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How to Live Dangerously: The Hazards of Helmets, the Benefits of Bacteria, and the Risks of Living Too Safe Paperback – May 26, 2009
From Publishers Weekly
Cairns' droll, entertaining book examines how we've become a world of people afraid of the world: "survey after survey shows that most people, nowadays, believe the world to be a far more dangerous place now than it was in the past." Not only do we worry too much, we worry about the wrong things. With a witty, occasionally whiny British inflection, Cairns catalogs the innocuous things that grab our attention (airplane crashes), the real dangers we rarely consider (hundreds of thousands home gardening accidents), and the real victims: the children. Along with many funny, outrageous anecdotes illustrating a society whose members are no longer willing to take responsibility for their own safety or well being, Cairns makes many salient points about litigation, obese children and the pacifying effects of the safety state (ironically, the safest course of action may be the one that seems the most dangerous, since we become more cautious when we perceive danger). Cairn's lighthearted approach is informative and easy to read, in spite of occasionally obscure British references, and should briefly alleviate anxiety, if only because it's hard to worry and smile simultaneously.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“A brilliant and wickedly funny book.” ―Peter Schweizer, New York Times bestselling author of Do as I Say (Not as I Do)
“Droll, entertaining [and] witty…. Cairn's lighthearted approach is informative and easy to read… and should briefly alleviate anxiety, if only because it's hard to worry and smile simultaneously.” ―Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
Though the book is short, Warwick Cairns manages to write an impression-stamping book warning readers of the dangers of fear and trying to set things in perspective. He does a great job, especially whenever he discusses the relative dangers of any given activity, such as the notion that (statistically) your child would have to be left outside for 500,000 years before it was abducted by a stranger. He also does a well-balanced physiological overview of what happens when you feel fear, as well as the psychological workings that go on.
Cairns's primary concern seems to be the correlation of two things: the rise in childhood obesity, diabetes, etc., and the decreased amount of activity brought on by excessive safety concerns. And when reading it, Cairns makes a really good, well-cited, logical case for his thesis that we all ought to just live a bit more dangerously.
The problem, as Cairns himself acknowledges, is that it's one thing to understand and realize the reasonableness of such a thesis, and quite another to get the emotionally driven part of you to understand that. In other words, it's quite difficult to stop worrying that, say, your child will be one of only a handful of children abducted by a stranger, even when you acknowledge the sheer improbability.
And it's with that in mind, I was torn between giving this book four stars and five stars. On the one hand, I think it's well-written, humorous in places, informative, and somewhat humbling. On the other, I have to wonder whether it will have any effect whatsoever. I tell myself, "No, my hypothetical future children will live more dangerously, they will reach the limits of their creativity and cope with danger, becoming healthy adults." And I say this now, many years removed from such a scenario. But what will I do when there actually is a little flesh bag that I have to try to not let die?
After consideration, I realize that's not a problem with the book per se, but rather my own psychology. So I rest on the five star. I recommend it to any that have a creeping feeling that our society is a bit too paranoid.
This book traces our misguided attitude towards risk to the dawn of humanity. To survive, a wild ape-man must worry first and foremost about the constant threat from predators. So people are predisposed to worry about sudden, violent, one-on-one disaster - a strategy that makes sense in a primitive world, where there is no way of learning about diseases or learning that some disasters are more common than others.
Our natural fear of disaster has spun out of control because of our saturation in television and similar media that relentlessly publicize disasters- especially the type of disasters that are easy to "put a human face on" (e.g. "stranger danger" stories involving an attractive victim and a perverted villian, or even the rare air crash).
So what? What's wrong with a little disproportionate fear of airline crashes or murderous madmen? Cairns argues that public ignorance of risks is harmful in two ways. First, if we focus on the wrong risks we may make life more rather than less dangerous. For example, if we drive Junior everywhere because we think the world is too dangerous to walk anywhere, we increase his risk of being killed in a car accident, as well as his risk of physical problems from lack of exercise. Second, the precautions we take in the name of safety don't always work. Cairns suggests, for example, that bicycle helmets may actually make biking more dangerous, because bikers behave more recklessly when wearing them, and drivers behave more recklessly around bikers with helmets.
Although Cairns' basic argument rings true, his book needs a bit more factual backup to be fully persuasive: more footnotes, more statistics, more thought about counterarguments (e.g. "Why does Junior need to play outside if he is in soccer league?"). This is a good book that could have been a great one.
I have really been struck by the amount of fear in our society these days. I blame the talking heads in politics, on TV, on talk radio, and online. Fear sells, it seems, and it's been a very popular tactic for selling political platforms, and a very popular tactic for marketing your "news" network against everyone else's. 24-7 fear in a gigantic echo chamber. Everyone barricades themselves and their children in the house. Stranger danger, swine flu, terrorism, and crime become the constant topics of conversation.
I can't HANDLE it sometimes. It drives me up a tree. Maybe it's because I served in the Army, and went to Iraq (twice) but I look around our country and for most people, it's virtual paradise. I just want to stand on a soapbox downtown and try to convince everyone it's OKAY. We live in one of the richest, healthiest, safest societies in human history. Crime rates have plummeted since the 70s - they are even down since the earlier part of this decade. We don't have to worry about plagues and infant mortality and hunting injuries and deadly parasites. A TINY percentage of our nation serves in uniform and can get sent to dangerous places. The rest of us? We're fine. The most dangerous thing any of us do on a regular basis is get in a car and hurtle down the road at 15 times our natural human speed. And no one gives a thought to that danger. Turn off the talking heads and FREE YOUR MIND.