Practical Doomsday: A User's Guide to the End of the World by Michal Zalewski

(San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2022), 246

This is a well thought out and common-sense approach to emergency planning. The author's information security background makes him especially qualified to write a book like this which continually evaluates threats and defenses through the lens of risk, reward, and cost. My plan and to-do list form this book is here (private): Kudija Family Preparedness Plan



  • The author grew up in Communist Poland, almost ended up on the street after losing a job, etc: disasters aren't rare today
  • "Prepping shouldn't be about expecting the apocalypse; it should be about enjoying life to the fullest without having to worry about what's in the news."

Part I: Thinking about Risk

Chapter 1: A Method to the Madness

Summary: Simplify your thinking and rank order outcomes to prepare for using a simple framework that accounts for frequency, severity, and cost of mitigation.

  • Think about risk as a trade-off between safety, liberty, and utility
  • Focus on outcomes (in a financially precarious spot), not causes of events (stories of how you got there): you will always need to put food on the table and pay the bills
  • Look at your daily routing and stress-test external dependencies
  • Quantify risk as impact vs probability vs minimum cost of mitigating a concern (in time, effort, and money)
    • $\text{Risk Rank} \propto \frac{\text{Probability of Event} \times \text{Potential Impact}}{\text{Min non-recoverable mitigation cost}}$
  • Simplify your thinking
  • Films to Watch: One Child Nation, 2019 documentary about China
  • The Bet by Paul Sabin bib: case study in how easy it is to mistake possibility for certainty

Chapter 2: The Specter of Humdrum Calamities

Summary: Many ordinary events can set us back: loss of job, car accidents, fires, etc.

  • Unemployment: consider the impact of lifestyle creep
  • Loss of shelter: Have necessities (clothing, cash, documents, computer backup) stored at a secure location not far from home
  • Unintentional injury: focus on prevention in everyday habits
  • Theft: situational awareness and de-escalation skills
  • Illness and Death: set up your finances for ease of transition to survivors

Chapter 3: Exploring Large-Scale Risks

Summary: He reviews a number of cyclical regional disasters ranging from natural disasters to economic downturns. A preparedness plan for many of these requires either the ability shelter in place for a time or evacuate quickly to a safer location.

  • Hyperinflation is regular:

Chapter 4: Oh No, Zombies

Summary: He reviews the risks of a number of much more severe and unlikely scenarios but stresses the key of flexibility and building a financial safety net and robust social network.

  • None of the apocalyptic predictions that have animated the masses throughout the ages has ever come to pass.
  • Scientism: "Just like religion, science isn't immune to being twisted in the service of decidedly unscientific causes and beliefs." (30)
  • Liberties, once surrendered, are almost never willingly given back (37)
  • "I'm cautiously optimistic about the future of humanity, but I don't have faith in our ability to remember the lessons of history as the accounts are rewritten and retold, and as the visceral atrocities of bygone days are gradually abstracted away and reduced to a sentence or two. In this sense, my greatest fear is that we won't make enough small blunders to keep reminding ourselves of what's right and what's wrong, eventually leading to us repeating some of our greatest mistakes on a much grander scale." (39)
  • Nuclear War Survival Skills and Raven Rock bib

Part II: The Prepared Lifestyle

Chapter 5: Mind Over Matter

Summary: Focus on planning and simple lifestyle changes first before buying gear or supplies.

Chapter 6: Building a Rainy-Day Fund

Summary: Money helps with everyday hurdles as much as disasters, and can help bring the clarity needed to walk away from all kinds of non-financial harm.

  • A Story of a Fuck off Fund by Paulette Perhach bib
  • Make every transaction count: think of money as a claim check on society awarded for your contributions to the well-being of others and redeemable toward the pursuit of your own life goals
  • Rainy day fund initial goal: 3 months of post-tax earnings

Chapter 7: Safeguarding Your Savings

Summary: A brief history of money and monetary policy and some tips for building a Doomsday portfolio.

  • Debt, not coinage, was the original money; money is simply an accounting tool
  • Why is the government in the business of making money? (cf. What Has Government Done to Our Money? by Murray Rothbard and The Ethics of Money Production)
  • He is not a fan of cryptocurrencies (but treats "crypto" as a class without a focus on Bitcoin)
  • "Financial systems are emergent and chaotic phenomena, not a sinister scheme devised to take from the poor and give to the rich." (74)
  • Goal of a doomsday portfolio is that no single event can wipe out the bulk of your savings.
  • Portfolio:
    • Hold several weeks of physical cash, which also lets you opt out of surveillance
    • Split your money between financial institutions with different risk portfolios.
    • Loans amount to taking a short position against your local currency (as do holding an alternate currency).
    • Mostly avoid bonds; invest in 10-20 value equities (i.e. The Intelligent Investor bib) rather than index funds, but only up to 50% of portfolio (80)
    • Use 1% for stock options and commodities futures options as an insurance policy
    • Some precious metals (which are liquid, private and compact, but risk physical loss and unlikely to bootstrap a gold-based economy)
    • Real estate (potentially rural plot of land with a cabin)
    • Historical collectibles
    • Avoid crypto and NFTs

Chapter 8: Engineering a Doomsday-Proof Career

Summary: Continually develop marketable skills even if they aren't immediately applicable to your job, potentially through a hobby.

Chapter 9: Staying Alive

Summary: To minimize the chances of dying, focus on yourself and consider the risk vs reward.

  • Practice defensive driving
  • Take extra caution when working at heights
  • Avoid poisoning: use ibuprofen rather than acetaminophen (99-100)
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
  • Practice workshop safety (cf. Workshop Wound Care)
    • Table saws and angle grinders are especially dangerous
    • Use push sticks and sleds
  • Fireproof the homestead: be tidy, have fire extinguishers, prepare escape routes

Chapter 10: Protecting Oneself in the Digital and Physical Realm

Summary: Tips for online security and preventing theft.

  • Little value in VPN or not using mainstream browsers, mail services, and search engines (106)
  • Perform regular backups to an offline medium (108)
  • Use a paper notebook or a password manager built into your browser (3rd party ones are hard to get right) (108)
  • Use 2FA
  • Prune old social media content and delete emails older than 1 year (109)
  • Spend a day opting out of data brokers (The Best Free Opt-Out Guides to Remove Yourself from the Internet - OneRep and Full List of Data Broker Opt-Out Guides: How to opt-out of the internet, 110)
  • Don't give out your physical address online: deliver packages to work, use a mail forwarding company, or own your home with an LLC (111)
  • Use a safe bolted to the floor, diversion safes (hollowed-out books, nooks behind utilities) (111)

Chapter 11: Getting in Shape

Summary: Restrict calories to lose weight.

  • You need a sustainable method for weight loss; calories matter far more than anything else, cut all portions in half (117)
  • Weigh yourself daily (118)

Chapter 12: Building a Community

Summary: Cultivate a community to support each other in challenging times.

Chapter 13: Hatching a Plan

Summary: Create a document to outline your disaster preparedness.

Part III: The Essentials

Chapter 14: The Discreet Charm of the Bulletproof Vest

Summary: The key to equipping yourself is simplicity.

  • Get practice with your gear: camping trips, drill of no running water or electricity for a couple days (130)
  • Maintain inventory of supplies (130)

Chapter 15: Water

Summary: Water is the most fundamental necessity—keep enough to get through 3–7 days.

  • ~1 gallon / person / day = 15 gallons for 5 people for 72 hours, or 35 gallons for 5 people for 7 days (132-133)
  • Storage options: recycled 2-liter soda bottles, five-gallon Scepter cans (Amazon, or WaterBrick/AquaTainer (don't use store-bought gallons since leaks) (133)
  • Note that water heaters hold 50–100 gallons
  • Use NaDCC tables for portable water treatment (134)

Chapter 16: Nourishment

Summary: Start building a food stockpile for 2-4 weeks with these tips.

  • Half of the Nitrogen in our bodies comes from the industrial Haber-Bosch process to produce ammonia fertilizer (137)
  • Start with a stockpile for 2-4 weeks, then upgrade to 2-4 months (139)
  • Choose between segregated cache or first-in, first-out buffer (or hybrid)
  • Gardening is a good hobby, but not realistic for supplementing calories (144)

Chapter 17: Sanitation, Hygiene, and Health

Summary: Keep basic sanitation and health supplies on hand, and learn basic first aid.

  • Stockpile trash bags, toilet paper, and feminine products (147)
  • Keep disposable plates, cutlery, paper towels, cleaning supplies, soap, wet wipes, deodorant, toothpaste (148)
  • Keep a basic kit of medicines (150-151) and learn basic first aid, like Stop The Bleed
  • Mayo Clinic Family Health Book by Scott C. Litin and Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid by William W. Forgey bib

Chapter 18: Fuel and Electricity

Summary: Off-the-grid power is a fun hobby but lower priority for disaster preparedness.

  • Keep lanterns, headlights, and spare batteries
  • To stay warm, cover windows and huddle together in the same room with extra blankets

Chapter 19: Household and Vehicle Tools

Summary: Some equipment to consider.

  • Storm cleanup: Chainsaw, power puller or come-along, pry bar
  • Car supplies: jumper cables, chains, supplies to spend the night in the car on long trips

Chapter 20: Evacuation Gear

Summary: Some basic outdoor gear.

  • Basic gear: cash, clothing, food, water, health/hygiene products, flashlight/batteries, phone charger, paper maps, compass, essential documents, tarp, rope, sleeping bags/pads, raincoats, sunscreen, Aquatabs, firestarter, knife, insect repellant, bear spray

Chapter 21: Protecting Against Pollutants and Disease

Summary: Some [common sense] notes for staying healthy.

Chapter 22: Emergency Communications

Summary: Rather than trying to replicate instant communications, have a plan for how to proceed until you can check in. Or satellite messengers can be a reasonable option.

Chapter 23: Entertainment and More

Summary: Most emergencies are slow and boring: have books and board games.

Part IV: Active Self-Defense

Chapter 24: The Politics of Putting Up a Fight

Summary: An introduction to the complex realities of self-defense.

Chapter 25: Standing Up for Your Belongings

Summary: Developing a realistic and lawful plan of responding to burglaries, muggings, and so forth.

Chapter 26: Fighting for Your Life

Summary: When there is no other choice: improving the odds of prevailing in a fight.

  • Sun Tzu: "the greatest victories are the ones that require no battle" (203)
    • Sometimes the surest way to avoid violence is to make it clear that you mean business and aren't an easy mark (204)
  • Legitimate self-defense: innocence, imminent harm, proportionality, duty to retreat
  • Carry pepper spray (205) or practice martial arts like Krav Maga (206)

Chapter 27: Understanding Firearms

Summary: Making sense of gun laws, understanding safety rules, and deciding whether to own a firearm.

Topic: self-competence, Emergency Planning

Source:, ordered 2022-05-04-Wed after Dolores


file:(2022-05-21-Practical Doomsday)

New Words

  • quixotic: Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality (19)
  • verboten: Forbidden; prohibited (200)

Created: 2022-03-15-Tue
Updated: 2023-01-16-Mon