Book Review: Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horn and Jason A. Riley

The Premise: Best stated by Steven Pressfield, author of The Warrior Ethos and Gates of Fire. “Left of Bang is not for combat warriors only. It’s for you on the subway, you in a bad part of town, you with the sharks in the corporate boardroom. It’s for your wife when she’s home alone, or entering a dark parking structure, or walking with the kids on vacation overseas.”

Left of Bang is the civilian version of the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program developed at the direction of former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. The goal of this program is to teach Marines to use and interpret their senses or gut feelings as potential warning signals, transforming potential prey into predators. Left of Bang is based on the Three Pillars of Survival: increased situational awareness, early threat recognition, and developing a system for acting on those threats.

The 411: Left of Bang presents a comprehensive system to develop your abilities to read situations and human behavior through what the authors label as the six domains.

Kinesics: conscious and subconscious body language
Biometric Cues: biological autonomic responses within stressful situations
Proxemics: interpersonal spatial interactions
Geographics: learning to read the relationship between people and their environment
Iconography: understanding the symbols people use to communicate their beliefs and affiliations
Atmospherics: focusing on collective attitudes, moods, and behaviors in a given situation

Left of Bang provides a template for identifying what’s out of place by “establishing a baseline and determining anomalies.” Under the Marines’ Combat Hunter doctrine, three identified anomalies initiate a decision, so the danger cannot be ignored or denied out of fear or uncertainty. Unlike the military or law enforcement, who have specific mandates for action beyond self-defense, the private citizen’s decision may be limited to fight or flight.

Although Left of Bang’s instruction is drawn from the authors’ military experience, the range of responses and actions are broadly applicable to civilian life. “Action may simply be contacting the person to ask some questions and observing them up close,” they write, adding that, “a civilian in the same location might consider report, alert (i.e. sound an alarm), or run.” In other words, while we can learn much from the book’s instruction on being alert and observant, the applications taught can easily be converted to our daily lives. As the authors emphasize, “Regardless of what situation you find yourself in, or what role you are playing at the moment, you must have a set of pre-established decisions to make based on what you observe. Otherwise, you’ll freeze, take too long, or make a decision that is not in your best interest.”

Realistically, confident decision-making benefits all aspects of our lives, and Left of Bang presents a system for the execution of quick and accurate decision-making to avoid victimization. At the conclusion of Left of Bang, the authors comment, “Those who prepare and train themselves for the possibility of violence will react differently than those who do not. Those who are not prepared will likely panic and will ultimately become helpless (Condition Black). Those who are prepared will still experience anxiety but will be more likely to maintain awareness and act effectively in a stressful situation (possibly going as far as Condition Red).”

The Verdict: These lessons from Left of Bang will teach you how to read your environment and respond faster than those around you. By learning how to profile baseline body language, and immediately detect anomalies, you can learn to stay “Left of Bang.” 

The authors succinctly state, “The goal for this development is for you to increase not only the success rate for your predictions, but also the confidence you have in your ability to profile. However, we also want to ensure that you are realistic in your abilities, understand your limitations, and don’t become overconfident in your skills.”

Bottom line: This book is about eliminating a reactive/survivor mentality and developing a proactive mindset.  

Book & Author

Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life by Patrick Van Horn and Jason A. Riley
Publisher: Black Irish Entertainment LLC
MSRP: $20 (paperback)
Pages: 228



Tactics and Firearms
Two Person Close Quarters Tactics by Special Tactics
On Combat by Lt. Col. Grossman.
The Irish Republican Manual of Guerrilla Warfare
100 Deadly Skills by Clint Emerson
Violence of Mind by Varg Freeborn

Skillsets and DIY
Visual Guide to Lock Picking, 3rd Edition
Primitive Technology Survivalist Guide Book by John Plant
101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods by Kevin Estella
The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joseph & Amy Alton
Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski

Novels and Literature
The Final Day by William Forstchen
The Savage by Frank Bill

Scenarios and Survival
Lights Out by Ted Koppel
Waste Land by David T. Hanson
Choose Adventure by Greg Ellifritz
The Meateater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival by Steven Rinella


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