I’ll admit it: I’m an old-school guy who still loves books. The real ones, those that are made out of paper and smell how I remember adventure smelling when I was 5 or 6 and it was too rainy to go outside. For me, nothing will ever replace them.
That said, I’m also a big fan of the modern tablet readers since they allow me to get on an airplane without looking like a vintage book salesman. Even more importantly, the ability to adjust text size can allow those with vision issues to read as well as they did when they were kids. And there are plenty of titles available digitally that I can’t find at my local used bookstore. Whether you like to read off of dead trees or a glass screen, you may well have a lot more time to do so now. Here are a few of my nonfiction favorites from the realms of shooting, law enforcement and self-defense.
Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad
Paul Kirchner, 2008
Jim Cirillo was one of the NYPD officers selected to serve on the original “Stakeout Squad” in 1968. The “S.O.S.” operated until 1973, and its officers would hide in businesses that were frequent armed robbery targets and attempt to take armed robbers into custody as crimes were in progress. Such duty was almost unimaginably dangerous, and it is estimated that Cirillo was involved in dozens of shootings over the five years the Stakeout Squad operated. Records are tough to come by though.
The S.O.S. kept its work quiet, as it was controversial even back then, but that isn’t the only reason accurate numbers are fuzzy. At first, if an officer was involved in a shooting, he got a meritorious citation and an extra day off. Once that policy got changed to a meritorious citation OR an extra day off, everything got a lot more difficult to track since almost everyone always chose the extra day off. Sounds incredible, right? It is, and Kirchner’s book is filled with anecdotes just like it.
Hunting the Devil
Richard Lourie, 1993
The old USSR always claimed that crime did not exist under socialism. But in 1985, Investigator Issa Kostoyev was instructed to track down “The Rostov Ripper,” a serial murderer responsible for more than 50 victims between 1978 and 1990. This excruciatingly detailed account of that process is riveting from that standpoint alone. But it is also fascinating to get the inside story on just how difficult it was to conduct a productive and professional murder investigation in the old SSRs. This is a grisly read if only because the crimes detailed are so terrible, but as with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, if you want to understand what life was like in the Soviet Union, none of your research will be pleasant.
Hemingway Goes to War
Charles Whiting, 1999
This is not just a recounting of how Ernest Hemingway spent World War II as a correspondent for Collier’s. It is a deep dive into who he had become in the years since his rise to prominence. His legend began when he was wounded during his Red Cross service as an ambulance driver during the First World War. In the Interwar years, he cultivated an image as the quintessential “hard outsider” — the tough, dangerous-game-hunting, fear-nothing force of nature so many remember him to be.
But as is so often the case, the truth was more complicated. To see an aging “Papa” and his “irregulars” — a gaggle of heavy-drinking lollygaggers who sometimes remembered to write things down — follow him through Europe like baby ducks became almost comical and sometimes even embarrassing given everything happening around them. As a writer, though, I will forever be impressed by the $187,000 expense report he submitted to his employer.
Descent Into Madness
Vernon Frolick, 1993
This work is dedicated to the memory of Constable Michael Buday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman who gave his life in the hunt for an almost-mythical backwoods bogeyman called “Sheslay Free Mike.” The suspect in question was actually named Michael Eugene Oros. He was a very real lunatic who drifted from New Mexico up into the wilds of British Columbia and into a crime spree that would end with his death in 1985.
“Free Mike” eluded and frustrated law enforcement and private citizens alike for years, living off of the bush and breaking into seasonal cabins like the world’s worst problem raccoon. This almost unbelievable story is a natural for all hunters, cops, deputies or troopers and even those regular folks who like a suspenseful true tale about the kind of people who seek out areas as wild as Northern Canada.
Col. Charles Askins, 1985
Askins was a U.S. Border Patrolman in the old Pre-War days in which there was a lot of shooting, plenty of which happened under circumstances that would be considered murder today. I repeat: Before anyone jumps down my collar about how bad a guy Askins was, I acknowledge that he would be a pure liability for any law enforcement agency in 2020. But you don’t read a book like this to reflect on how good or bad a guy was. You read a book like this to better understand the world in which you live and how it changed from what it used to be to what it is now.
Most of the entities that were in place for guys like Askins to do what they did are no longer present. And there are certain entities in place now that weren’t then that guarantee the same outcome. This book is perspective on actual, day-to-day societal change. It would be a good gift for the 20-something in your life who maybe doesn’t have as much worldly perspective as the average bear.
Kill or Get Killed
Rex Applegate, 1976
Though the copyright reads 1976, this was a work in progress from the early days of World War II through the Disco era. Applegate was recruited as a military policeman to develop a simple, deadly hand-to-hand fighting system that could be taught to millions of American servicemen in the run-up to The War. This book represents what he was able to learn from anyone in the world who was willing to teach him.
It focuses on close-quarters use of force with everything from empty hands to pistols to carbines to rifles and shotguns. But it is also a textbook on riot control, policing techniques, machine guns and submachine guns, knives, clubs, and just about everything else you can think of that would be handy in a fight. It is the original foundation upon which most modern law enforcement use-of-force manuals are based. And it is a truly fascinating read for both the history buff and the individual who is new to this whole “self-defense” thing.