The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why
by Amanda Ripley
Crown Publishers, New York, 2008.
266 pages including eight pages of color photos, source notes, bibliography, and a thorough index.
Paperback edition is available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.
This is not a psychobabble volume readable by a few academics. The author writes in plain English about a complicated subject that she makes easily understandable. She has interviewed hundreds of survivors, scholars, and scientists to obtain her information.
The book is divided into three parts: Denial, Deliberation, and The Decisive Moment. Inside the three parts are eight chapters.
Using case studies and first person accounts from survivors of a variety of disasters, the author explains why some people survive while many are dying all around them. Our natural instincts in a disaster are fear, shock, and flight or fight.
Scientists have studied why some people gather into groups, some freeze in place, others flee the scene, while others respond calmly. Case histories of each response are given ranging from Hurricane Katrina, the Twin Towers, the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, a plane crash in Washington DC, the Virginia Tech shootings, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, ferry sinking in the Baltic Sea, and many more.
There are numerous lessons for the reader, especially those who want to be prepared for any emergency.
First, disasters are predictable – outcomes are not. I live in tornado country and not having a shelter is gambling with lives, so I have a shelter close to an exit door of my home and emergency radios to keep me informed. Earthquakes are number two so I have insurance. Forest fires are next and I have a quick exit plan. What disaster zone do you live in? Are you prepared for the inevitable?
Second, fear can be overcome with a little work. Practice your skills to make them subconsciously automatic. Have a plan in your mind to deal with a particular crisis. Lay in the necessary supplies to deal with that crisis. Do your family members know their part?
Practice your response to convert the emergency into an inconvenience. Practicing gives you deeper understanding of what is occurring, which in turn decreases your fear. Less fear equates to more confidence, which gives you a better probability of survival. Fire drills are not stupid.
Third, do not rely on anyone to rescue you. That is your job and yours alone. FEMA and the Red Cross will show up in a few days, if at all, so you’re on your own during the crisis.
These examples just skim the surface of this book. There are more in-depth discussions of ways to prepare yourself and your family for any emergency coming your way based on the experiences of people who survived their disasters.
I recommend this book for your home library. Keep it handy for refresher reading and to share with your family. You will all be safer.
About the Reviewer: "T.M." is SurvivalBlog's History Book Review Editor. He is a retired academician who now enjoys gardening, hunting, prepping and reading a good book.