Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who's Who - Larry Dean Olsen - 1st Modern Primitive?

Larry Dean Olsen has been described as the man who kick started the primitive technology movement in the US. First published in 1967 his book, Outdoor Survival Skills, was one of the first manuals to show a primitive way of surviving. As I've recently read this book (and re-read it this week during exams) I thought I'd try and put some information about the man himself along with a review of the book. To see just how influential this book has been check out its huge list of citations. You can also read an interview with Larry and Tom Brown Jr. which discusses, among other things, their impact on the beginnings of the primitive movement.
Larry is not only an author but has been a founding member of 2 important survival programmes. The BOSS school was his first big project in the late 60s and has become legendary for its harshness. [Unfortunately, there are current legal issues surrounding the school]. The school's goal is to teach people how to survive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It has twin mottoes of:

Technique not Technology

Know More, Carry Less

In 1985 Larry handed over the reigns of BOSS. The next big project was the Anasazi Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to offer help to troubled teens.
As someone who works with the untroubled variety and finds it hard enough I have a great deal of respect for anyone who chooses to work with these people let alone manages to get through to them.
Larry has also managed to write the requirements of the Outdoor Survival badge for the (American) Scouts and to act as a technical advisor to Robert Redford's film Jeremiah Johnson. As is the norm for any survival writer he has a knife named after him.
Outdoor Survival Skills is not quite what one would expect from a book with this title. A quick look through the reviews on Amazon shows that several buyers didn't realise it was essentially a primitive skills survival manual. The book contains nice descriptions of how to make various items from a bow drill to throwing sticks, bows, arrows, spear throwers (Atlatl), bone and stone working and making buckskin. The book has a nice format with a story as introduction to each chapter and then the information in titled paragraphs. A large part of the book is dedicated to plants and their uses. I feel this would have been better left out as it is not necessarily relevant to the region I'm in and it is possible to get a huge number of different field guides to identify plants.
Aside from the colour plant identification plates the book contains both high quality line drawings and some (probably 30 year old) black and white photos. Overall the presentation and style of writing is nice although there are not many step by step guides and at times more illustrations would be useful.
As I said as the beginning this book was the first in the field and as such you can get
all the same info in other books. If you love books or are assembling a bush craft library this should be on your wish list. If you aren't really into primitive skills then there are more appropriate books and if your looking for a tutorial manual or a beginners book this isn't really for you.


Pablo said...


Thanks for this review and info. It'll certainly go on my wish list.



Nick said...

Hey Samuel,
My name is Nick and I work with the Anasazi Foundation. I was wondering if you would be willing to change the link text on your link to anasazi.org. Right now you have it: The next big project was the Anasazi Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to offer help to troubled teens. I was hoping you would turn that whole sentence into a link pointing to www.anasazi.org.