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235 of 249 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen Up, Grasshopper
Laurence Gonzales has written a riveting book, not about survival technique, but survival philosophy. The points he makes can be applied to any situation in which you find yourself endangered physically, mentally, or emotionally. He weaves together the tao te ching, chaos theory, musings on Roman military tactics, biological lessons on how the brain works to help us...
Published on February 13, 2004 by Mary Esterhammer-Fic

versus
238 of 269 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth hanging in there for the last third
I really wanted to like this book. It was recommended by a friend, and is on a topic I'm very interested in. I've been involved in a lot of wilderness activities, have participated in rescues of myself and others, and am familiar with the literature on accidents and survival.

The author has hamstrung the book by trying to go 'high concept' and connect the...
Published on January 3, 2006 by J. Baker


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235 of 249 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen Up, Grasshopper, February 13, 2004
By 
Mary Esterhammer-Fic (Morgan Park, Chicago IL USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Laurence Gonzales has written a riveting book, not about survival technique, but survival philosophy. The points he makes can be applied to any situation in which you find yourself endangered physically, mentally, or emotionally. He weaves together the tao te ching, chaos theory, musings on Roman military tactics, biological lessons on how the brain works to help us preserve the species by preserving ourselves, true-life experiences from people who have endured some of the more bizarre "accidents", and his own taste for thrills.

Gonzales bookends the essays with the story of his father, a scientist who, as a young flier during WWII, was shot down over Germany. He survived when his plane was shot down and plummeted to earth, then lived through a harrowing recovery as a POW.

Why did his dad make it when the rest of his crew was killed?

Some of this has to do with events you can't control, and some of it has to do with how to control yourself so that you can find a way out of dire straits. He points out that some people can make every correct decision and end up being killed, while others make every wrong decision and walk out of the woods (or off a mountain...) unscathed. But, you can learn to THINK like a survivor, and greatly increase your chances of getting through what may seem, even to others in the same sinking boat, like a no-win situation.

Gonzales's dad taught him, "Plan the flight. Fly the plan, but don't fall in love with the plan." Being prepared is only part of the equation; being able to adjust to changing circumstances is what a lot of us forget about.

Reading this book is an adventure in itself. If you're a city dweller, like me, and don't anticipate not having the Sears Tower in your line of sight if you get disoriented, it's still enjoyable, and applicable to what you will eventually experience.

This book should be on every high school reading list. (Preferably BEFORE the kid takes driver's ed.)

I also recommend Gavin DeBecker's books, such as THE GIFT OF FEAR. He discusses some of what Gonzales does, insofar as honing your inner resources so they work FOR you, but he is also very specific regarding cases of direct threats from other people. Gonzales does discuss how non-survivors can compromise a survivor, but most of what he talks about is environmental.

If you are planning a wilderness trip or just a seemingly innocuous weekend hike, this book is a great reality check. It's also an inspiration. Some of these stories are just amazing, and they prove how tough, and sometimes dumb, a species we are.
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485 of 526 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful, January 8, 2004
Those who are focusing on whether or not Gonzales is actually instructing you on how to survive in the wild are completely missing the point of Deep Survival. As a totally urban chick who'd rather die than hike, I bought the book not because I wanted to learn about mountaineering, but to investigate why I've survived a blood disorder that has killed others. And thanks to this book, I've gotten my answer. Gonzales beautifully explains and explores the paradox that must be absorbed completely if one is to live through a catastrophe--which is that to survive something, you must surrender to it, basically fall into it, accepting all the pain and suffering, if you're ever going to get out of it. When you're able to quickly adapt to a new reality and make this new place--however frightening--your new home, you've a much better chance of surviving than the person who's in denial. For one thing, your sense of spirituality and wonder deepens, and this is a tremendous life force in and of itself. It helps you enjoy where you ARE, instead of frantically trying to get to where you think you should be. This is simply a great life lesson, whether you're lost in the woods, or just trying to live a happier existence.
He explains the paradox so well--that in order to survive, one must surrender, yet at the same time not give in. There must be a sheer raw determination to win the game, yet an acceptance of possibly losing it as well, which paradoxically, gives you an edge. And if you can muster a playful spirit on top of it all, well--then you're just golden. A *great* read.
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238 of 269 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth hanging in there for the last third, January 3, 2006
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This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
I really wanted to like this book. It was recommended by a friend, and is on a topic I'm very interested in. I've been involved in a lot of wilderness activities, have participated in rescues of myself and others, and am familiar with the literature on accidents and survival.

The author has hamstrung the book by trying to go 'high concept' and connect the book to chaos theory, complexity theory, and self-organizing systems. The author's understanding of the theories is very weak, and he seriously hurts the book by trying to force connections that don't exist and don't add to understanding.

He finally hits his pace in the latter part of the book when he largely drops the half-baked references to chaos theory and actually grapples with the question he set out to answer: who lives, who dies, and why? I wouldn't say his answers are unexpected, but he does a very good job of interwining well-chosen selections from survival literature with some original reporting and his personal story, and presenting them in a compelling way.

There is an excellent book hiding inside of Deep Survival. It's a shame that you've got to piece it together yourself from the good bits.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly effective read, October 26, 2003
I was hooked when I read the inside cover. Gonzales will try to explain why a guy in a raft would say "I'm going to pick up the car." Then jump into the ocean to be eaten by sharks, and then explain why a person with no survival skills could survive the jungle. What could explain these differences in catastrophe? Does Gonzales, a very experienced adventurer, succeed?
No! Catastrophes are too complicated, nature is too capricious, and no one can fathom why someone was given -divinely or otherwise- the mental fortitude to survive while another surrenders. Gonzales admits this, but he does better. He shows us that many of those who survive have a mental profile that helps them survive and he encourages us to find this resilience which we all have by varying degrees. He does this through pages of wisdom.
So there are 15 chapters, each presenting a main lesson, and a fantastic tale of accidents, catastrope or survival. Minor points in each chapter is supported by 'minor' stories. Thus Gonzales masterfully weaves several stories in each chapter.
The stories presented are just awe inspiring. Let me give whet your appetite. Two raft guides steer their boats down a raging river. One notices entire trees racing by and has enough, the other doesn't and dies. A teenage girl falls a mile from an airplane with just her high heels and her dress. She survives, but now must face an inhospitable jungle below. SCUBA divers drown underwater with plenty of air in their tanks.
Gonzales does not get into the 'gadgetry' lessons of survival. There are no techniques about how to apply first aid, or rappel a cliff. Instead, Gonzales presents psychology and the neurology of why we make mistakes, why we sometimes do 'bonehead' acts, why some seem to be lucky to never get into trouble, and what it takes to persevere through indomitable odds; the 'survival personality'. He also discusses tightly interlocking safety systems and 'adventure plans' that give us a false sense of security and can exaggerate the problems that they are trying to prevent!
Gonzales draws heavily from a few science books which are accessible to most readers. I suspect those who have read this book, may already have read them:
-The Emotional Brain by Joseph LeDoux
-Descartes' Error by Antonio Damasio
Both these books are very good, and I recommend them. It is not necessary to read them first to enjoy Deep Survival, but reading all three books, will be more enriched. So 'armchair' academics will delight in this original -albeit, light- application of science.
Gonzales so masterfully writes that Nature just IS, but the inner world may be against us. So while we cannot control our outside world, we can construct an inner world which will increase our chances of survival. And let me try to abbreviate them here:
-Be prepared. Have the proper training.
-Be humble. Observe and adapt your knowledge, Nature is not a textbook.
-Stay calm and don't rush.
-Have a loose plan and be ready to change or lose the plan.
-Enjoy nature with each small step.
-Do it for others
There are about 20 points scattered throughout the book, then nicely summarized in an appendix. These points are illustrated with clear, and non trivial examples. This may very well be the best self-improvement book I've ever read.
In addition, Gonzales presents us with other facts and statistics. He discusses the mental stages of being physically lost. He mentions children between the ages of 1-6 having the highest survival rates and why is this consistent with survival psychology/neurology.
This wisdom can be applied to anywhere. I have used it in competitive events and it has helped me. I'm pretty sure any outdoors person, adventurers, thrill seekers or vacationer will reread passages from this book before they go out on their journeys. Just like me, the book will have a positive affect on you. I think -for me- it may very well be permanent.
I hope that is enough for you to buy this book. Right now, I want to discuss some of the negatives. These are minor, but important points which may enrich or aggravate your reading. So you may want to skip it.
I wish this book contained the pictures of the locale of disasters and potential disasters. The lesson that we consistently underestimate nature would be very effective to show an inviting picture of a Hawaiian beach and a caption stating that swimming on this beach will kill you. I'm not exaggerating.
Gonzales is too contradictory. A survivor must be one with his world, but a paragraph later, it's important for the survivor to have a private world, and an outside world. A survivor must have empathy for those injured. Yet pages later, the same survivor cuts his friend's rope to save his own hide. Gonzales talks about balancing the rules of survival, but these contradictions are not what he intends, and there are more than just these two.
Gonzales admits that nature is capricious; not only do you need to survive, you need luck. But, luck is not emphasized enough. It can't because chronicling survival versus death means one-sided results. Still Gonzales could give forensic stories of survivors who did everything right, and still died. Also remember, not many panicked survivors will readily admit they timidly escaped.
Finally, you will mentally compare yourself with these survivors. And, you might ask yourself if you actually want to hike with a survivor. Do you want to be on a raft with a person who wishes an injured person to bleed to death? Do you want to rappel with someone who will cut your rope to save his butt? Do you want to be friends with someone who wishes a cripple will fall off a cliff to make things more convenient for him? I realize by reading this book, I do not have all the qualities of surviving. I'd be the one landing on an exploding grenade to save my comrades and Gonzales would then extol my comrades for surviving. What I'm trying to say is that I sometimes wish Gonzales would tone his prose down. Survivors may be the 'real heroes', but we need all personalities for our species to survive; from the survivors to the martyrs to the techno-geeks which make the med kits and the radios that rescue survivors. Ultimately, nature doesn't give a damn if you are a survivalist or not.
Interestingly, the two climbers in the rope cutting incident survived, and continue to climb. It's not mentioned whether the climbers have climbed together since.
In summary, Gonzales book is excellent. And deserves multiple readings. Every page is filled with wisdom and science coupled to a vivid story that makes the lesson stick. The lessons you learn will stay with you regardless if you adventure or not. You will awe Mother Nature and be humbled by her. But remember the negatives I mentioned, and you will fully appreciate one of the underlying messages Gonzales has conveyed: that, life is extremely precious. So, savor it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply revealing - I could not put it down, October 10, 2004
This is not a story book. It has a lot of survival stories in it. But that isn't the point of the book. What the author does is to take a look at the various accidents (ships sinking in the atlanitc, planes exploding over the rainforest, falling into a crevasse at 15,000 feet) and finds a common thread that binds the victims that survived these accidents. Gonzales doesn't tell us how to make a bow to hunt deer or how fire can be made out of flints. Instead, his book explores the physiological/emotional/and spiritual side of survival.

The book is deeply revealing about human nature. He explains why it is that children that are 2-6 years old that get lost in the wilderness have better survival rates than expereinced adults. But why children older than six have the worst rates of survival.

In addition to his discussions into what makes a survivor, what was also fascinating was his discussion on how these accidents happen in the first place. He discusses tightly coupled systems like the spaceship and how accidents like the Challenger and Cloumbia come to happen. He explains how these catastrophes are built into the system. No one designs it into the system, it is inherent. He then relates this information to an accident were several climbers roped together (another tightly coupled system) had a catastrophic fall.

He often quotes Epicletus and Tao Te Ching and explains how their teachings such as humility are inherent characteristics of survivors. I enjoyed how Gonzales tied in philosphy to survival and I had many "aha!" expereinces while reading this book. Those old sages knew what they were talking about.

He also discusses chaos theory as well as the physiological aspects of survival. He talks about the various chemicals that are released by our body and how this affects us physiologically and mentally.

My only critique of this book is that when Gonzales writes about his own experiences, his poetic attempts to describe the environment he is in are really bad. He throws in adjectives and analogies that make no sense and I almost put down the book because they were so awkward and horrible. But when he actually stops writing fluff and gets into analyzing the various aspects of surival, his writing flows and becomes compulsively readable.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and memorable, but I had hoped for more, June 2, 2007
By 
Forza (Boston, MA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
This book is a fascinating survival book because it's about the MENTAL aspects of survival, not the physical ones... not about the knowledge you need, but the emotional toughness: what are the psychological qualities you need, and how to cultivate them in yourself. This is a topic that I'm quite interested in, and Gonzales (and my own experience) has persuaded me that he's really pinpointed some of the often-overlooked, but very key, aspects of psychological survival. One of the highlights, for me, is that the book is also peppered through with interesting survival stories (though I would have enjoyed seeing less focus on climbing and wilderness, since the psychological patterns he talks about would apply even to "urban survival"-type situations like kidnapping).

So I quite enjoyed it, and I'm sure I'll remember and treasure several of his gems of wisdom for a long time. ("Be here now", as advice for general life as well as survival situations, struck me as especially valuable).

BUT. The book was really kind of fluffy and disorganized. It didn't have a very clear structure: it was basically a bunch of stories, with the same general points reiterated in many ways. It would have been equally valuable if it were half as long, since the extra length was just used to repeat the points, not go into them in any more depth. I thought the science was a bit sloppy and oversimplified, which wasn't a *major* problem -- that sort of thing is inevitable when writing a popular book, and he got the core things right -- but it could have been LESS so, without compromising readability, if the organization were just a little better. And the writing was decent, but not great: more than once I was jarred out of an interesting story by a bizarre phrasing or a particularly inapt description.

So if you like survival stories or are interested in the psychology of survival, you'll definitely enjoy the book and be glad you read it. If not, you probably won't be able to get past the scattered organization, general repetitiveness, and at times oft-putting writing enough to appreciate the rest of it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Something off about this..., June 15, 2008
This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
I love natural disaster genre, but this book fell flat for me. Offering some Zen insights, and a few badly narrated but intriguing case studies, the author's voice kept intervening in strange and ultimately annoying ways, which is perhaps why I didn't really like the book: I found the author's voice annoying. Deep Survival is really more about Gonzales' father than surviving, per se, and he seems to have used the trope of survival to offer a meditation on his Dad's spectacular survival in WW2, which is fine is you want a father memoir, or a WW2 experience, but rather less so if you are more interested in case studies than Pater Gonzales or the author's own masculinist excesses, which were often annoying and badly narrated. In the end, this is memoir-cum-vanity autobiography. I was expecting something more interesting.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectdly spiritual, January 31, 2006
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This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
From time to time (maybe every year or so), I engage into some sort of radical sport or activity, for the thrill of it, for the adrenaline, to face my fears and at the end, probably to feel "aliver" (more alive than ever?).

With this in mind, I bought this book without too many expectations. Wasn't really sure if it was going to be a technical book for professional "life-challengers" or what. Seemed to be a different kind of book.

And after reading it, I can say I am not disappointed. It's a truly interesting book in which Gonzales goes beyond the technical matters. Actually, Gonzales spouses that it is not technical prowess, experience, strength or a particular knowledge that distinguishes survivors from not-survivors. I don't want to get into the details (that's for you when you read the book), but his conclusion is that survivors have, among others, a positive mental attitude, "keep their cool", have an ability to somehow dettach themselves from the situation and do not let themselves be overblown by their emotions, feelings and/or psychological pressures.

The book is not perfect, though:

- It lacks a driving force to it. Its not a difficult read, but I actually stopped reading it for almost 10 days.

- The many references to Gonzales' father, and how his life impacted the author's, are very nice (particularly in the latter chapters), but they make the book so autobiographical (sometimes I thought the book was a cathartic experience of some sort for the author), that it would actually be nice to know more about Gonzales and his life.

- Its kinda zig-zaggy. Which is on purpose. At the end you can get some specific practical tips about survival. But the read is not fully structured.

In short, don't read this book if you want a technical training for survival in extreme conditions, or if you want to know in full detail how the more famous survivors made it (Gonzales relies in maybe 10 to 20 examples across the book, but does not rely heavily on the history of famous expeditions). Now, if you want something different from the typical novel, if you are attracted to eco-adventures and/or radical sports, or if you are curious about this strange mix of "Top Gun meets Deepak Chopra", go for it (and yes, I know, the comparison is exaggerated on both sides....).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected - Disappointed, November 12, 2007
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This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
This is one of those rare cases when the average rating on Amazon truly let me down. I found the book choppy and had trouble understanding where the author was going at many points. The stories are truly remarkable, but much of the analysis misses the point - the point being "Who lives, who dies, and why."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful, Often Fascinating, Sometimes Meandering, August 18, 2005
By 
Ricky Hunter (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Paperback)
Deep Survival can often be quite an interesting journey, although occasionally, like many of the hikers in the true life stories within, it gets a little lost and goes in circles. Laurence Gonzales has made a nice selection of survival tales and presents them in a very useful and illustrative manner. The author shoehorns himself in a little too much (particularly as humility is supposed to be one of the main virtues possessed by a survivor.) These true tales make a nice balance and counterpoint to much of the fascinating scientific research. The book does ignore anything that does not help its thesis so luck is downplayed as is the fact that non-survivors, who tales cannot be told, may often experience and exhibit the same charateristics as survivors, such as a sense of humour, but time was never on their side. Still, it makes for great reading and, despite the author's final insistence that survivors are born, may offer many useful tips for mental attitude adjustments during a hike or a climb gone wrong.
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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales (Paperback - October 17, 2004)
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