Category: psychology

Laurence Gonzales – 2004 – Deep Survival

Deep Survival

My friend Ian Kitajima gave me this book last week. It is a compelling read because not only did I finish it, I find myself writing this review. This book recounts stories of being lost at sea, lost in the wilderness, mountain climbing accidents, Apollo moonshot, firefighting, and other high risk situations. One thing that is great is both telling stories of those who lived and those who died.

The stories are gripping and while ultimately there is an attempt at summary at the end, a more loose set of concepts emerge which are not available in summary form. In particular there is the notion of "secondary emotions" (which can be both positive and negative). The discussion is not ultimately fulfilling or complete, but definitely interesting. The kind of training that experience and perception generates and recalls (sometimes inappropriately).

There is a bit of repetition in this book. The same stories are referred to at different points throughout. In many cases without benefit, though sometimes this is needed as different themes are present in the same stories.

These criticisms should not dissuade the reader, as this is an excellent book, and truly engages one in thinking about survival in extreme circumstances, and also how situations and environments can quickly become extreme.

However, this book has a more fundamental mission (which comes through most clearly when the author is discussing his father, which happens often). This book really can be considered nothing less than a modern day introduction to stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius, Herodotus, and most often Epictetus figure prominently throughout.

The core doctrine of Stoicism concerns cosmic determinism and human freedom, and the belief that virtue is to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. (Wikipedia)

Assessment – A worthwhile read.

The author has a new book "Everyday Survival" to be released later in 2008.