Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book report: Deep Survival

Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales, uses a number of grueling survival tales to explain a handful of character traits that are shared by people who are thrown into the rawest of survival situations -- and survive.

In short, these qualities are: accepting the situation, remaining calm, doing what they can to survive (big bonus for knowing what to do and having the equipment, but not required), and hanging on to hope. Gonzales describes more nuances as well, but that's the basics.

He goes into why those things are so difficult to do, which is in itself a fascinating question with both biological and psychological roots. He also points out that there's nothing new to these qualities either -- they are mentioned as the best way to survive disaster in sources as diverse as the Tao Te Ching and the Stoic philosophers of classical Greece.

And yet statistically, most of the human population does not seem able to do these things when presented with serious challenges like being stranded in the wilderness, clinging to ship wreckage, or trying to get out of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

If I were critting this book, I might say that Gonzales wanders a bit in the narrative and maybe he could present his points in a more structured way -- but really, these things don't detract from the readability of the book. They're just me being picky. His style is easy to read and his points ring true. And he does sum it all up neatly in the appendix as a series of numbered points.

He's also persuaded me that I probably ought to read All Quiet on the Western Front. Though I'm guessing it's a harrowing read.

If you're going to put your characters in grim situations (not that any of us do that, of course) I heartily recommend this book. I'm going to be revising parts of my fantasy monstrosity with this in mind.

1 comment:

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

All Quiet on the Western Front is a great book. I'm not a survivalist. If the world goes in the crapper, I'd be better off dead anyway. I don't like pain so I'd be useless in a world where there is no medicine and where I'd have to live in pain. Everyone has to die sometime.

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