55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2008
Pros: First six chapters are interesting and about the main reasons why folks do silly things with good examples provided.
Cons: Last 10 chapters are an odd mix of material on saving the Earth, physics, entropy, natural history, "look who I met when I went here" and biography of Gonzales and his father. Sources not cited, only selected bibliography provided. Poorly edited: Caption of picture on page 22 of the hardcover is incorrect, "dollars" is spelled "dolars" on page 210.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2008
The first half of the book gives some solid vignettes about internal scripts and behavioral models that explain why our brains sometimes run on autopilot and get us into trouble. But the final half of the book really has nothing to do with the title. It's a meandering, free-association ramble about whatever the heck happened to be in the author's head the minute his fingers were striking the keys. Once I got to Page 254 where he tries to compare the curve of entropy of the universe since the big bang to the curve of a human emotional response in a crisis, I cut my losses and threw it on the "to sell" pile.
After the success of "Deep Survival", it's almost like this book is just a mechanical attempt to get his next paycheck while his name still has cachet.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2008
Like other reviewers, I have a dog eared, underlined, heavily used copy of Deep Survival. So when I saw that Gonzales had a new book out, I couldn't wait to read it. What disappoints me about this book is not that it is not as good as Deep Survival, but that it starts with some interesting ideas and ends up getting side tracked and derailed.
The first six chapters are excellent. His link between how we make decisions and our impact on the environment are elegant and provocative. He talks about how we walk about in a "vacation state of mind," oblivious to the effects of our actions. I feel like I see this every day in the way people interact with each other. He then applies this "insulation from reality" to a macro view of the earth's systems and how humanity interacts with them.
After chapter six, the book unravels, jumping rapidly from issue to issue, supporting his statements with increasingly dubious science and venturing into New Age territory. One of the major themes of the later chapters is entropy, which is appropriate as there is a general decline into disorder in the later chapters.
I didn't pick up this book expecting a treatise on environmental responsibility and was not disappointed when Gonzales started down that path. I can, however, see how a "rugged individualist" would be shocked to find ideas about ecological stewardship in a book that looks like it is going to be about wilderness adventures. For those people, you've been warned; maybe you should look for a different book. For everyone else, find this book at your library, read the first six chapters and then return it.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2009
I am surprised this book has received so many negative reviews, but I can also understand why some people may not like it. The reason, I believe, is that this book is multi-disciplinary. Gonzales attempts to blend a little information from a lot of fields with the intention of explaining why people make mistakes - this is extremely hard to do! That said, I think he does a fairly modest job of adding another perspective to the growing field of Complexity Theory/ General Systems Theory.
Here are a few sample quotes from the book and additional books that pertain to that quote:
"And one of the most frequently ignored factors in our behavior is the way we form models and scripts and use them rather than information from the world itself in most of what we do." - (Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average &Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things)
"As demonstrated in the Stanford prison experiment, anytime two groups are formed by whatever means, the likelihood is that the interactions between them will become hostile." - (Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind,Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression &The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom)
"The burning question for our survival as a species is: Can we leave the ape behind and grow up." - Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos &Living Within Limits: A Scientific Search for Truth)
In the end, Gonzales is attempting to pull off a monumental task in less than 300 pages so I understand why many people don't like this book. I don't believe that makes this a bad book in any way; I recommend it. I consider it a satisfactory introduction to General Systems Theory, even if Gonzales doesn't call it that. If you find the book interesting I would also read General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications and An Introduction to General Systems Thinking (Silver Anniversary Edition). I hope this review helps clear up some issues with the book and gives some additional perspective on the negative reviews.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Book Title Oversells & is Misleading
EVERYDAY SURVIVAL starts with an intriguing premise that modern man has become conditioned to a "vacation state of mind," exposing him to various environmental dangers. Author Laurence Gonzales offers as examples people who saw the tides recede just before the big tsunami of 2006 and tourists who flocked to Mt. St. Helens just before it blew a whopping volcano. As a risk management professional, I began the book with interest and optimism.
Sad to report that, not nearly halfway in, EVERYDAY SURVIVAL veers off track and - in my view - never completely regains its footing. Gonzales sprints down the rabbit trails of evolution, the universe's creation, cosmology, his hispanic heritage, mating habits of bonobo monkeys, archaeology and his relationship to his father. What these themes have to do with the book's avowed premise is unclear.
The title oversells and misrepresents the majority of the book's content, much of which seems out of place or holding at best a tenuous connection to the theme of "why smart people do stupid things."
On second thought, maybe such a thematic digression is one example of the book's subtitle.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
In "Everyday Survival," by Laurence Gonzalez, the author purports to explain "why smart people do stupid things," and to an extent, he does just that. However, Gonzalez goes way beyond his initial premise, as he explores the origins of life on earth and much more. Why does Gonzales begin with a relatively narrow theme and branch out in so many directions? He wants us to become more curious about where we came from, how we fit into the earth's giant ecosystem, and where we might be headed if our thinking does not expand to consider some hard-to-grasp realities.
This book is a journey for readers who enjoy a challenge. Gonzales refers frequently to the Santa Fe Institute, "one of the most respected research institutions in the nation." Its members are scientists, economists, mathematicians and others who wish to broaden their scope of knowledge. For instance, Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann, a physicist, is studying the evolution of language at SFI. No matter how brilliant we think we are, we are all, to some extent, trapped in our "narrow little preserves, focused only on the minutiae of our own lives." To avoid the worst mistakes, it helps to be curious, aware, attentive, and flexible. We must be "scientists at heart or be victims of forces that we don't understand."
Gonzales believes that we are headed for big trouble because we are content to live in a "vacation state of mind," relying on "outmoded mental models and behavioral scripts." Unless we open our eyes, it may be too late to save ourselves from the destruction of our planet through war, global warming, and economic collapse. Natural laws do not change; human behavior does, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. Although we tend to behave as if we have dominion over our surroundings, we do not, as we are slowly learning to our woe.
To bring his controversial and thought-provoking ideas to life, Gonzales describes his trips to such places as the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Glacier National Park (where the ice is indeed melting), the intricate Wind Cave in South Dakota, and the volcanic islands of Hawaii. He also discusses why certain people (including a ten-year-old British girl), knew enough to move to high ground before the tsunami of 2004 wreaked its catastrophic destruction. This child convinced her family to escape, while others stood around and were swept away.
This gifted storyteller mesmerizes the reader with his beautifully crafted prose, personal anecdotes (a section about the author's father is particularly poignant), and his astounding breadth of scientific knowledge. "Everyday Survival" makes us aware of our environment and of our role in promoting the well being not just of our own species, but of other living things as well. We are all interconnected. "We live delicately poised in a fragile web. Life is certain, but our position in it is not."
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2009
This is by the far the best book I've read with such a low reviewer score. And the negative reactions here, ironically, are actual proof of the power of Gonzales' thinking.
Everyday Survival is about the 'mental models' that tend to blind us to the deeper reality of our human condition. They are the evolutionary and cultural blinders that - while critical to our survival in the past - can lead to our downfall in the future once the situations in which we find ourselves have changed. It's the oldest heuristic, if it ain't broke don't fix it, but once things break we often lack the vision to adapt.
It seems like many of the reviewers here, especially those with a 'survivalist' bent who loved Deep Survival can sign on to this premise and track as the author begins to explore how our 'mental models' can lock us into rigid ways of thinking and living. But as Gonzales goes deeper and deeper, challenging more and more preconceptions, a gnawing uncertainty, then discomfort, then mild outrage begins to well up in these readers (this feeling is also called cognitive dissonance, and it's a good feeling that usually accompanies learning and a broadening of one's world view... if that's what you're interested in.)
Problem is that the culture and politics that surround American 'survivalism' quickly come under attack as just the kinds of dysfunctional 'mental models' that can threaten our survival. So how dare someone writing about the survival of the human race talk about something as heretical as global warming? What does evolutionary biology, physics, and astronomy have to do with survival? That's the bait and switch - a book that, especially coming off of Deep Survival, first appears to be ideal LayZBoy reading in the bunker and then pivots to argue that this bunker mentality, this rigid world view that refuses to deal with the truly big picture will result in the destruction of LayZBoy, bunker, and all the readers who don't evolve their thinking.
Ouch! Two stars for you buddy! How dare you shake me out of my complacency! To be fair, the editor's choice to title this book Everyday Survival did create the expectation this this would be a sequel to the first book. I'd argue that it is, but then again I'm open minded enough to agree with the central premise - that science, knowledge, and a perspective far beyond our petty tribalism are critical for our survival (this is what some reviewers call 'elitism' I believe.) That the answer isn't pallets of Spam, an arsenal of fully automatic weapons, UN black helicopter detectors, and the Book of Revelations clearly let a bunch of folks down. Sorry.
So if you do want to be challenged by a broad ranging, interdisciplinary, and thoughtful (at times touching) exploration of the human condition, you'll enjoy and be rewarded by this book. If you'd rather stay locked away inside your mental models - there is no global warming, creationism is as valid as evolution, science is interesting but besides the point - then stay far away.
And in so doing you'll have also proven the author's point and demonstrated 'why smart people do stupid things.'
May the best survival strategy win.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2009
As most people are saying, this book is reasonably good for the first six chapters, than it just rambles. The book even apologizes for rambling so far off topic, in some chapter close to the end, and than rambles some more on these unrelated topics.
I also question some of the validity of some of his examples. As someone associated with Texas A&M, he totally got the whole bonfire thing wrong. The tragic bonfire collapse was admittedly a result of many poor decisions, and one could say, flawed mental models. But it did not collapse, not because they made the bonfire a little bigger and bigger every year, and poof, this time it was too much. It does not negate the book's articulations of psychological studies on mental modelings, knowing that the writer took short cuts when paraphrasing the Aggie bonfire, in my mind, begs the question, where else in the book did he take short cuts.
I gave it 2 stars, because as said in other reviews, the first 6 chapters are somewhat decent. If I were to write a book about why people do stupid stuff, I would have emphasized some of the modes of thought like empiricism. Books that I think do a better job on the topic would be Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2008
After hanging on every word while reading Deep Survival, I was very disappointed with Everyday Survival. The first 3-4 chapters showed promise with the same excellent story-telling blended with psychology research, evolutionary psychology, and well developed arguments. After that, however, the book devolves and gets lost in ramblings on entropy, environmentalism, and other topics that have little to do with "everyday survival". Instead, just when you think you know where Gonzales is heading, he drifts in another direction. No cohesive theme brings the book together and just getting through the last five chapters became a challenge.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2008
I was surprised by how negative some of the reviews of this book are. It seems that people who read Gonzales' previous book, Deep Survival, were disappointed in this one because they expected a very different kind of book. Not having read Deep Survival, I had no particular expectations and I found Everyday Survival thought-provoking and interesting. I don't entirely agree with Gonzales' main thesis - that our modern way of living has made us unable to call on adaptive behavior that came naturally to our prehistoric ancestors, making us at risk in today's world. But, though they were occasionally a tad too drawn out, I found his stories intriguing, his examples powerful, and his overall analysis thought-provoking.