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  • Julian Talbot

The ten best books for security, risk, and law enforcement professionals

I recently reflected on the daily risks our law enforcement and security professionals face. And what, if anything, could I offer to help them stay safe?

As an old boss of mine used to say, “after 35 years in the business, I know every trick in the book … except the one they are using right now."

Things change, but the principles remain. Most of what we learn on the job comes from old hands and everyday life. But there are a few ways to speed up that process and save some pain.

I’ve read hundreds of books on law enforcement, safety, security, and risk management and even written a few books myself. In my experience thus far, this list comprises the best of those books, and I hope you find them helpful.

The book links are affiliate links, so if you buy a few of them, you'll buy me a cup of coffee. Thank you.

The Gift of Fear

By Gavin De Becker

An outstanding book on listening to your gut. And how to interpret it.

The book argues that humans have an innate ability to detect and respond to danger and that this ability, or "gift of fear," can be relied upon to protect ourselves and those around us. De Becker explores various situations where people have used their intuition to avoid danger and provides tips on recognizing and acting upon these instincts. He also discusses how to protect ourselves from manipulation and abuse and how to set and maintain healthy boundaries.

What Every BODY Is Saying

By Joe Navarro

Easily the best of a dozen books on body language that I have read. Written by a former FBI interrogator, it gets to the nitty-gritty of how to interpret body language in the real world. And if you read it ‘backward’ (so to speak), it is also a good insight into projecting your own body language to become a more effective communicator.


By Robert Cialdini

It should be mandatory reading for every homo-sapien over the age of 13. It’s that good, and that applies to everyday life. The book is solid research and practical advice around the idea that small cues and signals can influence people's decisions and behaviors before the main message or request is made. Cialdini argues that these pre-suasive techniques can be used to increase the persuasiveness of a message or request, and he provides examples and research to support his claims. The book covers a wide range of topics, including how to use pre-suasion to increase compliance and influence, how to recognize when pre-suasion is being used on us, and how to defend against it. Cialdini also discusses the ethical considerations of pre-suasion and provides guidelines for using these techniques responsibly and respectfully.

Strong On Defence

By Sanford Strong

I can't say enough good things about this book. It is absolute must reading. I've taught martial arts and worked as a bouncer, security officer, and ambo for several years, and the one thing that has always bothered me is- many of the techniques and skills taught have nothing to do with surviving real-life violence. Written by a 20-year police veteran and expert in survival techniques. The book focuses on mentally preparing for and surviving sudden and random violent crimes and offers a formula for surviving over 30 different crime scenarios.

Can I See Your Hands

By Gav Schneider

The title of this book refers to one of the key outcomes of this book-- being able to tell whether or not people want to cause us harm. Written by a friend with decades of experience who started out in security in South Africa, it might be stuff they already cover in the academy, but it’s a good refresher of the basics. One reviewer on Amazon said, "There are many books written on this subject. This book is unique in that it an easy-to-read 'how to' guide. It provides relevant, useful and interesting insights into the topics of situational awareness, risk management and self-protection. Despite being written by an experienced academic, it is easy to read and understand. This is not a book filled with illustrations of martial arts moves that will take years to perfect (of which there are many). Instead it provides a framework to approaching risk that is easily applied regardless of experience, age, size, location, etc."

Emotions Revealed

By Paul Ekman

This is next-level stuff in body language. If all you take away from this book is recognizing the micro-gesture of contempt, it will save you endless heartache and pain by avoiding such people. Or at least in the job, when you meet people for a short time, if you can recognize their signal of contempt, it will help you to know what you are dealing with. The book provides a detailed overview of the different emotions and their characteristics and offers tips on how to recognize and interpret the emotions of others. It also covers how emotions shape our behavior and decision-making and how they can impact our relationships and interactions.

Surviving Survival

By Laurence Gonzales.

If it all goes pear-shaped one day or one of your colleagues goes through something traumatic, this is the best, most credible, and most useful book on PTSD you are ever likely to come across. His first book, Deep Survival, is also a great read. A book on survival that talks about the reality of who survives and how. It’s not about carrying snares and flints, nor how to start a fire. It assumes you have nothing but your wits and then tells the stories of survivors. Best book on survival, and I’ve read Lofty Wiseman’s book a couple of times. It’s great, too, but Deep Survival is better for most of us because it focuses on the mindset and doesn't require any equipment.

Without Conscience. The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us

By Robert Hare

Experts estimate that up to 1 in every 25 people are a sociopath. Maybe this is you, so there might be some insights here. But for the other 96% of us the best strategy is to avoid sociopaths. People with antisocial personality disorder (sometimes called sociopaths or psychopaths) tend to disregard authority, the law, or other people's rights. They may tell lies, behave aggressively or engage in illegal behavior such as stealing, drug taking, and violence. They are said to lack remorse or conscience and do not feel sorry for their actions. This book is written by a psychiatrist who worked with and studied criminals who were also sociopaths. It should be essential reading for all homo sapiens who are not sociopaths. Once you understand the disorder, it is life-saving. Or at least life is improving. You’ll learn how to recognize them (it isn’t easy, but it is doable) and manage your interactions with them, or avoid them completely.

The Sociopath Next Door

By Martha Stout

This book is a bit more of a general overview of sociopaths and how to avoid them. To identify a sociopath, you need multiple data points (perspectives, interactions, or evidence). Still, as a rule of thumb, based on my experience, the most consistent early warning indicator is that they will seek to have you feel sorry for them. “Oh, woe is me.” That isn't proof of course, but it's an early indicator. Most people who have empathy will want to help them or do their bidding. Having no such thing as empathy, sociopaths will nave no compunction to reciprocate. To the contrary, other people are just ’things’ to be used and cast aside.

Trust Your Gut

By Julian Talbot

A final thought. This is a book I haven’t written yet, but the key elements are below. People tell us that we should ’trust our gut’ as if this is enough. It isn’t. There are three distinct steps to this process, and you have to master all three of them.

  1. Learn to hear your gut. It will feel uniquely different for everyone. You might experience it as an emotion, a conversation, some whisper in the ear, or a literal feeling in the gut. Step one is a skill. Learning to recognize how your intuition speaks to you isn't straightforward. You’ll know, based on experience after a while, based on which style of internal communication turns into an event versus just normal concerns.

  2. Trust your gut. Once you are certain that the ‘voice in your head’ is not just anxiety or vague concerns but your intuition's voice (see step one), trust it. Decide to trust it. Not just a vague acceptance but a conscious decision.

  3. Act on it. This is the bit that most of us fail to do. Or eventually learn the hard way. The classic is the victim of a mugging who later admits, “I had an uneasy feeling, but I walked home via the alleyway anyway because I didn’t want to walk the extra distance or embarrass myself in front of my friends.” This part, the third step, is the hardest but most crucial element. It is the one that is the most challenging. Once you learn steps one and two, they are with you for life. But step 3 is the decision that you have to make over and over and over again.

I don't know you (yes, you, the reader of this article), but I'm sure that you are a creative person, perfectly capable of inventing your own new and original mistakes, but these might help you avoid repeating mine.

I hope the ideas in these books help keep you safe. They are the fastest way I know to share a few things I wished I’d known all those years ago.


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