Jennifer's Reviews > The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life

The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood
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Apr 15, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction, survival
Read in March, 2010

Book Overview

The subtitle of the book, "The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life," pretty much sums up what this book is about—learning about what it takes to survive and determining what type of survivor you might be.

The first part of the book is devoted to exploring different survival scenarios and examining why ordinary people ended up surviving in extraordinary circumstances. As Sherwood relays these stories—ranging from plane crash survivors to Holocaust survivors to a bicyclist who lived after getting crushed by a twenty-one-ton truck—he calls in various scientists, researchers and medical experts to weigh in on what it was that allowed these people to survive and why so many others perish in similar circumstances (a hint: they freeze up). Some of the key findings that Sherwood discovered are:

* Taking action quickly plays a large part in determining whether you will live or die in a survival situation.
* Awareness of your surroundings affects your chances of survival.
* Faith in a higher power can make a difference in whether you live or die.
* Luck isn't really luck; it is a mindset.
* Fear can be helpful if you use it correctly.
* The will to live makes a tremendous difference in whether you will survive or not.
* Sometimes circumstances make all the difference; but your mental attitude can play a factor too.
* Resiliency in the face of repeated adversity is a factor in increasing your survival odds.
* The ability to adapt increases your chances of survival.

The second part of the book is devoted to helping readers discover their survivor personality, which can be determined via an online survey called the Survivor Profiler. The survey takes about 15 minutes and will tell you what type of survivor personality you have and your strongest and weakest traits. When I took the quiz, I ended up being a Thinker, with my strongest survival traits being adaptability, hope and flow. It was interesting to read about the different types of survivor personalities and how different character traits can make the difference in whether someone will survive or not.

The book includes two appendices, an extensive list of notes about where the author obtained his information, and an index.

My Thoughts

This book is both terrifying and comforting at the same time.

The book is terrifying because you realize just how many ways there are to die that you have probably never thought about. One such story is that of Ellin Klor, who ended up in her survival situation by walking up some stairs to go to a knitting group. That's right ... just walking up some stairs! As she was walking up the stairs, she tripped and fell in such a way that a knitting needle pierced her heart. It was, as they say, a "one in a million shot." Luckily for Ellin, trauma surgeons were able to put her back together. Yet her survival story didn't end there. As a result of the knitting needle incident, doctors detected breast cancer thanks to the CT scans that were taken during her hospital stay. Thanks to early detection (which wouldn't have happened if the knitting needle hadn't punctured her heart), the doctors were able to remove the cancer before it spread. So, in a very real way, the knitting needle ended up saving Ellin's life!

The book is comforting because you read, over and over again, about ordinary people who end up surviving what experts thought was unsurvivable. And it is from their stories that Sherwood begins to draw out the personality traits and lessons we can all use to increase our own chances of survival. One of the things I learned is that awareness of your surroundings can make or break you in a time of crisis. After reading this book, I flew on a cross-country plane trip. It was like an entirely new experience for me. Instead of reading or dozing through the safety talk, I listened to it. I reviewed the safety card with my Little One, and we both practiced our crash position. We located the closest exits, checked for our flotation devices and identified the locations of the life rafts. Although we didn't need to use this information (and the chapter points out repeatedly how safe flying really is, statistically speaking), I did feel like we were more prepared in case something had happened during the flight.

You cannot read this book without wondering what your own reaction would be in a survival situation. Would you be the person who freezes up and ends up dying when you didn't have to? Or would you be the person who quickly realizes what is happening and takes action to save your own life? As Sherwood discovers, so much of what makes the difference between life or death is contained in your mental attitude—your will to live, your faith in a higher power, your awareness of your surroundings. I've always thought I would end up panicking in an emergency situation, but when I think back on my life, I realize that might not be true.

The only "life or death" situation I've experienced was when I went whitewater canoeing for the first time at age 12. On the last rapid of the day (which was the fastest yet), we had to navigate our canoe through a series of rapids avoiding rocks throughout. At the end, we had to shoot off a small waterfall (about 3 to 4 foot high) and end up in the river below. The guide reviewed our safety procedures with us before we went in the event that we capsized—follow the flow of the river, do not struggle, climb onto a rock, and don't panic.

The guide took me and my mother down together. The whole ride down was a blur until the end when we shot off the waterfall and capsized. I remember that I didn't panic—I let myself bob to the surface and faced downstream. I saw a huge rock so I climbed on top of it. Meanwhile, my mother was floating downstream screaming for me. The guide saw me perched on the rock and told me to stay there and that he would come back down and get me. Well, the guide tried about four or five times to get to me but each time was a failure—mostly because to get to the rock I was on, you would have to bring the canoe to a dead-stop after rocketing off the waterfall. Eventually, everyone realized it couldn't be done so they told me to climb back in the river and float down to my parents.

I remember when I was in the water after we capsized that I didn't panic once. I kept repeating to myself what the guide had said and did everything he had told me to do. They said that I was up and out of the water and onto that rock very quickly. It was only AFTER I was safe that I started feeling afraid. At the actual moment of crisis, I was calm and came through for myself.

Thankfully, I've not been tested in quite this way again, but I hope that this calmness I experienced in the past is still a part of my survivor response!

Here are some other "fun" tips to help you survive that I learned in the book.

* If you are going to fall from a great height, it is best to be drunk. (You'll be more relaxed.)
* If you are prone to having heart attacks, you would do well to hang out in Las Vegas casinos, where the survival rate for cardiac arrests is more than 50% (much higher than in hospitals).
* If you want to get reluctant churchgoers to attend church, tell them that people who attend church regularly live longer than those who don't.
* Righties live longer than lefties. (I didn't care for this stat as I am left-handed myself. However, I hope my stubbornness and will to live shall overcome this little "handicap.")
* If you get lost in the woods, just stay where you are.
* There is a bristlecone pine tree in California that is 4,650 years old. OK ... that won't help you survive, but that is kind of neat to know, isn't it?

And, if you ever needed an excuse to NOT wear pantyhose on an airplane, Sherwood provides the data you need: in case of a fire, they will melt onto your skin! For that matter, let's just not wear pantyhose EVER!

My Final Recommendation

If you like reading about amazing survival stories, this book is like catnip! It contains numerous survival stories that are fascinating. The added bonus is the practical information that Sherwood provides so that we can all learn from the lessons of these survivors. When I first received the book, I was mostly interested in the survival stories. In the end, I think I ended up learning quite a bit more, and it gave me food for thought on how my mental attitude can literally affect whether I'll live or die. I think most people will find this book interesting and useful. And, who knows, what you learn might someday help save your life!
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