Book review: Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills ed. by Norman Mack

Given that I just mentioned this book no less than nine times by name in a previous post, I figured I should finally review it.
This is one of the most-used books in our house. This is the go-to source for all things self-sufficiency. It’s not comprehensive, but it gives enough information to get a good start in whatever it is you’re interested in. For instance, when Matt came home from work and said that Kent had recommended pigs rather than a green manure for the vegetable garden over winter, my first move was to pick up Back to Basics and read the article on swine. It didn’t tell me every last thing I was going to need to know, but it gave basic, important information sufficient for us to decide the physical and economic feasibility of having pigs in the back yard. It told us that a sow can have two to three litters per year, which told us that we would have better luck finding a shoat in fall than most livestock that is only available at a young age in the spring. It told us what the finished weight would be and what it would dress out to (hanging weight) which allowed me to figure the cost of slaughter and butchering based on the prices quoted to me by our local butcher. It also told us how much to expect the pigs to eat, so that we could figure out how much feed we would have to buy and store to get the pigs to butchering weight. Finally, it also explained fencing and shelter requirements and confirmed that we could offer the pigs more than enough room to move and grow. After ten minutes reading and about the same amount of time on the phone I was able to report to Matt that yes, crazy as it sounded, the plan was actually sound. By the time we put down money on our porky little girls, we had read two more excellent books on pigs (Living With Pigs by Chuck Wooster and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs by Kelly Klober), but never found our basic knowledge challenged. These books confirmed and expanded on the solid advice we had gotten from Back to Basics.
There is little in the way of self-sufficient skills that this valuable volume does not touch on: finding, buying, and building on land; energy sources; raising fruits, vegetables, and livestock; skills and crafts (the handy kind like weaving, woodworking, and soapmaking); and outdoor pursuits like fishing and hiking. Need a recipe for wallpaper paste? Can’t decide which kind of waterwheel or turbine would be best for your stream? Want to know how to grow peanuts? Interested in building a food smoker? Curious how one milks a goat? I’ve got your book right here.
— Amanda

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