Friday, January 7, 2011

Book review: One Second After

I just finished reading a very scary book: One Second After by William Forstchen.

It took me a long time to read because I don’t like thrillers. They depress and scare me. Nonetheless I felt compelled to see this book to the end because there is the very real prospect that it could come true.

Warning: plot spoiler ahead. Read at your own risk.

For those unfamiliar with the book, the story centers around a small town in North Carolina in the aftermath of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapon. These weapons are not dropped on land; they are detonated in the upper atmosphere and take down the power grid. It’s hard to fathom the long-term results of such an event until you read this book.

A few things jumped out at me as I read.

One: The people of this country are kept alive and healthy artificially. What I mean by this is, the health and well-being of millions of people are entirely due to modern surgery, modern medicines, and modern treatment techniques. Take away electricity and all of those medical miracles disappear - along with the people who benefit from them. Knowledge may still be there, but how much can be used if diagnostic machines are not working? Pharmaceuticals will still work, but how quickly will they disappear if manufacturing is nonexistent? Surgical techniques will still exist, but how little can they be used if there is no anesthetics or sterilization?

People would die, die quickly, and die often. An infected cut can kill without antibiotics. Anyone kept alive through miracle drugs may not make it (a Type-1 diabetic character plays an important role in the story). Surgery will revert to Civil War-era methods and all the pain and horror that implies. Without the ability to maintain sanitation standards, cholera and other diseases will sweep a weakened and hungry populace.

Two: The people of this country are totally, completely, utterly unprepared to live without power. Without electricity, we are incapable of obtaining the most basic of needs: heat, light, toilets, food, water… Not only do we no longer have the knowledge of how to secure those necessities, but we also no longer have the low-tech tools needed to accomplish them.

At the end of the book, when some relief arrives for the stricken people of the region, the main character John (a historian by training) is talking to a soldier, who observes, “We’re back a hundred and fifty years.”

John replies, “No, not a hundred and fifty years. Make it more like five hundred. People alive in 1860, they knew how to live in that time; they had the infrastructure. We don’t. Turn off the lights, stop the toilets from getting water to flush, empty the pharmacy, turn off the television to tell us what to do…We’re like sheep for the slaughter then.”

Three: The veneer of civilization and decent behavior is very, very thin. Take away our basic necessities and people quickly turn ugly and brutish, and not always with the goal of survival. Some people turn ugly and brutish because they can, and there’s no one to stop them. It makes the people who stay noble and self-sacrificing under hardship and famine more wondrous.

The enemies who dropped the EMP knew it wasn't necessary for them to attack and kill us; they knew we would do it ourselves. And they were right.

If you can come away with this book still mocking the concerns of Preppers, you’re made of stone, not flesh. This book instills an almost desperate desire to stockpile more food, more OTC medicines, more nonhybrid garden seeds, more canning jars. (It’s worth noting that I’ve been canning for two days solid.)

Well worth the read. Just expect to lose some sleep over it.


  1. I'm glad you read it. It certainly is a haunting book. After reading it I bought a copy for my non-prepping son and daughter-in-law. I don't know if it did any good... I did warn them it was food for thought, but didn't notice indications they took it to heart.

    We can disagree with some aspects of the book - some disagree with the immediate loss of nearly all cars - but the overall picture might be pretty accurate. Even the cars which do survive will only run until the gas is gone.

    I take the book as being food for thought, and some of my thoughts kept me awake at night. Survival, in that environment, will depend on community and on strong, knowledgeable leadership. I emphasize KNOWLEDGE.


  2. My local library has a copy with no holds (well, it has one hold now).

    I have a handful of geek friends who like to build robots, write computer code, and solve complex math for fun. They love talking about things like EMPs. It's my understanding that it would be very difficult if not impossible to create an EMP that could achieve and large-scale, long-term damage.

    Regardless, even _if_ a large-scale, long-term EMP is not a serious threat, there are plenty of other threats out there. Be aware and be prepared.

    I really enjoy the blog! I look forward to checking out the book. Thanks!

  3. I read that a couple of months ago and reviewed it myself, here:

    One thing I appreciated about the story it told was that there were very few heroes. Forstchen's protagonist acts quite selfishly in the initial panic, getting what he needs for himself and his family while the gettin' is still good. It was real that way. We like to think the first thing we'd do is start banging on the doors of neighbors, rounding them up and organizing a soup kitchen, but I don't think we are really like that. Those of us who prepare would have a hard time sharing everything with those who do not, not if it means our children starve in a month rather than holding out for 12 months.

  4. A few points to keep in mind about "One Second After".

    The author is a civil war enthusiast (big time) he wrote a series some years ago called "The Lost Regiment" about a union regiment that was sucked into another world where large orclike creatures used humans as food and traveled around like a mongol horde. Cannibalism and humans as food seem to work their way into his novels very quickly and on a large scale. Perhaps to quickly and to strongly I think.

    His civil war preference also show in the tech bias he promotes and overall moral code he paints. For instance the main character maybe a strong Constitutionalist but he cannot hide his New England collectivist leanings nor the need to promote diversity at every step (as long as it doesn't effect him or his family anyway).

    Also the main character is portrayed as a military man but he pays no attention to security on a small scale. Even when he knows looters are closeby leaving the house open to an attack and getting one of his dogs shot and forcing him to kill two men himself.

    It is a good story but in many ways it is too perfect a balance. There just happens to be a Christian College complete with (willing) recruits for a local militia handy, who are not trying to get to their own homes for the most part. There just happens to be a WWII observation plane and experienced pilot. No mention of the nuclear plants that are near the area in real life. You get the point.

    Still a good read.

  5. I read this several months ago and loved it. Glad to hear that you did too! William Forstchen is such a brilliant writer!

  6. I agree with what you have said. I loaned this book out to several people and they all have become aware, thanksful for what they have and have made plans for "what if" as well as started a preparedness plan.
    We do not know howto live like they used to even in the Great Depression. If we did, austerity measures from the government wouldn't be so scarrry to so many.
    We prepare, we learn skills and can live without electricity. i am thanksful that I don't have to right now, but I do believe that at some point we will need to.

  7. I will second your review. When I first started learning about prepping, that was one of the books that made me realize how easily our way of life could be obliterated.

    One of the things that really hit home was how cut off they were. They could only really guess at what happened because there was no way of finding out for sure with the communications systems down.

  8. I read this book last month and it is making the wait until spring harder than ever. We almost have the house ready to sell and will put it up as soon as it is, one more room to paint first. Then regardless of the sale I move out to our retirement acreage in April, hubby follows when house sells or retirement date comes. Told him if retirement comes first let the relator finish the sale of the house and to get out to me. Hate separating but I am unable to do summers in NJ and want to get a garden in, the barn built and the chickens and goats bought before fall. Also will start with the gathering of food, haven't been able to prep that since it costs more to move it than buy it. But have been saving the money for it. Best thing is all but the land is completely paid for already so we will be totally debt free when we finish the move. Our goal after we build a house is to be totally off the grid also. We have a 23x23 apartment in our polebarn to live in while we build. Good book that really gets you thinking.

  9. Scary. I read it. Didn't sleep for weeks!!


  10. I read the book a couple months ago, and it also gave me some perspectives on the "thin veneer" of civilization that I had not considered before. The effects of "no more meds" on the population at large wasn't something I had thought about before (since meds aren't part of my life). Lots of other food for thought in the book as well. I'm originally from the Carolinas, so I could actually follow the terrain in my head - which helped with some of the battle scenes.

    Blessing to you! Love reading your blog :-)
    PGS in WA

  11. This book was the reason I started prepping. I always knew in kind of an abstract way that food storage and 72 hour kits and all that were important, but it wasn't until I read One Second After that I really got it. It really changed my perspective.

  12. I cannot believe it. Adults getting caught up in a novel about EMPs. Are EMPs possible? Yes! Are they likely? No! More likely that the grid will go down because of too many government regulations. More likely that our cars won't travel more than 50 miles because of government regulations. More likely that our water won't flow out of the kitchen faucet due to government regulations.

    The biggest and most authentic disaster we face is a tyrannical government. We face a very real financial disaster, a potential disaster that is far more likely than an EMP attack.

    Although I am an avid prepper, I spend very little time worrying about EMPs because it seems to me there are far more real problems we should consider. But, hey, it's still a somewhat free country so worry about whatever you want to. As for me, I'll be worrying about BIG BROTHER and his regulations.

    Anonymous Patriot

  13. It is "possible" for the sun to create a massive EMP. It is terribly difficult and counter productive for humans to do it with nuclear weapons. Difficult because it would require between 24 and 36 very large nukes over the U.S. to take out our electronics and even then it would not be 100% effective. It might destroy about 90 of electronics underneath a nuke falling off to 75% or less 15 -30 miles from ground zero. It would be counter-productive because it is a massive nuclear attack on our country without the benefit of destroying our ability to retalliate or destroying our infrastructure and population. It would be an incredibly stupid move that would be a derath sentence to the country who did it.

    None of this should negate the message. We don't know what a massive disaster might look like or when it might happen. It could be a conventional nuclear attack or a natural disaster.

    Whomever first said that we are nine meals from anarchy was incredibly accurate. When and if this kind of thing happens it will get nasty soon, very soon.

    The message to take from the book considering all the stupid things people did is to recognize quickly the seriousness of the situation and get yourself safe right away. Anarchy will begin long before nine meals are missed and if you are not tucked away someplace safe with some food, water and a gun you will become a victim. Act quickly and use your head.

  14. We read this several months ago! I think we have all passed it around our neighborhood. There are some of us in this neighborhood(and of course the rest of the world..but right here) that would not survive the first 3 months. There are others of us who would be ok for a year I do believe....and are also ready to protect. Anonymous Patriot, you are right too...we should be paying very close attention to Big Brother as well....hard times are a comin I'm afraid...whether by false flag or government regulations.

  15. Anonymous Patriot- I don't think we are as concerned with the EMP part of the book as we are the grid failing. It doesn't matter why the grid fails -the result will be the same. It's the result that's worrying.

  16. Enjoy your posts Patrice. Excellent book. Read it about two years ago. I have enjoyed some of the comments posted here as we.

    Regarding the one who said the book seemed almost too perfect, understand the the author took the setting from a real live town he lived in that does have a small Christian college. The setting is ideal, because it is. He even left out one fact that would have made it easier on the town. In the real life town the books town is based upon, there is a major Warehouse for a large food distributor. If he had included that in his book, I could just imagine the comments.

    Regarding the one who's geeky friends said it would be hard to cause a wide scale EMP event, that is correct, unless you happen to be a small third world country with access to nuclear warheads and a delivery system (EG Scud rocket), and hatred of the USA. we certainly don't have any of those around (Hmm. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, etc.) But there is also the chance for regional EMP events due to major solar flares like what happened in 1859, known as the "Carrington Event." And more recently in 1989 in the geomagnetic storm that brought down the Hydro-Quebec electrical transmission system.

    Finally to the poster who lamented people worrying about the likely hood of an EMP event, the very fact people are preppers is to plan for "Black Swan" events such as an EMP, Financial Disasters, Major earthquakes, Volcanic Eruptions and large Hurricanes. You prepare for the event you think most likely for your region of the country, I prepare for the event I think most likely for my region of the country. I am undergoing a minor event right now, being unemployed, but my preps in the past 3 years has enabled my family to be able to stayed fed and clothes as a result.

    Keep up the good work Patrice. Best Regards and God Bless

  17. Bennet, if you are truly concerned about the grid going down, then I have to ask if you have read about the "Cap & Trade" bill that thankfully got hung up in Congress (but tragically passed in California)? Have you read about the elimination of the incandescent lightbulb for the sake of "energy independence?" Have you read about the increasing amount of ethanol that is being put into our gasoline due to government regulations? Ethanol, by the way, ruins engines on those older cars that might survive an EMP attack should there ever really be one. IOW, have you read the very REAL threats to our world as we know it, as well as the hypothetical ones as described in One Second After?

    My point is merely this: while we are busy reading books about wildly unrealistic problems, the real problems are on the President's desk. The real problems are being passed by a lame-duck Congress on Christmas Eve. How many have read the details about those things? Have you? By being aware of the real threats, we might be able to avoid them.

    Don't be deceived by the shiny objects. Keep your eye on the puppetmaster, not the puppet.

    Anonymous Patriot

  18. Save the Canning JarsJanuary 8, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Amen, Amen, Amen! Thank you for reviewing this book! Most people will not read the congressional report on EMP, but people will pick up this book and read it. I am so encouraged by the number of people who have read it and are commenting here on your blog. Good to see so many people AWAKE.

    We prepare for WHATEVER is to come. I thought about this in the middle of the night. If someone is shivering uncontrollably, you give them a blanket and a hot drink. High temp? Advil. Sore throat? Chloraseptic, etc. These are symptoms and the dis "ease" is the flu. I challenge anyone NOT to treat the symptoms because they are so miserable.

    Well, we prepare to treat other types of symptoms such as lack of water, lack of food, lack of heat, lack of security etc. I can't tell you what the disease will be, (tornado, earthquake, economic collapse, EMP, dirty bomb, job loss, etc) but I prepare to treat miserable symptoms. I love my family and want them to be a comfortable as is possible.

    Last night at the grocery store, I saw a man walk up to a check out lane that was empty. The checker apologized and said she was shutting this lane down. The man pointed to the shining light above her head indicating that Lane 5 was open (she had not yet flipped the switch off) and he began swearing loudly. I looked at him and said, "Oh, BE NICE!" He stood there and pondered that thought about 10 seconds then began swearing again. It was ALL ABOUT HIM and he made sure everyone in the next 6 lanes was as miserable as he thought he was.
    What a scene! I can't imagine what the scene will be when food, water, heat are in short supply. There will be riots, then violence, civil unrest, theft. God help us.

    Patrice, the great thing about the book One Second After is that it is an opportunity for each reader to ask himself/herself, "What would I do in this situation? How prepared am I?"

    Just while reading the above replies, my husband phoned to say he had bought an old truck (no electronics). We are not just serious in thought, but in action.

    God bless America!

  19. I know the area of the book. The perfect fiction I was talking about was the fact that the college students wished to stay and enlist and the fact that the author excluded the nuke plants. In a total grid down scenario, especially EMP related there is some huge debate over what exactly would happen to nuke plants after the two weeks it would take to boil off the water in the cooling towers.

    The amount of diesel on hand as I understand it would run the pumps for only a few days and then it's boiling water time if the power doesn't come back.

  20. A Congresswoman was shot in Tucson, AZ today. Does that FACT bother anybody? Does the FACT that 5 are dead and a total of 19 were shot bother anybody? While some of you worry about EMPs and their effect on society, society is breaking down. That is a FACT, not speculation. Little is known about the motive for the shootings, but this tragedy is more evidence that society is already a mess.

    As I said in my first post, I am a prepper. I prep for all types of scenarios, but I don't and won't waste my time reading this book. If I want to see what COULD happen during a disaster, all I need do is read the web daily, watch the news, or drive into San Francisco. I can see how things are going in Haiti after nearly 1 year following the earthquake there. I can see how New Orleans is still struggling several years after Hurricane Katrina. I can get the FACTS about life from living life, I don't need some dopey book to scare me - reality scares me into preparing. That's the bottom line for me. You don't have to agree with me. All you have to do is look around and see that we don't need an EMP for trouble to occur. We don't need an alien attack from outerspace to cause problems. We don't need a giant meteor to strike the planet. We already have plenty of problems and disasters - that's why I prep.

    Do as you will, but don't ignore the real problems we face daily.

    Anonymous Patriot

  21. Another excellent book I would like to suggest:
    "Alas Babylon" by Pat Frank. No more realistic than a huge EMP but well written and entertaining and will make you think. I read this book about once a year!

  22. Read the book and enjoyed it. Couldnt seem to put it down for long. I was interested in it for a coupleof reasons, one I didnt know anything at the time about EMP and two I know the area because I have two of my oldest girls living close by and have visited there myself. Beautiful country. I also liked the idea that for me it didnt go into something that I felt couldnt happen , hopefully not, but I could buy it. I can recomend that anyone that hasnt read it try, you just may learn a bit and enjoy the read at the same time. mwp

  23. if new york city cannot handle a blizzard then they surely could not handle an emp/grid down situation for long. it the ones who disregard what is happening around them that scare the living daylights outta me. oh i am prepared...but i have never had to shoot someone in defense of myself or my family. and i would say that at least 85% of non preppers who read or listen to "preppers" are not gonna take the situations seriousely anyway. i gotta go plant some more trees.

  24. He did choose a place with a pretty temperate climate. If this happened up here, my town would be sunk.

    We (my family) have geothermal heat but it requires electricity to run the pumps and blowers. I think there ought to be a way to harness my teenagers to a treadmill or something to power them in an emergency. :)

  25. Electrical Power = Fuel
    Fuel = Electrical Power

    Interupt either and you are in trouble.

    Do not forget than an EMP pulse may do a great deal more tha kill the electrical grid. Connected equipment will likely be destroyed. Passive non-connected, not operating devices not shielded (in a good metal box (faraday cage) may not survive.

    Even IF commercial power is miraculouslly restored, very wide swaths of the machinery, electronics and PUMPS (fuel and water) will be inoperable.

    An EMP will mean an instant reversion to the 1800's. In my estimation after the certain loss of the ability to move food, refridgeration will also be non-existent.

    Of all the things that can happen an EMP (or nuke strikes with the attendant EMP that they create) are the worst thing that can happen. EVERYTHING will be impacted.

    This is why we have a gravity fed (Berkey) water filter, a manual grain mill (Country Living) and are "down"grading to cast iron cookware. We are a couple months from starting our canning effort and dry storage has started.

    Prepping isn't just for people off the grid any more... There is a real possiblity that we will ALL find ourselves off-grid.

  26. Hi Patrice,

    We just wish to chime in. My husband Jim says that "only first or second world nation states that are already in the nuclear club and have Space Programs would have the technical capability to pull off an EMP attack that would have simultaneous effects coast to coast. Not only would they need a high yield weapon but that they would have to have the ability(Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) to put it into a sufficiently high orbit to have line of site for a coast to coast effect. Only four or five countries right now may have this dual capability: USA, France, Russia, and possibly China."

    Since Russia and China are wheeling and dealing with some rogue nation states: Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, N. Korea; ya just nevah know who they might sell their technology to. The bottom line is to be aware of ALL possible threats and to prepare for them to the best of our ability and to trust in the Lord Jesus that He'll keep us safe and use us to further His Kingdom until the day that He chooses to bring us home to Him.

    We love what you do Patrice,

    Avalanche Lily

  27. Life as we know it is only as secure as the power company's ability to deliver.

    It's as simple as that.

    How to be ready to carry on after the power goes out is the complicated part.

    While I realize the potential for solar flares and other acts of God, I have to agree with AP that the biggest threat to our continued well being at this time is our own national government. We're sliding down a slippery slope,
    one event away from martial law and the utterly unthinkable.

    And like AP this is a book I'm unlikely to ever read, but that's because I've read books like this one since I was about 12. I'm already 'awake.' But for the folks who, like my father in law, dismiss the very thought of TEOLAWKI, this book may well be the thing that finally jump-starts their awakening. Alas, however, some will never wake up, and for them we can only pray.



    Adele57, congratulations on your upcoming move and home sale. I really admire how well you've done and how well planned your arrangements are.
    I do hope you'll keep us up to speed on how things are coming along, and I know I'm not alone here in wishing you Godspeed.

  28. If folks aren't familiar with these publications, they are worth the download. To be useful, they will obviously need to be transferred to that newfangled high-tech storage medium called paper.

    There is much of interest in these downloads beyond survival information. The 1881 Cyclopedia particularly interested me.

    -- jay

  29. This book was interesting in what was disregarded from a problem solving perspective. All the handwringing over lack of refrigeration could be resolved using propane refrigerators from RV's. A few hundred gallons of propane from a residential tank will keep an RV fridge running for several years. Please tell me why the emergency manager from the hospital did not collect any number of these and have them squirreled away somewhere.

    Did nobody in this town have a well? Those same RV's have excellent Onan generators designed to run for thousands of hours at low RPM, compared to a crappy Home Desperate model. Onans run just fine on 100LL aviation fuel. Yes, I have several and routinely run them on 100LL. There is more than enough juice to run a well pump, and avgas does not "go bad" right away like auto gas.

    Why is prepping seen as some kind of nutjob activity? People need to eat, so maybe having food on hand isn't so crazy. To me spending hundreds of dollars on a flat screen TV while having only three days of food in the house is the definition of stupidity.

  30. I finished the book this evening. I actually liked it more than James Wesley, Rawles' Patriots.

    I have to amend my original comment to include this: previous discussions I have had regarding EMPs were probably pre-9/11 and typically regarding the use of a "homemade" weapon. The idea of another country or well-funded terrorist group using a nuke was not a part of those discussions. We've also become much more dependent on computers in the past ten years to a degree that would make a difference.

    This page has some worthy info on EMPs:

    While reading the book, I was reminded of another discussion I had while living in North Carolina. Initially I was thinking the book was really exaggerating how quickly food became scarce, but then I remembered living on the east coast. It is crazy the difference not just in the population but also in the way people live as a result between the east coast and the midwest/west coast. In the book the west has an estimated 50% survival rate while the east coast is "maybe less than ten percent". There are all kinds of estimates of how much land it takes to sustain a person, but when you factor in clean air and water and the fact that not all land is good farming soil, most of those estimates are optimistically low.

    Suffice it to say, I am glad to not be living on the east coast today.

    Thank you for the book recommendation!