Tappen's book was written in the early 1980s, and reflected the survivalist mindset at that period, which was pretty much the "Rawlsian" theory of complete social and political collapse (although it was John Rawls who was a disciple of Tappen and not the other way around). Thus, Tappen's approach to the book and his advice was that the reader would be living on a survival retreat in an isolated location, and homesteading (i.e., operating a small farm, ranch, what-have-you). He felt that a survivalist in that situation would need both firearms as tools ("working guns") for hunting, controlling animal predators, putting down a lame sheep or horse, etc. He also saw the need for combat style weapons. So, he discussed weapons, ammunition, and so on, suitable for each task based on what was available at the time. I have taken issue with his total armament approach of a different firearm (and caliber) for each particular job because it can easily wind up being a couple of dozen different firearms per person if you fully followed his advice. However, one thing I could not take issue with was his description of the firearms, their strengths and foibles, and the discussion about the ammunition. For each he gave you at least the basic ballistics information, and generally a bit more, including in many cases his favorite handloads. He also discussed principles of shooting and some tips on practical shooting. And he has an outstanding chapter on alternate ranged weapons such as bows, crossbows, airguns, slings, and so on. So that gives you a brief run-down of the book against which I am comparing Towsley's book.
First, the good about Towsley's book: it sort of comes off like standing around the counter at a gun store listening to someone shoot the breeze. Towsley has a folksy way of explaining things, using a mix of stories and anecdotes, as well as outright excerpts from articles he's written and a post-Apocalypse novel, that make for an easy, entertaining read. He takes you through the ins-and-outs of the AR system, both the AR-15 and AR-10 systems (the latter of which he terms the AR-L, for long) and the different caliber choices. He does the same for long-range, precision rifles, pistol caliber carbines, and, to a lessor extent, for shotguns and handguns. He definitely has his favorites, and will, metaphorically speaking, talk your ear off about the Glock handguns, the Remington 870, and certain other favorites.
Towsley gives a pretty decent background of the development of the lever-action rifle, and provides some good tips on modern lever actions. And I agree with him that "[t]he .357 and .44 Magnums are the best choices as they will offer the most options for functional ammo designed for self-defense." They provide the optimal balance between magazine capacity and performance.
I also thought his coverage of compact and smaller handguns to be quite good. He spends two chapters on these topics, covering most of the common models of small handguns. These chapters are probably the result of Towsley's experience with these pistols while reviewing them as a gun writer.
Towsley has a pretty good section on shotguns, and, particularly, discussing some of the newer semi-auto gas systems. His experience in 3-gun shows up here with tips and tricks for loading shotguns, reviews of what shotguns work and which don't in high volume shooting environments (here's looking at you, Saiga). And if you are interested in it, he devotes an entire chapter to the history of the Remington 870.
And even though I think the concept is obsolete and misguided, Towsley has a very good chapter on the scout rifle concept advanced by Cooper. Towsley just briefly touches on whether modern sporting rifles have superseded the scout rifle concept (which, in my opinion, they have), but unfortunately does not pursue the topic.
So, in short, Towsley covers a lot of topics, some in quite detail. I have to agree with other reviews that if you are a firearm novice, or have only limited experience and want to expand your horizons, Towsley's book is a good book to start you on your path. And, even for the more experienced shooter, it is an easy and entertaining read.
The bad part about Towsley's book is that it comes off like standing around the counter at a gun store listening to someone shoot the breeze. This shows up in many different ways, but primarily on how the author jumps around on topics, touching or visiting a topic in one chapter, coming back to it later, and maybe even making a third try.
For instance, early in his book, Towsley discusses different types of ammunition, then moves to the AR platform, then onto the AUG bullpup rifle, and then back to discussing the AR platform (but in the larger AR-10 style, which he terms the AR-L, for long) and its most popular calibers, then goes into a whole chapter discussing the issue of whether you should just stick to the .308 in your AR rifle, going, yet again, over the .308 versus 7.62x39 versus 5.56 argument that he raised in earlier chapters. I feel this could have been organized better, rather than hopping back and forth.
Later, Towsley spends a chapter on sniper rifles; then a chapter on precision rifles (for sniping), again getting into a discussion of the different calibers, many of which had already been discussed earlier in the book; then a chapter on long-range rifles (for sniping) where he discusses specific models of rifles, but again returns to discussing some of the caliber/cartridges for long range shooting that he covered in earlier chapters! Then, towards the end of the book, when his is discussing "bug-out guns," he again revisits topics discussed earlier in the book.
It also shows up on the author's biases. For instance, Towsley is a big fan of the .40 S&W, and spends a great deal of space arguing why you should carry that round, or at least the .45 ACP, over the 9 mm (he makes a similar argument for .40 or larger calibers in his section on revolvers).
He devotes a lot of space to his favorite weapons (the AR, the Glock, and the 1911), but gives short shrift to other weapons, or completely skips over them. One of these is the AK rifles. Although Towsley has an entire chapter on the AK, it is mostly to relate his visit with Mikhail Kalashnikov rather than discussing the operation or other characteristics of the AK system. And, despite the past importation of rifles based on the HK G-3, and continued sales of similar weapons through PTR and Century, when I was looking back through the book for this review, I couldn't find any mention of those rifles. The same goes for the SKS: he references it a few times in relation how the 7.62x39 became popular in the U.S., but otherwise ignores it. He discusses the Mini-14 and -30, the SCAR, the AUG, and, very briefly, the FAL, and that seems about it. Similarly, although he has an otherwise excellent discussion of pistol caliber carbines, he omits the Hi-Point Carbine which is one of most popular pistol caliber carbines on the market.
Another issue I had with Towsley's book is that he glosses over or omits some information; for instance, we rarely hear anything negative about a particular weapon or design. He seems to find a reason to like every gun he discusses because the reader might just need it, or you never know what type (caliber) of ammunition you might come across. So, just to be ready, he seems to contend that you need one of everything under the sun.
The ugly part about Towsley's book is that it comes off like standing around the counter at a gun store listening to someone shoot the breeze without checking any facts or figures, or descending into pure hyperbole. For instance, he has a chapter on handgun stopping power, but doesn't actually look at the results of ballistic testing or studies on the effectiveness of certain rounds. It is just a simplistic, "a carry gun caliber must start with 4".
Some stuff is just wrong (like his history of the development of the AK-47). Some of his comments are just silly. For instance, he writes:
If we find our country under terrorist attack from radical Islamic forces, odds are they will have AK-47 rifles and I highly advise taking all the ammo your can find off their dead bodies.As if these terrorists are going to import everything they need from the Middle-East, and that we are going to be in any position to strip the bodies. "Excuse Mr. FBI man, I need to get to those terrorists so I can scavenge their left over ammo....." And some comments are so ignorant they make me cringe:
Finally, a bolt-action rifle is very reliable, can function under conditions that will stall a semiauto and will run poor ammo that a semiauto won't tolerate.He obviously needs to watch some of the mud and dust tests on YouTube, or try using Tula ammo in his favorite bolt action hunting rifle.
So, recommendation wise, what do I think? This book is a mixed bag. If you like reading books about guns, I think you would like this book as it is an entertaining and easy read. For the prepper who wants an introduction to firearms, or to broaden your ideas about firearms, I think the book does a good job of exposing you to different firearms, even if it could have been better organized. If you are someone experienced with firearms, you may find the book entertaining, but probably aren't going to find anything new that you haven't read or heard before. As I noted throughout my review, Towsley's book sort of comes off like standing around the counter at a gun store listening to someone shoot the breeze, disjointed, full of interesting anecdotes and good advice here and there, but lacking in hard information. And since Towsley invited the comparison, I have to say that Towsley's book falls short of Tappan's Survival Guns.