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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why Paperback – October 17, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 499 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When confronted with a life-threatening situation, 90% of people freeze or panic, says Gonzales in this exploration of what makes the remaining 10% stay cool, focused and alive. Gonzales (The Hero's Apprentice; The Still Point), who has covered survival stories for National Geographic Explorer, Outside and Men's Journal, uncovers the biological and psychological reasons people risk their lives and why some are better at it than others. In the first part of the book, the author talks to dozens of thrill-seekers-mountain climbers, sailors, jet pilots-and they all say the same thing: danger is a great rush. "Fear can be fun," Gonzales writes. "It can make you feel more alive, because it is an integral part of saving your own life." Pinpointing why and how those 10% survive is another story. "They are the ones who can perceive their situation clearly; they can plan and take correct action," Gonzales explains. Survivors, whether they're jet pilots landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier or boatbuilders adrift on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, share certain traits: training, experience, stoicism and a capacity for their logical neocortex (the brain's thinking part) to override the primitive amygdala portion of their brains. Although there's no surefire way to become a survivor, Gonzales does share some rules for adventure gleaned from the survivors themselves: stay calm, be decisive and don't give up. Remembering these rules when crisis strikes may be tough, but Gonzales's vivid descriptions of life in the balance will stay with readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

What impels people to risk their lives by climbing mountains or deep-sea diving? What confluence of forces leads to drastic accidents? Why do some people survive disasters while others perish? A renowned journalist intrigued with risk, Gonzales conducts an in-depth and engrossing inquiry into the dynamics of survival. Relating one hair-raising true story after another about wilderness adventures gone catastrophically wrong and other calamities, Gonzales draws on sources as diverse and compelling as the Stoic philosophers and neuroscience to elucidate the psychological, physiological, and spiritual strengths that enable certain individuals to avoid fatal panic and make that crucial "transition from victim to survivor." People who survive being lost or adrift at sea, for instance, pay close attention to their surroundings and respect the wild. Gonzales also notes that survivors think of others, either helping a fellow sufferer or rallying to outsmart death in order to spare loved ones anguish. The study of survival offers an illuminating portal into the human psyche, and Gonzales, knowledgeable and passionate, is a compelling and trustworthy guide. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (October 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393326152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393326154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (499 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Esterhammer-Fic VINE VOICE on February 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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