Book review: ‘100 Deadly Skills,’ by Clint Emerson |

Book review: ‘100 Deadly Skills,’ by Clint Emerson

Phil Lindeman

“100 Deadly Skills,” by Clint Emerson

What: A detailed and wonderfully illustrated guide to 100 skills used daily by covert operatives like Navy SEALs, from lock-picking and homemade armor to how you can hardwire a 1999 Honda

Price: $14.99-$19.99

Pages: 272 pages

Illustrated: Yes, nearly every other page

Sample chapter: Part IX: Efiltration and Escape

Sample skill: No. 7, Make a water bottle silencer

Sample writing: “Almost every criminal act, from purse-snatching and other misdemeanors to sex crimes or acts of terrorism, involves some degree of preoperational surveillance,” from the intro to skill No. 39 in Part IV: Surveillance.

Find it: The book is available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Simon and Schuster. An audio version is also available through iTunes and Audible.

For more info about the book and author Clint Emerson, including his survival-minded follow-up, see

Ever wonder how to hotwire a 1999 Honda Civic? Clint Emerson knows — and he’s more than willing to share.

In “100 Deadly Skills,” the first book from the retired Navy SEAL, Emerson covers hotwiring vehicles and much, much more, all in the name of helping everyday citizens prepare for anything life can throw at them. After 20 years of experience with covert ops, from the SEALs to the National Security Agency, he knows the worst has a way of sneaking up on people.

“People tend to imagine worst-case scenarios in highly colorful terms, but chaos and crime are the real apocalyptic scenarios,” Emerson writes in the intro. “We picture aliens, frozen tundra and intergalactic warfare, when in fact the catastrophic event we’ve been waiting for is more likely to look like a mundane report of vandalism on last night’s news — or the massive Internet shutdown in tomorrow’s headlines.”

It’s a thesis statement for Emerson’s entire book, which is a lean 256 pages and comes with creative, comic book-style illustrations for the majority of skills. Each of those skills is given no more than two pages — most take up just one page — and Emerson cuts through the fat to give legitimate advice just about anyone can follow.

Take, for example, Part V: Access. The chapter contains 11 skills that sound vaguely devious — “Covertly access locked luggage,” “Open a car door with a piece of string” — but are honestly just useful. Who hasn’t lost the key to their luggage lock, or been the last person in the parking lot with no spare key? The solution to the problem isn’t always easy, like the slipknot Emerson suggests for unlocking a car door, but his instructions are easy to follow and simply sound authoritative.

And they should. For two decades, Emerson was a “Violent Nomad,” the term he uses for covert operatives like himself who are “one-part James Bond, the other Rambo.” They travel the world and do what they do (whatever that is) with a near-endless set of skills, he explains, split into the nine categories he turns into chapters. Each chapter and skill is wrapped up with a BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front, an acronym operatives use to cut through the fat and get to the point.

The average Joe

But what about the deviants out there, the same folks that Emerson deems violent criminals, not Violent Nomads? Is skill No. 50, “Defeat a padlock,” or skills No. 67 and No. 69, “Make an Improvised Explosive Device” and “Make a Molotov Cocktail,” really useful for the Average Joe?

As Emerson explains it, that’s not his concern. He’s more concerned with helping the Average Joe prepare for it all, like a coach for the apocalypse — or just the unknowns of day-to-day life. His language in the brief intro borders on alarmist — “In a future where every stranger poses a potential threat… The world isn’t getting any safer,” he writes — but, then again, a former NSA agent knows better than I do.

For me, “100 Deadly Skills” wasn’t just a clean and clear-cut collection of good advice, like the “Survival Hacks” book I read by survival coach Creek Stewart. Emerson’s book is a great encyclopedia of bada**, but it’s also an incredibly glimpse into the thought process of a high-level operative. It takes someone much smarter and perceptive than I to come up with half of these skills — and someone even more intelligent to put it all to practical use. A book that’s useful and entertaining? It might not be a skill for the apocalypse, but I’ll take it.

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