Most everyone in “gun land” knows who Massad Ayoob is. In the Gravest Extreme was first published in 1980. Even though it is over 40 years old, it is still available today, either new or used, for a few dollars less. It runs around $20 a copy, and I have seen it used as low as $13 a copy. Cheap enough that there really isn’t a good reason not to read it.
There are 17 chapters in the almost 130-page book. A wide range of topics are covered in those 17 chapters. Ranging from car guns (what commonly gets called a “truck gun” now), carrying guns outside of the home, using guns for home defense, and using guns to defend a business, to name a few. The book’s breadth is rather large, so the chapters tend to be short, easy reads. The common thread throughout that serves to tie it all together is the legal use of force and all of the potential pitfalls of using force.
The last few chapters get into topics like selecting a handgun for concealed carry, a comprehensive overview of defensive shooting, and the like. This is perhaps where the content has not aged as well as other parts of the book. Firearms, specifically handguns and the ammunition we feed them, have moved pretty far down the road from where 1980 was.
How Has it Aged?
It doesn’t take long to realize the age of the book when reading it. Not because the information isn’t relevant. But the word choices are just starting to show their age a bit. Ayoob’s flair for writing is clear, making the book a rather easy read despite the dated language.
Because the laws have changed over the last 4 decades, some of the specific legal examples will not be useful anymore. Conceptually, for the most part, I think there is enough similarity that the value is not completely lost, though. It would be on the reader to know their local laws and what parts of the book are so outdated to no longer be completely accurate.
Even though dated, there is plenty of application left in the larger message Ayoob is trying to get across with this book. First and foremost, avoidance is preferable. Ayoob does a good job of showing both sides of the scale. The potential costs of a defensive action weighed against being able to avoid the need outright. It serves more to temper the often overly aggressive misunderstandings about the use of force to protect self and others than it does to encourage the use of force at all. If there is another way out, take the other way out. This is an idea that sometimes is lost in the bravado of the modern “gun culture.”
Wrapping it Up
Overall, I think this sums up the purpose of the book well.
“The man who wears a gun carries with it the power of life and death, and therefore the responsibility to deport himself with greater calm and wisdom than his unarmed counterpart…”
It is about being prudent and good decision-making. Do not do the things that would be expected to put you in a bad position.
For something written so long ago, I was surprised to find a significant amount of alignment with what is considered best practice currently. At least partially proving true that “what is old is new again,” I suppose. While I probably wouldn’t call In the Gravest Extreme timeless, I do think there are still plenty of lessons to be learned from it, and it is certainly thought-provoking. It’s worth the read.