The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Dating & Sex

By Joshua Piven, David Borgenicht, and Jennifer Worick (Chronicle Books, 2001, $14.95)

Survivalists stocking up on gas masks, Cipro, and bottled water are no longer scorned as doomsayers; they're simply planning ahead. These days it pays to hedge your bets, as the slightly paranoid authors of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series would have you believe. Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, two Philly journalists who have fashioned a publishing franchise out of these step-by-step instruction manuals, now apply their proactive -- some would say melodramatic -- outlook to what may be the most treacherous territory of all: the singles scene. Their latest concoction dispenses deadpan advice on various dating dilemmas, from distinguishing your date's gender to weeding out potential ax murderers. They've enlisted the aid of an additional alarmist, Jennifer Worick, plus a slew of experts -- among them a psychologist, a bartender, and a retired CIA intelligence director.

While the previous handbooks taught readers how to finagle their way out of rather unlikely jams (navigating a minefield, controlling a runaway camel), the current volume handles more pedestrian, but no less risky, situations: how to fake an orgasm, stop a wedding at the last minute, or prevent excessive gas. The matter-of-fact illustrations are hilariously well-timed: Tips on repelling competitors for your date are followed by poker-faced instructions on treating a black eye or a broken nose. But beneath the humor the authors offer sensible advice on negotiating perilous terrain. Though this book is not without its faults -- much of the advice is simply common sense, and it completely bypasses same-sex romances -- Dating & Sexoffers helpful tips when rational thinking is in short supply. Such an apprehensive approach might keep already anxious folks from taking risks; hence, the book comes with its own disclaimer, warning that it is not a guide to finding a serious partner, but rather, a manual on "how to escape from Mr. or Mrs. Wrong." While you may never have to crawl out of a window to flee a bad blind date, the book makes it a pleasure to find out how to do so, just in case. Whatever the next in the series is -- and you can bet there will be a next one -- it's bound to "prepare you for the worst."

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