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Dispatches : Books

Sam Sheridan's Guide to the Apocalypse

Sam Sheridan made his name with A Fighter’s Heart, a bestselling account of his experience training for mixed martial arts. Now the former Merchant Marine takes on Armageddon in The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse. Published just two months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, Diaries is a curious handbook for armchair end-timers, complete with tips and genre-fiction vignettes. Jon Billman talked survival with Sheridan.

Your book is fun—there are zombie anecdotes, after all. But this is serious stuff, as we’ve recently seen.
Watching the hurricane descend on the East Coast, I just kept thinking about the basic message of the book: self-reliance. If everyone is a little more able to take care of themselves, then a week without power becomes a little less of a crisis. I’m not talking about being able to live off the land forever, or a well-armed bunker. Just have enough food and water to sustain your family for a couple of weeks. The Big One in Los Angeles, a crippling ice storm in North Dakota—there are dozens of scenarios where the grid might go down. Taking responsibility for your survival is part of the onus of adulthood. Understand the vulnerabilities in the systems you depend on. And have a couple of plans.

You suggest that situational awareness is paramount. Are you advocating a slow-food approach to disaster?
Yeah, absolutely. You have to move on a much slower plane. Being deliberate is useful in any survival situation—the worst thing you can do is rush and make more victims.

At one point, you argue with a wilderness guide about Scorpions—not the bug, the band. Is “Winds of Change” the theme song to the apocalypse?
No, that’s a pussy rocker ballad. Maybe it’s a punk song. Something hard and blinding.

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Lance Armstrong Sued Over His 'Nonfiction' Book

Here are all 59 pages of the class-action lawsuit filed against Lance Armstrong in Sacramento, California, this week, which alleges that both It’s Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts are fiction rather than nonfiction. (Hard to argue with at this point, but that doesn’t mean this suit will end up being successful.) The claim, which is similar to an action filed against Greg Mortenson over fabrications in Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, claims that purchasers of the books were “misled by Defendants’ statements and purchased Defendant Armstrong’s books based upon the false belief that they were true and honest works of nonfiction.” The complaint says Armstrong attributed his success in the Tour de France to training, diet, and guts, when in fact he was cheating all along.

The plaintiffs are a pair of bike enthusiasts and (former) Lance believers named Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler. According to the Sacramento Bee blog “CapitolAlert,” Stutzman is a well-connected GOP strategist who worked as the communications director for Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger during his first term. Wheeler is a chef. Both feel had by Lance and the myth he perpetuated about himself.

“Although Stutzman does not buy or read many books,” the complaint says, “he found Armstrong’s book incredibly compelling and recommended the book to several friends.” Stutzman met Armstrong in 2005, during his Arnold gig. “At that time, Stutzman thanked Defendant Armstrong for writing his book and told him it was very inspiring and that he had recommended it to friends who were fighting cancer. Armstrong thanked Stutzman.” Truly the act of what Lance has called (when referring to journalists) “a snake with arms.”

There is a certain TMI quality to this brief, aimed at heightening the plaintiffs’ sense of betrayal. Wheeler lets us know that he “began riding bikes in his hometown of Cupertino, California, while in kindergarten and began riding long distances with his best friend. Soon he and his friend would ride over the mountains to Santa Cruz and back. Wheeler began hanging out at the renowned Cupertino Bike Shop where he became friendly with its owner, the legendary Spence Wolfe.”

OBJECTION, your honor: plaintiff should use this heartwarming material in his screenplay for Breaking Away: Again.

The full text of the complaint is below. And here’s my story about a similar complaint filed against Greg Mortenson over the lies in his work. (That suit was bounced by a federal district judge, and is currently under appeal.) The co-defendants in the Armstrong suit are all publishing companies. Lance’s co-author, Sally Jenkins, is not named.

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Falcon's Interactive Guides to Hiking, Climbing, and Cooking

FalconGuides just announced the first 12 titles in a new line of interactive outdoor guides the company developed in partnership with Inkling, a platform for interactive learning.

For the price of the download, readers get expert content optimized for iPhone, iPad, and Web, with features that bridge the gap between apps and ebooks: slideshows with high-res images not found in the print editions, guided visual tours, hyperlinks, and smart search that makes it quick and easy to get to the information you need, from a list of dog-friendly hikes to a river name. Hiking guide users can give tips to other readers and share trail notes on washed out bridges, best photo ops, bees nests to watch out for, or anything else. An animal tracks feature lets you click through a series of questions that narrows down which animal tracks you’ve spotted based on pattern, shape, and size. Rock climbing instructional guides have stop-motion animation illustrating specific techniques.

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History's Most Insane Around-the-World Adventure

Excerpted from Half-Safe: A Story of Love, Obsession, and History's Most Insane Around-the-World Adventure, by James Nestor. The full ebook single is available from The Atavist.

THEY HAD SPENT 14 days in darkness.

Late on the morning of the 15th day, December 2, 1950, light finally peeked through a crack in the curtain that hung over the passenger-side window. Ben lifted the curtain and looked outside. The sky was blue, and the sun, as big as a dinner plate, shone brightly. The storm clouds had retreated to the horizon. Ben took a dirty tissue from his shirt pocket, swabbed his eyes, and lifted himself from behind the steering wheel.

It had been four full months since Ben and his wife, Elinore, steered the tiny amphibious jeep they called Half-Safe into the frigid waters of Halifax Harbor and headed east toward Africa. It was the first time anyone had tried to circumnavigate the world by land and sea in a single vehicle, let alone one that was eight times smaller than any motorized boat that had ever crossed the Atlantic. It was a harebrained scheme, and the Carlins knew it. That was the point.

Adventure for its own sake had first attracted Ben, an engineer from rural Western Australia, to Elinore, an American Red Cross nurse, when the two met in India at the end of World War II. And there could be no more outlandish adventure than an attempt to “drive” across the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans—and actually drive across the continents in between—in an automobile. Especially this automobile—a converted 1942 GPW (General Purpose Willys) amphibious jeep built by Ford for the U.S. Army. It looked like a cross between a 4x4 and a rowboat, with a stubby pointed front, a square rear end, and a five-by-10 steel box on top. It was half car, half boat, and entirely ridiculous. The GPW amphibious jeeps were designed to putter through shallow streams for a few minutes at a time and usually failed even at that; they had proved so useless in the field that the Army canceled production. They were never intended to be used on the ocean.

Helpless and lost in the middle of 41 million square miles of open water, Ben and Elinore realized that their comic little adventure was quickly becoming a suicide mission. Both were in their thirties, but looked as though they had aged decades in just a few weeks. Elinore, famished and vomiting anchovies into a tin mug, had gone from voluptuous to skeletal. Ben looked worse. His skin was pale, a delta of stress lines spread across his forehead, and his eyes were baggy and bloodshot. His face was caked with exhaust soot, engine grease, and sweat.

But now, weeks into their Atlantic crossing, the Carlins had no choice but to suck it up and keep following the compass east, toward the coast of the Spanish colony of Western Sahara, toward solid ground and safety.

Ben squinted out Half-Safe’s back hatch and looked at the deck. The jeep was sitting dangerously low in the water. Waves washed over the windshield and side windows, threatening to swamp the cabin. The cloth sea anchor, designed to drag in the water to stabilize the vehicle, floated behind Half-Safe in tatters, shredded by the storm.

I FIRST HEARD ABOUT Carlin and Half-Safe about a decade ago, after my own, less extraordinary misadventure at sea. I was sailing the Golden Gate, the strait spanned by the famous bridge, outside San Francisco with an old friend named Steve, a novice sailor who had just bought a 36-foot boat. We were barely out of the harbor before it became obvious that neither of us knew what we were doing. Then the motor broke. Soon we were drifting slowly west, toward the open ocean.

It was my first real taste of being adrift at sea, lost. For six hours, Steve and I felt alternately terrified and oddly bored. By nightfall, Steve had given up and called emergency rescue. As we waited to be towed back into the harbor, he told me about a guy named Ben Carlin who spent years in this kind of predicament—years stuck in the five-by-10 cabin of a tricked-out military jeep that was somehow also a boat, trying to make it around the world.

When I got home, I went online and read what I could. The Ben Carlin story seemed too ridiculous to be true—but if it was true, it was the most bizarre adventure tale I’d ever heard. Either way, I had to find out more. There wasn’t much to find, however: a one-line mention on a GeoCities page, a picture of the jeep on a site maintained by Army-vehicle enthusiasts. Carlin had written two books offering partial accounts of the journey, but they were both long out of print and difficult to track down.

Ten years after first hearing about Carlin, and still unable to piece his story together, I flew to Perth, Australia in November 2011. If there were answers to the Ben Carlin mystery they'd be at the Guildford Grammar School, his former alma matter, which houses nearly all of the surviving records of Carlin’s bizarre around-the-world quest. A few days after arriving at Guildford, Carlin's life and his adventure began to unravel in ways more strange, tragic, and extraordinary than I had ever expected. Soon, I was no longer just exhuming Ben Carlin’s story after 60 years, but in an odd way becoming a part of it.

BY THE MORNING OF December 2, 1950,  the rain returned, followed by wind and waves. By afternoon, the swells had risen to 30, 40, even 50 feet. The jeep was flung stories-high over the crests of the waves and down the other side so violently that Ben and Elinore were shot from their seats into mid-air.  The tank carrying most of Half-Safe's fuel broke loose from the hull; Ben watched as it bobbed in the spindrift and then disappeared into the darkness. He had no other option but to gun the engine and try to run before the storm. This was no ordinary storm. It was a full-on hurricane—and the Carlins were in the middle of it.

By evening the swells had gotten bigger. They slammed into the jeep with such deafening force Ben knew it was only a matter of time before the roof collapsed, the cabin flooded, and the jeep sank. Ben turned to Elinore and made her scream the escape procedure in his ear.

“You shout, ‘Out,’” she yelled, her voice straining above the din of the rain and wind beating on the steel walls of the cabin. “I get out and wait. You follow and grab the gear. I follow you. Keep in contact!”

Another wave hit.Ben pulled the lighter from his shirt pocket and lit a cigarette. Elinore watched the cherry dance in the darkness, wondering which of the waves detonating against Half-Safe’s windshield would be the one to finally burst in. Through the passenger-side curtain, she and Ben watched the sky darken. They felt a swell below their feet inflate like a giant lung and crash down the other side. Ben tumbled, his cigarette arcing across the dashboard like a rescue flare shot into a moonless night. The window went black. Half-Safe climbed another wave.

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