I read Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, And Why” as a counterpoint to Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable.” Both are survivor books, very different in their approach, but with significant conclusions in common. Gonzales focuses more on accidents: unexpected twists that challenge people in stressful situations they chose to put themselves in, primarily wilderness and sporting recreational activities. Gonzales focuses little on true disasters, where our daily lives are suddenly interrupted by a wholly unexpected catastrophic and immediately life threatening event from which we must escape; Ripley focuses on true disasters. Gonzales focuses a lot on scientific, technical biological explanations; Ripley talks a lot about pseudo-scientific evolutionary biology. Gonzales is a more florid writer on a semi-autobiographical quest following a life of adventure; Ripley is a straightforward young writer trying to analyze what others do.
“The Unthinkable” is basically a self-improvement manual. But the promised self-improvement isn’t better organization, inner peace or higher task efficiency; rather it is increased odds of living through a disaster. And while the book accomplishes the goal of self-help for the attentive reader, even more it shows that who lives and who dies mostly results from characteristics of the individual. Many of these are innate and wholly unchangeable, such as sex, intelligence and ability to absorb stress, each of which is a critical factor in survival. Some are merely extremely difficult to change and in practice immutable for the individual, such as culture and education. Few are easy to change—but any bit helps, I suppose.
[This is a colloquy between myself and a friend of mine. Italics are her; regular text is me. She is responding initially to a comment I had made about “evil not-for-profits.”] I don’t understand, but without the rhetoric, I really want to see the world through your eyes regarding your comment about “evil not-for-profit…” How is it that people who sacrifice so much for others are evil? I’m a corporate attorney and admire the heck out of people able to do something I’m too greedy to do. While they walk the walk (of spiritual leaders, etc.), I’m just a coward saving money for my own kids’ education, etc. How are they “evil”? Mostly it’s a joke, meant to highlight the absurdity of classifying a businessman as inherently evil. But, given that you ask, here are some thoughts: 1) What makes you think people who work for “not-for-profit” entities “sacrifice so much for others”? That may be true for some, a very few. Let’s say, for example, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. But generally, that’s not …
Barbara Holland’s “Gentlemen’s Blood” is a series of jaunty anecdotes about dueling through time and around the world. Most of it focuses on America and Britain, with side tours into Germany, France and Russia, touching on famous duelists like Pushkin (who ended up the worse for wear as a result). The book is interesting for those anecdotes, and reading it is a reasonable way to kill some time and get a glimpse, if a circumscribed and brief one, into the ways of the past. But it is most interesting as an exploration of honor, a concept today generally viewed far too simplistically.
Reviewing anything by C.S. Lewis seems presumptuous. Between the fame and erudition of the author, and the endless stream of reviews and analysis by others vastly more qualified, reviewing “The Screwtape Letters” seems like reviewing “Hamlet”—an activity that is likely to offer nothing new, and also to reflect poorly on the reviewer. Every page of “The Screwtape Letters” shows a deep understanding of human nature, as well as an orthodox Christian faith and sensibility. It is impossible to even summarize such a book, and it’s certainly short enough that at least an initial read requires no significant time commitment by the reader, thus further reducing any benefit a reviewer may offer. So I’ll keep this brief, and focus not on the spiritual aspects of the book, which are its main offering, but on Lewis’s prescience about the present day, given that it has been nearly seventy-five years since this book was first published.
I read “Capital Without Borders,” a book on wealth management, because I wanted a “how-to” book. How could I, were I to become adequately rich, maximize my wealth by using methods available only to the knowledgeable and connected? Unfortunately for my purpose, “Capital Without Borders” doesn’t delve deeply enough into the precise mechanics of wealth maximization to be a useful “how-to” book. But it does contain a wide variety of interesting insights into the world of the new globalized elite, citizens of no country who completely lack positive feeling and loyalty towards their native lands. These insights are the book’s real value.
While “Facing Violence” is an interesting book, it seems to me its practical usefulness is limited. It will probably help, to some extent, in “Preparing For the Unexpected.” But the reader shouldn’t get overconfident as a result. It’s like being an armchair general—there is nothing inherently wrong with analyzing things from the comfort of your chair, but it’s not the same thing as, and does not prepare you for, actually being a general. Same here. Moreover, the book is dated by its complete omission of the defensive use of firearms, in these days of widespread citizen carry.
St. Paul says in Second Thessalonians (or as Donald Trump would have it, “Two Thessalonians”), “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” This seems old-fashioned, even unfair to some. But not so long ago, what St. Paul said was literally true for most Americans, and merely an accepted fact of life, not an imposition by society. “Trials Of The Earth” is a vivid reminder of that time, and a chronicle of human strength and self-reliance in response.
“Proof” is an outstanding book. Neither too short nor too long for its topic, it crisply discusses various elements of the production of (ingestible) alcohol. The author, Adam Rogers, an editor at Wired magazine, writes in a compelling, engaging fashion, including enough science to be interesting and not superficial, without putting in so much science that the average reader gets bored.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book is compelling. But too frequently it relies on unsupported, and in fact unvoiced, assumptions. And like a stick figure with one leg, the result is instability.