common sense. Could they have illustrated the situation differently? Yes, but did they need to? No, it was fine. A starving dude harvested a "wildcat" with a bow and arrow, that's pretty humane, all things considered.

        during any prolonged SHTF situation or especially any similar
        TEOTWAWKI event, even if the only food around is
        adorable baby seal pups, it's batter-up at Fenway Park, you dig?

  12. Eli's gun was an HK 45. Animal cruelty? You mean when he was hunting a cat for food? He then fed a rat with some of the cat meat…Ironic? Yes. Cruel? Not at all.

    • feeding cat to the mouse, is clear foreshadowing to the end of the movie, and likely a homage to the "meek shall inherit the earth"

  13. There is no mention in the movie of any training that Eli might have had in wielding his weapons so effectively.

    There isn't, but the martial arts he was using was Filipino Martial Arts. I cannot recall if it was a form of Arnis de Mano, or Eskrima, or Kali. But the training Denzel went through was quite real.

  14. What about the miracle he experienced ? God was also involved with his survival. He wouldn't have made it without God's intervention.

  15. Denzel was trained by Dan Inosanto for the movie, one of my heroes. Dan was a friend and student of Bruce Lee. Dan teaches many martial arts but most of it in the Film looked like Filipino martial arts. Dan teaches a mix of Eskrima and Kali.

  16. Eli was blind the entire move, so yes divine intervention was the entire "twist" to the movie. He shot guys and fought guys all while being blind. Carnegie even references it in one part of the movie when he says (do not quote me) "shoot this guys already!" he was essentially being protected by divine intervention.

    Cool sci-fi PA movie though.

    • Excellent, God created hunters and fisherman first ! Survival for the average person is not in their brain cells as they probably never studied Lewis and Clark as they ate 9 pounds of meat A-day if they could travelling across the United States..

  17. When I watched this movie, the first thing that came to my mind was: "Oh! They made a movie after Fallout 3!". I don't know how many of you play games, and how many played Fallout 3, but the grey & green tint in the entire movie (even the sky was kind of green) is identical to the game. The atmosphere, the weapons, the society… Maybe someone should write a review about the game too, sometime.

    • Yea, the main difference in FallOut though, is that the "real world" timeline skewed from ours at the splitting of the atom with everything prior to that being the same history as ours, but afterwards diverging into a parallel, but ultimately slightly "off" version of our own.

      The series is fantastic though, FallOut 3 especially. In particular, their approach to the pre-game training and acclimation; spending your first hour of the game "growing-up" in the fallout shelter and then eventually coming-up to the surface. That initial blinding image from the hillside as you step from the cave and get your first glimpse of nuked-out Washington D.C. in the distance, 200 years later. that'll stick in my head forever!

      Funny, that game came-out just as I was first getting on my own and coming to grips with the reality of the state of things. You could almost say that it inspired me to start prepping!

  18. I have watched this movie several times, and each time I am impressed with the thought that something simple as the book could be so valuable. Very thought provoking movie.

  19. I remember when Book of Eli and The Road came-out around the same time. The wife had already shot down the latter, as I recall, so when BoE was still in theaters I treated her to a surprise date night and, I'm proud to say, selfishly took us to what-the-hell I WANTED TO SEE, for a change…

    From the moment he harpoons the cat, she was like "You're unbelievable. I hate you"
    Totally worth it!

  20. Just wanted to continue a post started by Max who brought back a happy memory;
    most of us have no time for videogames anymore, with the state of things,
    but if your kids have an X-Box 360, then do yourself a favor on a rainy day
    and go spend $19.99 on the Collector's Edition of FallOut 3.

    It was game of the year in 2008 (somewhat ironically) about a TEOTWAWKI event
    that occurred 200 years prior to gameplay, across the entire planet though the story's
    focus is on Washington DC and surrounding counties, as they were left when the
    bombs dropped sometime around the 1950's, according to this timeline.

    It offers a vastly in-depth perspective on the whole situation where-in, your
    acclimation begins with your birth in a massive underground radiation shelter and
    how your character (you) grows-up and eventually escapes in search of your father,
    Liam Neeson, of all voice actors!

    • There's a fantastically memorable scene at the beginning of the story,
      immediately following your ascension from within the earth, where you are
      literally blinded your first eyeful of sunlight and your gradually begin to make-out
      the distant burned-out landmarks, of the DC skyline. From that moment onwards
      you're completely left to your own devices in the middle of a sparsely populated
      wasteland with few remaining resources, pockmarked by craters and lingering
      radiation hot spots. All the buildings are in various states of urban decay and the
      Potomac river is little more than a trickling stream of mildly toxic water. You can,
      of coarse, choose to continue the story and search for your dad across landscape,
      from the shelled-out remains of the city center to a washed-up aircraft carrier and
      back out to the wilderness again, stumbling upon isolated communities of survivors
      as you do so, as well as other "quests" to keep you exploring.

      • What I really appreciated about the game was the level of realism. Given the shear scale of this massive title, it suffered under some of the smaller details being fleshed-out, but the general principals of survival are all there to various degrees depending upon your chosen difficulty. Your guns run out of what little ammunition you can find, but they need constant maintenance or replacement parts. You can even find design schematics to make your own weapons or grapple hand-to-hand and your character's skills will increase in whichever areas you deem the most useful.
        You have to scavenge for edible leftovers wherever they can be had and eventually learn to hunt and cook to really sustain yourself. Packs of rabid dogs, dog-sized rats and cockroaches the size of housecats are all edible, as well as many other creatures. Water is obviously doubly important in what has essentially become a sub-arid landscape. You can even become a cannibal if the going gets especially rough and other cannibalistic tribal clans guard their own turfs ferociously across the countryside.
        Also, the inner city is a world unto itself with collapsing buildings and giant craters exposing the sewers and sub-ways beneath the streets, which are all also accessible and necessary for navigating the urban jungle. Even a form of wandering skin and bones, radiation-crazy zombie-like creatures can be found in the most heavily dosed rad-zones. And depending upon any given situation you'll have to dress accordingly with body armor or desert cloaks or radiation suits.
        There are also safe zones where trade and barter can be found, or a roof to rent, food to buy or even religious services to attend and plenty of townsfolk looking to hire well armed wanderers for a multitude of tasks. From guarding a caravan to searching for lost children in enemy territory or tracking cattle rustlers and everything in between.

  21. Speaking of weapons, it was really interesting to note that with a wide arsenal to choose from, with all the local military bases accounted for and plenty of gun stores, etc. to scavenge for ancient leftovers, when ammo is so exotically rare, the fancy assault rifle you've been lugging around (all gear has actual, physical weight to consider) and repairing for weeks is only ever at it's best when you've rarely collected a multitude of fiscally valuable ammunition to burn through in seconds! You'll be an unstoppable war machine during whichever firefight you choose to deploy it, but then may spend weeks in-game replenishing your stockpile. The game really balances-out in favor of fighting smarter, not harder. Long range sniping and ambush tactics really pay-off and help to keep you alive and, more over, healthy!
    FallOut 3 was so advanced that not only could you be killed, but various limbs could be crippled by violence or carelessness. Nothing sucks worse than being 30 miles from the nearest civilization center when you tumble from a ledge while exploring an abandoned junkyard only to discover that you've now broken your ankle and incurred tetanus in the process, because healing yourself isn't always as easy as activating a MedKit.

    • There's also various factions to align yourself with or against. From the individual towns, to whichever psychotic clan you can get in good with, to remnants of a fascist government regime, to the descendants of the American military survivors who holed-up and barricaded the Pentagon as a fortress against the elements and few of them get along with the others, though there are trade routes.
      The reason to go for the Collector's Edition was because the game was so successful they expanded it with multiple new map locations and storyline extensions. The maps are the important things to collect as they allow you access to the isolated Carolina swamplands, peopled only by disturbed, backwoods hillbillies and tribespeople, and even an extremely polluted, yet industrially stable city "The Pitt" (Pittsburgh) which, unlike the devastated DC Wasteland, has become a major slave trade hub for the region and is, comparably, highly populated, though a revolution is brewing…

      The game just literally thought of it all. You might have to be willing to step outside the box of probability with this one, but it's got a lot to teach too and was developed in collaboration with various survival experts. Only particular parts of the game are especially over-the-top, but the moment to moment aspects are all highly immersive, especially when you consider that various nuclear disasters really have been responsible for some spectacularly devastating effects on life and environments. It's really the ideal "what if?" scenario simulator…

      • I'll also say this, that there was a sequel, of sorts, which took place in the ACTUAL desert surrounding the booming population center of New Vegas and focused on your part in a war between a massive desert raider army and a now well-organized American military from California. This one had pros & cons, but was more to do with the new world developing post-disaster and didn't really capture the same in-depth "survive or don't" aspect of the FallOut 3, so I can't recommend it nearly as highly. It was a bit like experiencing episodes 1-3 of the "new Star Wars" all over again, you just wish you had never gone there, in the end. It did incorporate some fantastic features, like ammo reloading stations where you can build your own bullets to your own specifications, but hot loads can deteriorate your guns faster. There's more variety in ammo where you can really tell the difference between firing a .22 and a .357, as well as real-world firearms, like Berettas and M-16s. Also, melee weapons are expanded upon further than swing & block, plus exploring the new landscape is just as exciting as the last game. Still, it's a decent game in it's own right, but it's no longer TEOTWAWKI, instead it's meet the new boss, same as the old boss but with more wackyness and you're left thinking, "why? just why?"

        Stick with FallOut 3

  22. Eli was blind. The 1st scene when he came across the burned out car he didn't look down to see if the skeleton had any shoes he had to physically feel with his hands. Also when he shacked up in the old house he was feeling with his hands on the cupboards . Walk by faith and not by sight.


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