Monday, November 24, 2014
10 Books That Made Me a Better Shooter: Mindset Edition.
The firearms and training industry occasionally produces a great work of sound advice, but sometimes they read more like instruction manuals on "if A happens, you must do B" which can turn a lot of readers off. Now, self-defense is a wide ranging topic that doesn't begin at violence, thats where it ends. Because of this fact, I tend to read outside of the topic on things that relate to it in ways that can make me a better teacher, shooter or help me more effectively shape a self defense mindset.
I know, I know here we go with the mindset thing again. Well I have a secret about mindset, take all the academic color codes and states of awareness and throw them in the trash, because thats a borrowed mindset. The information is useful in an academic sense, but it doesn't help establish a new method of behavior without you first accepting that a new behavior is needed. These neat little graphs also do little to change your mindset because they are someone elses mindset, not yours. You are getting the end result of someone elses train of thought instead of taking the journey yourself. The best way to validate (or ignore) the academics of the color code or whathaveyou mentality is to dive into it yourself as a topic. So, this post is only for the most interested of readers because there will be no memes, little satire and probably way more words than usual. Buckle down or close the window.
"10" is an arbitrary number, I could have went with "20" or "100" but I wanted to highlight my 10 personal favorites in hopes that you pick up one and it takes you down the rabbit hole. I have no suggested destination, no color code or awareness diagram, just a sincere hope that you learn something new. Oh, and these are not actually in order of most favoritist to least.
1: Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century Howard Bloom (2001). Link.
Jesus Christ, this guy blew my mind when I read his first book, The Lucifer Principle and Global Brain kept it going. Global Brain from a self-defense position teaches us some interesting occurrences in the old fight or flight model and pounds the second "O" in OODA, Orient. I read Global Brain when it was still a new release and have read it 3 times since then. I thought I knew Orient until I read this book. Want to know what makes you, you? This is a damn good place to start.
2: The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood James Gleick (2012) Link.
I was trying to find out more about Claude Shannon and stumbled upon this book. I read it, and I have to say that Claude Shannon's information theory (all information exchange should remain as simple as possible at all times I wrote about it here and here.) is just the tip of the communication ice berg. Is communication important to self-defense? Yes; not just the verbals but the physical cues. This book talks about "information glut" and how we can lose the most important bits of information by viewing them emotionally instead of on their merits alone. Taking Shannon's theory to a whole new level, this work helps you better understand OODA, Hicks Law and helped me shape my teaching methods when it came to confronting potentially violent threats. reading this book also gives you new mindset into the Internet Troll and lazy commenters in general.
3: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain David Eagleman (2012) Link.
So you want a better understanding of how the brain works, what limitations it puts in our way and how to decrease reaction time and fine tune your methods, this is a damn good place to start. I really thought I had a firm grasp on reaction time and startle responses until I read this book. How reliable is your short term memory, long term memory? How do you harness the power of unconscious competence? If they made this book into a movie it would star Johnny Depp and probably gross $10 billion dollars; forget what you think you know and go into it thinking this the brain named itself.
4: Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are Joesph Ledoux (2003) Link.
I really don't even know where to start with this one, Someone recommended I read The Gift of Fear so I did. Dont get me wrong, its a great book but its not going to make this list. If The Gift of Fear is a trickle of information, Synaptic Self is a world-changing-fundraiser-with-Bill-Clinton-Asking-You-For-Donations-Nuclear-Reactor-Destroying-Clint-Eastwood-Movie-Featuring-Matt-Damon-Making-Tsunami of biblical proportions. Diving feet first into the emotional and deductive activities of the brain, Synaptic Self forces you to look to your own memories and see your responses to fear, anger and other stimulus in a new light. Not only that, it will help you recognize and call bullshit on hokey/gimmick self-defense techniques as soon as you see them because you, if nothing else, will come away with a great understanding of how the brain processes threat stimulus and what we can and cant do to change its method.
5: Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement Jim Glennon (republished 2012) Link.
This fucking guy. Jim Glennon is a cops cop and no matter your feelings on cops, hes been interacting with, fighting and arresting violent felons longer than many of us have been alive. I had the pleasure of listening to Jim speak at a Street Survival seminar and bought his book because he was hilarious. So is the book, but its a candid, layman-esc look at conversations with criminals and the clues they give you to help predict their intentions, diffuse a situation or avoid them all together.
6: Just Two Seconds Gavin De Becker (2008) Link.
The Gift of Fear is De Beckers most well known book, and one that was very successful outside of the "shooting community" though Just Two Seconds is directed at the armed (and sometimes unarmed) protector and takes a look at over a thousand violent encounters to glean the anecdotal commonalities in violent encounters and potential violent encounters. This book doesnt have a specific mission, rather its a clearing house of data that presents a very unique picture of the problems we face as shooters when "planning" for an attack. Theres what you can and what you cant control and this book does a great job of showing the differences. A warning, this book is George R. R. Martin long and its unlikely that HBO will make it into a show staring Peter Dinklage so you will have to read its 650 pages or not get the information at all.
7: Once an Eagle Anton Myrer (1968) Link.
This is a work of fiction, but so what? Once an Eagle follows the Army career of a fictional Sam Damon and it is an epic story of leadership, dedication, humility and resolve that spans over 800 pages. Despite this length, ive read it twice and each time I find unique lessons in personal discipline in the character interactions. The bad guy (or antagonist, if you want to be literally literal) is a scum bag officer that Sam cant seem to get away from and one who tries to manipulate, subvert or destroy each chance he gets. I cant really do the book justice in a paragraph or ten but I can say that if you want to read one work of fiction that will get your synapses firing and make you genuinely angry at situations that never happened and people who never existed, this is it. this book was (maybe still is) required reading at the Army Staff College and for a reason. Speaking more to the esoteric nature of mindset than directly to its plan, Once an Eagle is well worth the time to read it. Easily in my top three favorite books eva'.
8: Shooting to Live W.E. Fairbairn, E.A. Sykes (republished 2008) Link.
Before Forward Isosceles was a thing, Modified Weaver ruined self defense shooting for a few decades and Kinesthetics was a science applied to self-defense, there was Fairbairn and Sykes. Shooting to Live is a book on handgun combatives written on first and second hand experiences from the 1930s during Fairbairn/Sykes time with the Shanghai Municipal Police, now before you discount it based on where the experience was gained, Shanghai in the 1920s-1930s was more wild west than our exaggerated history of the actual wild west. Fairbairn is (rightly) critical of taking too much from the lessons of competitive shooting and trying to fit them into self defense shooting and he lays the foundation for which the modern fight pistol training is built on. In today's world, the instructors with actual gunfight experience come from the military (not quite the same thing as citizen focused self-defense training) or law enforcement (a bit closer). Fairbairn/Sykes gained combat-like experience in the urban environment armed with (arguably) less than the average CCW carries in the way of gear. This one is a must read, some of the lessons are period dated based on the technology at the time but many of its lessons are timeless and show just how forward thinking Fairbairn and Skyes were.
9: The Gun C. J. Chivers (2011) Link.
Unlike Presidents, books still win internationally recognized and prestigious awards based on their content. The Gun is about the history of the AK-47, but so much more at the same time. From the reason why the Army went .45 (hint, it had nothing to do with the Moro rebellion and everything to do with John Gatling, a basement and some hanging pigs) to the how and the why of the M16 debacle. This is a book about gear, and the only one i'll put on this list. I put it here because it gives a great account of gear focused behavior and how the mindsets behind the weapons drove their successes and failures, adoption or ignorance.
10: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies Jared Diamond (1999) Link.
Oh look, another Pulitzer winner. Jared Diamond is probably my favorite anthropologically focused writer and with good reason, Guns, Germs and Steel gives a great account of how society created the warrior class, fostered the warrior mindset and how society works to destroy that which it creates. A historical tale of winning the geographical lottery and how being in the right place helped historical empires come to power. More of a broad focus on societal mindset than individual, this book will answer questions you didnt know you had about the myth and fact of power. More academic than directly useful information, its still an excellent read for those interested in the history of the fighting mind.
I only gave myself room for 10 books, so a lot of books didnt (and wouldnt) make the cut but any one of them can take you down a road that will help you fine tune your approach to mindset. Books specifically about self-defense are fine, though they lack the depth of knowledge that history and the sciences can give us. As the mind is the true weapon, it needs just as much focused training as the tools it uses to fight.
As always, if you like it, share it, comment, give it a +1 below and train accordingly.