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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  5,081 ratings  ·  691 reviews
After her plane crashes, a seventeen-year-old girl spends eleven days walking through the Peruvian jungle. Against all odds, with no food, shelter, or equipment, she gets out. A better-equipped group of adult survivors of the same crash sits down and dies. What makes the difference?


Examining such stories of miraculous endurance and tragic death—how people get into trouble
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ebook, 320 pages
Published October 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published December 1st 1998)
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Donald
It's not often I give only one star, particularly to a book with as much potential as this one had. In the end, however, the flaws of this book far overshadowed it's positives. As I obviously didn't like the book, I'll keep this review negative and explain why.

1.In general, I dislike books where the author is not the focus of the story, but then tries too hard to insert him/herself. Gonzales references many excellent survival stories (including his own father's) but keeps coming back to himself.
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Jackie
Long before I reached page 256 (just about the end of the book) I knew Laurence Gonzales was not a person I would want to hang with. So when he wrote on page 256,"My daughters tell me I have the job every thirteen-year-old boy wants. My ex-wives tell me that I never grew up," I was hardly surprised.

His obsession with adventurers who survive against great odds and his desire to find explanations as to why some survive and others do not rang hollow for me. Every time he reached a conclusion that
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Amanda
I gave this book to my husband for Christmas. He never read it and yesterday I picked it up and started reading. Fascinating! The author's father survived being shot down in a plane in WWII, falling without a parachute, nearly being shot by a German farmer (the gun jammed), being treated without anaesthetic in the POW camp where he received just enough food to keep him alive, barely. Yet he did survive and he came home and had a successful career as a scientist and fathered 9 sons.
His son was fa
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Diana Pauksta
i read about this book in national geographic adventure magazine. they had a three-page spread about gonzales, his story, and the impetus for this book. it seemed fascinating, the 'theory' behind survival and why certain people beat the odds and survive a harrowing situation, while others give up and die after only one day. the book was rather disappointing...there really is no 'theory' behind survival. gonzales is not a great writer, and he doesn't make any kind of argument. basically, there ar ...more
Michele
I expected a lot more from this book. He promised to explain why given the same survival scenario, one person would live and one would die, not always the ones you'd expect. What you get instead is some pseudo-scientific explanations, inadequately cited, a lot of uninteresting anecdotes about his search for the survivor experience, interspersed with some genuinely interesting survival stories.
One thing that really bothered me was his use of scuba divers to illustrate people in jeopardy doing il
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Max
Meh. Laurence Gonzales writes about a lot of interesting topics here, and he's obviously an intelligent and well-read guy, but...meh. He gets caught up in his own prose and in the heaviness of the topics he's writing about, and often loses sight of clarity and simple explanations. In spite of its short length, this book is kind of a shaggy mess, which says to me that Gonzales is a magazine writer who's out of his depth in the book format. He also frequently tackles topics he clearly has a limite ...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
Jan 07, 2009 Books Ring Mah Bell rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of adventure
Shelves: sports
A fascinating story of what makes 2 people go into the same situation, one lives, one dies.

The author has an interest in survival as his father was gunned down in the war. His father survived when others perished. Gonzales became an adrenaline junkie, also flying planes, racing motorcyles and mountain climbing.

He covers it all, from wilderness misadventures people get themselves into (rafting, sailing, climbing and hiking) to disasters beyond our control (plane crashes, and 9/11).

During his tal
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Paige
Mar 04, 2008 Paige rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in survival
Recommended to Paige by: dad
I'd say it was like 3-3.5 stars, but I rounded up because I'm nice.

So...my dad really recommended this book to me. I can see why it'd be the sort of thing he'd like: I was rolling my eyes constantly (more in the beginning than at the end, but maybe that's just because I got used to it). That's not to say I'm not glad that I read it--I am really glad that I did, because it was entertaining and he did share a lot of good information. I wrote down all the titles of the books he references, hoping t
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Branden
This was a very intriguing read that I really enjoyed. The title pretty much describes it, it's about survival and the author asks the question, why do some people survive certain situations while others succumb to death? He asks, if two people, of the same phyical health, same training are put into a life and death situation, what is it that will allow one of the two to survive while the other dies? The author searches for these answers by studying many cases of human survival and he shares the ...more
Toby
I guess I should start writing comments, eh? I liked this book, even though he harps on some of the same points over and over. But in doing so keeps giving examples, a few of which resonated with me. The stories of survival (and sometimes of not surviving) are great, using both amazingly heroic tales of freak chance to illustrate a point (survival at sea, etc), to someone getting lost while going for a hike. And it all applies.

This guy is obviously all about his father (who has an amazing story
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Goat
I'm a big fan of 'true survival in the wilderness' tales, and having done my share of stupid and life-threatening things in the outdoors, I really enjoyed this examination of the 'theory' of accidents and what goes on in the brain in life-or-death situations and what separates the survivor from the statistic. Gonzales sprinkles the book with true stories of the lucky and the luckless (he readily admits that luck or its absence is not to be discounted in assessing (non-)survival, some of which ar ...more
Daniel
May 31, 2008 Daniel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All my outdoor friends
Recommended to Daniel by: My mother
Anyone who participates in risky endevors such as Rock Climbing, mountaineering, backpaking, wilderness travel, rafting, or any other activiy should read this book. It is very anaylitical and details the human brain. The first part of the book is why accidents happen and how they happen. The second part details how some people survive against increadible odds while others die in less trying circumstances. There are many stories of survival and each one is disected and illistrates what is takes t ...more
Perrin Pring
Portions of this book were great. A really in depth look at what makes up a survivor's mind set. Then there were parts which were a little flowery and phallocentric (you didn't think those two words could be used in the same sentence did you?) which is why some of the book is a little hard to stomach. The first 4 chapters weren't really worth the time, but the fifth chapter, the Sand Pile Effect, was eye opening. If you are interested in high risk endeavors, or SAR, this book is worth the read, ...more
Heather
Dec 28, 2007 Heather rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: dudes in DKE
Larry half-digested a bunch of philosophy and psych 101 books, put on a muscle tee and aviator sunglasses, and squeezed out this turd of a book.
He strings together quotes from smarter men, says irritating things like, "boss feeling", and talks about how brave he is flying stupid airplanes, and riding stupid motorcycles with Lyle Lovett.

I was so excited about reading DEEP SURVIVAL because it was supposed to analyze some of my favorite survival stories. I guess I could have anticipated its awfuln
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Jonny99
Sort of a literary, thinking man's Jackass (the former television show / movie).
Skostal
This is a fascinating forensic view of the emotional, or reptilian, brain, and the more "advanced" logical brain, and how the first gravely impairs the latter in so many aspects of our lives. Set in the context of who survives disasters, how, and why, this book has much more broad implications than accident forensics. The most compelling argument early in the work is why so many fighter pilots have difficulty landing on aircraft carriers. Gonzales's description of what controls the brain of a pi ...more
Robin
I didn’t expect to like this book so much. A book that examines life, death, and survival in unthinkable circumstances could either be too dry or overly graphic. I thought I’d skim it and pick up some survival tips, but was fascinated by the variety of case studies and the different ways in which the author analyzes them. He begins the book with the story of his father who crash-landed a bomber behind German lines in WWII, breaking many bones and emerging from his plane to find a local farmer ai ...more
Nikko Lee
Why I read this book:

After finishing Forever on the Mountain by James Tabor and watching way too many Survivorman episodes, I started looking for books about mountaineering and survival. I came across Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales on a late November Amazon binge. Being in search and rescue and being a bit of a end-of-the-world/doomsday scenarios fan, a book about who survives and who dies in a given survival scenario sounded like something I'd enjoy.

My one sentence summary:

Some people live
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Kara Huggard
This is an interesting but inadequately executed book. Deep Survival attempts to answer the question "what makes people survivors?". To do so, Gonzales presents us with stories of survival glued together by scientific and psychological research. The stories are fascinating; the scientific glue is not. That's not to say there aren't interesting tidbits found in the scientific explanations, but overall Gonzales does a poor job of relating his facts to his stories. The overall technique ends up bei ...more
Gavin
Let me start by saying thanks, Mom, this book got me through a stupifyingly tedious day of jury duty, so for that I'm grateful.

Unfortunately, aside from helping pass the time, this book didn't really do much for me. I had a hard time separating the retarded bravado of the author from anything that may have been good advice. The guy is writing about survival from his own background of constantly (and purposefully) risking his life in some misguided effort to prove that he himself is a survivor. A
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Jay
Jun 03, 2012 Jay rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jay by: Kath
Some parts of this book were so fascinating that I read them twice; The Sand Pile Effect was a particularly gripping chapter. Gonzales explained complicated scientific notions like chaos and complexity theories in a relatable way through stories of human accidents and examples of the self-organizing behavior of nature. At other times, Gonzales took too long to make his point and delivered the information in a generic way.

I learned a lot more than I expected to about what it takes to survive lif
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Nathan
The principle is smart: analyze case reports and stories to sift out the different patterns emerging in survivors versus those who die in survival situations. The stories embedded within are entertaining and well-selected to push his main observations of how "survivors" act.

I found his forays into neuroscience appropriate and appreciate his explanations of the "split" (i.e. our old-brain emotional core versus our neocortical/frontal-lobe rational brain). The book is well-researched and these ex
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Eva
I found this book extremely easy to read and finished it in less than 24 hours (especially as I was stuck at my in-laws' house with nothing else to do on New Year's Day). Regardless, I enjoyed the mixture of disaster stories with armchair philosophizing about why humans make idiotic decisions and get ourselves into accidents/lost, etc, to begin with, and why we behave seemingly irrationally when trying to save ourselves.

I agree with several other reviewers' complaints that the author needlessly
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Scott Bischke
This is a fascinating book about why some people survive harrowing situations, and some people do not. Gonzales uses multiple stories of shipwrecks, mountain adventure disasters, and similar to pull together his theories of what it takes to keep going when all looks lost. A great read with much to teach anyone who lives life beyond the safe and mundane. A couple of caveats: 1) the book is not solely (even primarily) about wilderness survival as the cover leads one to believe; 2) the author at ti ...more
Lauren
Fast-paced and very interesting read about what goes through one's mind when faced with extreme survival situations. Includes a number of case studies about both people who live and people who die in such situations. Examines the mix of psychology, neurology and skill that determines if one survives or not. Although the context of the person is important (e.g. skill leading into situation, exposure to such situations), other factors (how one's brain is wired, attitudes) play a remarkably strong ...more
Denise
Wow. In addition to hair-raising stories, Gonzales throws in a little brain research to help us understand why we respond as we do in survival situations. Who's most likely to survive being lost in the woods? Kids five and under. (They listen to their bodies.) Least likely? Teenagers from the 'burbs and adults. (No natural predators; too "rational.")

As it turns out, some people, when faced with a survival situation, simply lie down and die. Literally.

Some folks die of terminal cockiness.

Riveti
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Jason Blythe
Do you keep list of books you want to read? Maybe you are reading a magazine or website and you see a book or author that catches your eye and you write down the title of it for later. Well this book was one of them. And I cannot figure out why I wrote this book down. It was more a self help book/advice book on how to survive perilous situations. Not saying that I won't be crossing the ocean in a sailboat or killing Mt. Hood, but realistically I probably won't. I did find the stories that he use ...more
Kater Cheek
This book is chock-full of real-life anecdotes about people who nearly (and sometimes do) lose their lives due to nature, bad decisions, or their own inexperience. I loved the stories. One thing that would have made it better is if it had actually postulated some sort of theory as to "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why." After finishing the book, I came to my own conclusion based on the fact that everyone who died a horrible death usually did so in the mountains.

"If you don't want to die a horrible de
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J.
Dec 25, 2014 J. rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in survival
I only gave this book 3 stars because I even though I really enjoyed the read, and I thought that the author had some fascinating insights on how the brain works in a crisis, I thought that he didn't have a clear message or thesis at the end of the book. I did think his analysis of emotion vs. conscious actions was very enlightening. This book has some excellent points on how the brains acts in a crisis, and some good examples of survivor behavior, but at the end I thought it seemed to ramble a ...more
Caitlin
I'll start with my criticisms and then go on about the good stuff.
I don't think the author is particularly skilled with language and sometimes his prose is awkward or verbose, and makes it seem like he's trying too hard to impress(and failing.) There were also times when what he was talking about just didn't flow or read well. I also had a problem with his obsession with the term "cool", as the idea of "cool" to me is a form of being fake or simply putting on bravado. I can understand the quali
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Laurence Gonzales is the author of Surviving Survival and the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. He has won two National Magazine Awards. His essays are collected in the book House of Pain.
More about Laurence Gonzales...
Lucy Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience One Zero Charlie: Adventures in Grass Roots Aviation

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“Survival is the celebration of choosing life over death. We know we're going to die. We all die. But survival is saying: perhaps not today. In that sense, survivors don't defeat death, they come to terms with it.” 24 likes
“The word 'experienced' often refers to someone who's gotten away with doing the wrong thing more frequently than you have.” 20 likes
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