Tag Archives: Book

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – My Review

Deep Survival by Laurence GonzalesIn the face of catastrophe, and beyond luck, survival is as much a factor of mental acuity than anything else.

I just finished Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a compelling book, and I’d recommend it not only for the gripping true stories of survival and the advice these tales impart, but particularly for its examination of how our brains work. This is as much a study of psychology and introductory neuroscience as it is a dos-and-don’ts of how to handle being lost at sea, stranded in the wilderness, or any number of other life-and-death events.

Consider this passage:

The limited nature of working memory, attention, and the executive function, along with the shorthand work of mental models can cause surprising lapses in the way we process the world and make conscious or unconscious decisions.

This is an eloquent explanation of how we can become distracted and thrown off from basic logic, like following standard safety procedures – things that mountain climbers, for example, should do practically as second nature.

And on adaptability, this passage:

We all make powerful models of the future. The world we imagine seems as real as the ones we’ve experienced. We suffuse the model with the emotional values of past realities. And in the thrall of that vision, call it, “the plan, writ large,” we go forth and take action. If things don’t go according to the plan, revising such a robust model may be difficult. In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important. The plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan, too.

Phrasing like this – and applying Zen principles to survival concepts – kept me interested the whole way through.

Deep Survival

Click to hear a sample of the Deep Survival audio book at Audible.com (opens in new window)

This book’s subtitle in some versions is “True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death,” and while it certainly covers that, it explores far more – particularly in terms of how the mind handles itself in extraordinary situations.

I listened to the audiobook version from Audible.com, narrated in the authoritative yet friendly baritone of Stefan Rudnicki. Visit the Deep Survival page at Audible  to read other reviews and hear a sample.

What do you think? Have you ever survived a near-death encounter? Have you ever been lost at sea, stranded, or otherwise in great peril? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Last Book Read: Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead

The last book I read is Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss. It’s a collection of interviews that Strauss feels are particularly revealing about some high-profile personalities. Strauss is a well-known author and longtime interviewer for magazines such as Rolling Stone, and was formerly on staff at The New York Times.

What I like about this book, besides the content, design, and the insight into the mental workings of some charismatic and sometimes famously reclusive celebrities, is the fact that it is a collection of powerful yet digestible works. I have never had the patience for the long-form novel, especially nonfiction.

Not Into Books? This book is for you.

This may sound odd, coming from someone writes professionally and also has a degree in English. But maybe it’s because I had so many dull reading assignments foisted onto me through my academic career that my favorite form of literature is a well-crafted article, interview or story. Flannery O’Connor is, by far, my favorite short story author of all time.

I can count on two hands the number of long-form books to truly engage me, ever. You may think this is a sad confession, but I can in no way count the number of interesting articles, magazines or other short-form compositions I consume continuously every day, every night, on the weekends, and probably in between.

I’ve always been a news junkie, and my work in PR is fueled by that fire. Many other PR professionals are also avid newshounds. So it isn’t that I’m  uninformed or ill-cultured (but that’s debatable), rather it’s just that I enjoy reading especially good writing in concentrated bursts. If you also fall into this category of reader, definitely check out Strauss’ engaging collection of interviews. Here’s a review I wrote about the book on Amazon.com:

Compelling Sketches, Interview Style

I’d love to see this book’s unedited manuscript, or especially Strauss’s notes, because that would mean being a modicum closer to the personalities in these pages — something you’ll want to do with at least several since the interviews are like rhythmic character sketches, with journalistic precision. Definitely my favorite of 2011.

rsmithing at Amazon.com

What do you think? What’s the last book you read and really enjoyed? Are you familiar with Neil Strauss? Are you more of a magazine person than a book person? Or is the opposite true for you – why do you think that is? Let us hear from you in the comments!