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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

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"Unique among survival books…stunning…enthralling. Deep Survival makes compelling, and chilling, reading." ― Denver Post Laurence Gonzales’s bestselling Deep Survival has helped save lives from the deepest wildernesses, just as it has improved readers’ everyday lives. Its mix of adventure narrative, survival science, and practical advice has inspired everyone from business leaders to military officers, educators, and psychiatric professionals on how to take control of stress, learn to assess risk, and make better decisions under pressure.

295 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1998

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About the author

Laurence Gonzales

18 books121 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,329 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
937 reviews28.6k followers
November 7, 2021
“What you really need to know for survival purposes…is that the system we call emotion…works powerfully and quickly to motivate behavior…Emotion is an instinctive response aimed at self-preservation. It involves numerous bodily changes that are preparations for action. The nervous system fires more energetically, the blood changes its chemistry so that it can coagulate more rapidly, muscle tone alters, digestion stops, and various chemicals flood the body to put it in a state of high readiness for whatever needs to be done. All of that happens outside conscious control. Reason is tentative, slow, and fallible, while emotion is sure, quick, and unhesitating…”
- Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

Having serious doubts about my own mostly-untested abilities to triumph in a life-or-death situation, I have always been fascinated by people who can act coolly and effectively under extreme duress. In fact, I am a bit in awe at those who – to paraphrase Kipling – can keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs.

The question naturally arises as to what allows some to flourish while others wilt, to endure when others crumble. What separates the quick and the dead at the margins of life? What are the factors – to take one example – that allow Captain Chesley Sullenberger to set US Airways 1549 safely down upon the Hudson River after losing all engine power, while copilot Pierre-Cedric Bonin of Air France 447 killed everyone in his Airbus after a minor malfunction in a pitot tube, apparently because fear caused him to lose all understanding of the elementary physics of flight?

Though Laurence Gonzales’s Deep Survival was written before the Miracle on the Hudson and the tragic loss of Air France 447, it helps to explain those incidents, referencing neuroscience, the stages of survival, and the importance of even a sliver of good fortune on an otherwise bad day.

The premise behind Deep Survival is simple, entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking. It explores how humans get into mortal trouble – typically in wilderness situations – and seeks to explain how that trouble can be survived. Gonzales approaches this topic using the case study method, resulting in a fast-paced survey of numerous disasters and near-disasters, ranging from climbing accidents to plane crashes, and sailing mishaps to lost hikers.

Some of the incidents described in Deep Survival are quite well known and previously covered in-depth. I’m thinking, in particular, of the saga of Joe Simpson in the Peruvian Andes, in which Simpson managed to get off the mountain after breaking his leg and being left for dead (a remarkable event recounted in a book and movie, both called Touching the Void).

Also prominently featured are a trio of sailboat-set calamities, starring Joe Callahan (who wrote about it in his book, Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea), Tami Oldham Ashcraft (who also wrote a book, later turned into the movie Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley), and Debbie Kiley, whose horrific experience in an open raft without water was turned into a television movie called Capsized: Blood in the Water, which premiered during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (the title gives some indication as to what happened to her companions).

Gonzales also finds plenty of lesser-known tales as well, which is fortunate, because sometimes this felt like reading a Cliff’s Notes summary of other peoples’ survival memoirs. These include snowmobilers triggering an avalanche, whitewater rafters getting pinned against rocks, and a Rube Goldberg-like catastrophe involving roped-together climbers descending Mount Hood. While narrating these events, Gonzales points out the things that were done right, the things that were done wrong, and how the human brain – developed over the course of thousands of years – can sometimes lead us astray. This phenomenon is illustrated in a section of the book about scuba divers who perished with oxygen still available in their tanks:

It appears that certain people suffer an intense feeling of suffocation when their mouths are covered. That led to an overpowering impulse to uncover the nose and mouth. The victims had followed an emotional response that was in general a good one for the organism, to get air. But it was the wrong response under the special, non-natural, circumstances of scuba diving. It’s possible that the impulse, the feeling of suffocation, was formed as an implicit memory by some previous experience that was not available to conscious (explicit) memory. And the divers had no way of knowing that the one thing that would keep them alive, covering their nose and mouth, was the one thing the organism would not tolerate. At the critical moment of decision, reason was not enough to overcome emotion. For no one would say that those divers believed they could breathe under water without a regulator.

Overall, I liked Deep Survival. There were times I thought it even had the raw potential to be great. It was one of those books I was talking about constantly, which is usually an indicator that things are working.

With that said, there are two major issues that kept Deep Survival from reaching the next level, and eventually dampened my enthusiasm.

The first is structural. Simply put, I found this poorly ordered. Gonzales divides Deep Survival into two halves, with part one devoted to “How Accidents Happen” and part two focused on “Survival.” This kind of framework is fine in theory. In reality, though, the two sections merged into one, with no clear demarcation. There is no real organizing principle. Instead, Gonzales sort of jumps haphazardly from one survival scenario to the next, interspersing them with his own experiences (which I’ll get to in a moment). The result is a book that is often repetitive and sometimes contradictory. There are also a lot of thoughts and ideas badly in need of empirical support. Gonzales, for instance, posits that many survival skills can be useful in business and in everyday life. He never once explains this concept, and it actually felt more like a self-advertisement – Gonzales is a corporate speaker, which he brags about extensively in the introduction – than a demonstrable reality.

This leads into the other problem, which I found more glaring: Gonzales’s authorial intrusions. I would say that fully half of Deep Survival is all about him. That is too much, especially because he comes across as the guy at the party you want to avoid, the one who will talk for hours without asking you a question, the dude who has been everywhere, done everything, and owns stock in the company. Gonzales cannot help but glory in his own accomplishments (he is an acrobatic pilot), list his many vacations (there is a needless detour to Hawaii, along with a number of ski trips), and to humble-brag about his celebrity friends (he did the Baja 500 with Lyle Lovett, which is an odd flex, and otherwise pointless).

There came a point when I became so irritated with Gonzales’s all-knowing, condescending tone, that I began to skim whenever I saw him using personal pronouns. I recognize, however, that others might not even notice. Still, I believe this could have been much more potent with a little less self-indulgence, and a little more practical advice (for example, Gonzales notes that if you’re going into the water to rescue someone, you should never tie a rope to yourself, because if there’s a current in the water, you might end up drowning)

Ultimately, Deep Survival has a lot of useful information, but it takes a somewhat concerted effort to separate those insights from the background clutter. If I’m being a bit less charitable, I might even recommend heading for the source material that Gonzales relies upon and skipping the middleman.

Nevertheless, if you do read this, it gives you stuff to chew on. For me, perhaps the most striking thing is that many of the experiences covered in these pages are easily avoidable. They can be filed under the category of first-world problems, which are the kind of problems you spend a bunch of money trying to find. There is – in other words – a vast gulf between Joe Simpson, who nearly died after choosing to climb a mountain in the Andes, and the unfortunate Uruguayan rugby team who ended up in the Andes after their plane crashed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all unnecessary risks should be avoided. That is to say, in that gulf is a meditation about what it means to be human, to take risks not out of need, but for some other reason entirely. Survival, after all, is an extremely relative concept. We can be as careful as we want, but in the end, the price of life is death.
Profile Image for Donald.
150 reviews7 followers
January 3, 2010
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. His own “survival” experiences aren't on par with the likes of Joe Simpson or Steven Callahan, or even with many of the adventurous souls I have personally known while living a boring and urban life in the Rocky Mountains. His rambling attempts to understand his father don't belong in a book on survival. Strike one.

2.Gonzales obviously did his homework, but in this book re-hashes many stories that are far better in their original form. I'd estimate that I've read 75% of the books he references, meaning there was limited new survival content. A surprising percentage of this book was simply Gonzales retelling stories others have already told. Better. Strike two.

3.Gonzales jumps from freezing mountains to neural physiology to traits of survivors to his relationship with his father, but never really ties things together. By the time I was reading his conclusions, I had no idea what he was trying to say. I read each one of his conclusions and asked myself “how did he demonstrate this in his story?”, and came away mostly blank. From the other reviews here, I'm not alone. Strike three.

If Gonzales' father wrote a book, I'd like to read it. Krakauer or Cahill could pull off a book like this one, but Gonzales missed the mark.

I had to laugh out loud when I learned that Gonzales wrote for Playboy. I believe his writing style lends itself better to articles than books, and Playboy isn't necessarily a venue that depends on fine writing for sales.
Profile Image for Jackie.
93 reviews4 followers
November 6, 2009
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 survivors "never ...... and those that succumb do," I asked myself, "How does he know that those that died didn't feel and behave the same way as the survivors, but were just set against higher odds?"

Obviously, his thesis did not impress me nor neither did his jumbled writing style. But maybe his writing style was the result of an indefensible thesis. I felt I was reading over and over again undeveloped reasons why I was supposed to follow his thesis.

Probably another reason I had trouble with the book is my disgust with the narcissistic characteristic of adventurers, who put themselves in harms way which often results in others risking their lives to rescue them. For certain some accidents are unavoidable ~ but what about those that aren't?

It was not hard to see how Gonzales came upon his obsession of surviving adventurers. His father survived World War II against great odds and Gonzales went on a life time search to find the answer to his father's survival. Yes, his father claimed a good part of his reason for survival was 'luck,' but that did not satisfy Gonzales and he tired me with page after page of possible survivor traits.

Also interesting to me was Gonzales conclusion that those lost should search for there way out and that those that stayed in one place were doomed to a slow death. I've always heard that if you get lost it's best to stay in one place. I did like Gonzales idea that if you did find yourself in dire circumstances that it is best to accept this new world as the one you are to live in and thus do the best you can until saved.
Profile Image for Left Coast Justin.
418 reviews90 followers
February 18, 2022
What a strange book. It seems to have been written by two different people -- a competent journalist who did a very good job describing the travails and survival of some very intesting people, and a free-associating amateur blogger who's watched one too many Simon Sinek TED talks. The latter personality covered the most pages, unfortunately, but at the end of the day I did learn a few interesting things, which tips it up to a three-star read.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. I am no psychologist, but one is struck by Gonzales' obvious desire to please; his inferiority complex stands out so nakedly that I couldn't help feel sorry for the guy. One of his tools is unbelieveably purple prose. Here's how he describes standing on a beach while parachutists -- friends, not foes -- descend nearby:
Now all the planes were gone, and truly there was no sound at all except my heart hammering. As I stumbled on the desert floor, watching scores of the creatures come down all around me, I knew that one must surely drift down on top of me and engulf me in the trembling petals of its mushroom flesh.
In the next paragraph, the trembling mushrooms have turned into gray jellyfish.

Other reviewers have mentioned the pointless name-dropping, the puffing up of his resume' etc. What was more bothersome to me was the disorganization of his thoughts. There's a few key points here about people who have survived horrendous circumstances:

1. They are adaptable and not 'rule followers' (though he undermines himself by talking about rules of survival -- if you fall out of a raft in whitewater, for example, flip onto your back and get your feet up and pointing downstream -- a very good rule indeed.)
2. Don't panic. Suck in as much information as possible about your surroundings and update your plan of action as needed.
3. Panic is a natural emotional response, and while it has evolutionary value, evolution did not anticipate problems like how to land an airplane or rappel down a cliff face, so emotions must be acknowledged and controlled.

Pretty simple stuff. But about two-thirds of this book are his random recollections, readings and interpretations of this stuff spouted out with no particular plan of how to best communicate this to the reader. I'm guessing it's a bunch of magazine articles tossed together with the barest dash of editing.

When he settles down to straight journalism, he does really well, describing incidents on Mount Hood, Cathedral Peak and shipwrecks in the Atlantic with clarity and precision. And he pays significant homage to my hero Charles Perrow and his wonderful book Normal Accidents. Perrow's book is one of those sneaky books that has ended up affecting my entire worldview in a way that many people reserve for the Bible or other religious texts. Perrow's main points are that "Murphy's Law is wrong -- most things that can go wrong do not. And so we get complacent" and that some systems are so complex -- an Airbus, a nuclear reactor, an insurgent force like the Khmer Rouge -- that things can go wrong in ways that have not only not been predicted, but are in fact unpredictable. If you get nothing else out of this review, then: Go read Normal Accidents. It's dull and academic and mentally thrilling all at once.

But back to Gonzales: The great insight that I took away from this book was his explanation of why people freeze up in situations that desperately call for adjustment. When people are shit-scared, they focus on the one thing that's going to solve their problem, even if the situation is rapidly making that one thing impossible. His very nice example is a pilot coming in for their first landing on an aircraft carrier. Pilots are apparently trained to aim above their target, since planes that aim at the target consistently land too early. But a pilot scared out of their wits will just stare at that warm, inviting start of the runway and ignore their training, ignore the radio, ignore the guy with the red lights waving them away, and in this case fly right into the side of the ship rather than onto the landing pad.

In times of danger, know your enemy -- a lot of it resides between your ears.
Profile Image for Heather.
29 reviews2 followers
December 28, 2007
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 awfulness from the title.

Profile Image for Michele.
205 reviews
January 18, 2010
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 illogical things. He mentions rescuers finding divers dead but still with plenty of air in their tanks. He attributes this to the divers panicking, lacking the "survivor" mentality. What he doesn't mention is that usually when this happens, nitrogen narcosis is the reason and it's caused by divers at depth getting too much nitrogen in their bloodstream, resulting in the divers acting "drunk". When this happens, it's not uncommon for them to remove their respirator and breathe in water. I was really bothered by this blatant omission and it made me wonder what other facts he was manipulating to make his point.
I didn't enjoy his writing- it might be suitable for a magazine article but as a book, there were a lot of story threads that never got tied up or even connected with one another. Even the survival stories, the most interesting part, are available as memoirs. I say check out the bibliography on this one and skip right to the good stuff.
Profile Image for Diana Pauksta.
22 reviews5 followers
September 2, 2007
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 are interesting survival stories that are often interrupted by gonzales's random thoughts. if a survivor says during an interview that "at one point i lost my cool, then i prayed to god and calmed down," gonzales will interrupt to write, "oh yeah, losing one's cool make one human and is necessary to survive." then, "oh yeah, praying helps you take stock of your situation, and it helps to believe in a deity." if another survivor said, "i didn't pray to god. i didn't think about anything but getting to dry land," gonzales will write, "yeah, keep entirely focused on your objective." it was entirely anecdotal. still cool if you skip to the survival stories.
Profile Image for Camie.
916 reviews193 followers
September 2, 2016
Sometimes I just like to shake it up as far as reading goes. Having been a family coordinator for 35 years , I'm a pretty good leader and fairly prepared person. I carry the usual Grandma kit, with tissues, fruit juice, crackers, and band aids. When I travel (especially abroad) I take along almost every possibility of what we might need. But I am not a big risk taker. I'm the only one in my family NOT scuba diving certified, exploring the deep is not for me, I've tipped a sailboat over and that was once to many. This book is pretty interesting reading about how when faced with life threatening situations, some make it and some don't. A lot of the braver things I've done like zip line through a Jamaican Forest or helicopter way to close for my liking to the cliffs of Hawaii were done years ago. The authors interest in the subject stemmed from his own father's survival after the fighter plane he was piloting was shot down over Germany. Most of the stories here are about plane crashes, rock and mountain climbers, snowmobiles and skiers, white water rafters and ocean sailors, hikers getting desperately lost in wilderness areas, and the different mindsets of those who perished and those who lived to tell their stories. If any one these are "your thing" you may enjoy this book. 3 stars
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,389 reviews33 followers
November 5, 2015
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 fascinated from an early age about how someone like his father survived...and why. He himself obviously felt that if he could understand why his father was 'cool,' able to survive terrible things with spirit intact, that he would be able to do the same.
The science of stress, fear, panic, and risktaking are covered. He writes about why people make foolish choices that lead them into danger, what we can do to avoid those errors and why some systems have errors built into them so that eventually a disaster is going to happen.
The author loves high-risk, adrenalin-fueled pursuits. He's an acrobatic pilot and a motorcycle rider. He admires fighter pilots, mountain climbers, solo sailors and surfers. But he is able to stand back from that admiration and analyze the people and their activities and how they face dangerous situations.
I found this book fascinating. I learned a lot about the mindset that allows people to survive the worst, most life-threating situations. I hope never to be in one of those situations, but if I do maybe what I learned in this book will help.
I was struck that most (not all, but most) of the people he writes about, the thrill seekers, are men. I'm not a scientist, so I have no proof of this, but I have a theory that the reason women do less of these high adrenalin thrill activities is that there's something in our chemistry that keep us from wanting/needing to do them. In a grand evolutionary sense men are expendable. Once they've provided some sperm, they can go off and hunt the tiger, climb the mountain, drive the motorcycle across the desert at 150 mph. A woman has to carry the baby, give birth, feed it and raise it, teach it what it needs to know to survive. She's necessary for a long time, so if she has a high drive to take unnecesary risks it harms the future of the species.
Five stars - read it!
Profile Image for sunny (ethel cain’s version).
387 reviews131 followers
March 23, 2023
The author spent a lot of time being ableist and fatphobic only to then spend the rest of the time talking about how it doesn’t matter how prepared or fit or healthy you are, it’s basically about your attitude and how you respond to fear.

His writing kept making me cringe and I’ve learned more watching episodes of I Survived.
Profile Image for Gavin.
279 reviews10 followers
October 31, 2019
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 ill advised 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. Apparently his father survived a plane crash in WWII and so he's spent his life trying to live up to the old man. To much daddy issues, man, grow the fuck up. I doubt that his dad WANTED to crash a plane only to survive. Furthermore, I think purposely risking your life because of some childhood point to prove is contrary to the whole spirit of survival.

The authors history as a magazine contributor is painfully obvious. He unsuccessfully attempts to make a book out of what reads like a series of semi-related articles. Remember the 'Drama in Real Life' from Readers Digest? Take those stories, loosely hang them together on a thread of survivalist theory and you have Deep Survival.

All that said, he has some interesting points to ponder should you ever find yourself in a survival situation:

1. Don't panic. Be cool, like Maverick and other awesome fighter pilots (they're really awesome).

2. Focus on small tasks and take pleasure on their completion. Like Rome, survival isn't built in a day.

3. Retain your good humour. It helps you forget that your gangrenous leg is slowly killing you.

4. Rest often. Even survivors need naps.

5. Don't give up. Bears can smell defeat.

6. Remember your loved ones. Surely your wife would enjoy seeing you again, right? Right?

and my favorite:

7. Don't go batshit nuts and try to kill your fellow castaways. That's not helpful, m'kay?

There we have it. Interesting topic. Some interesting points. A dash of poor execution. Shake well and pour.
Profile Image for Max.
137 reviews25 followers
May 27, 2012
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 limited understanding of (neuroscience in particular; having studied it in college, I know just enough to know that Gonzales doesn't know as much as he wants you to think he knows...if that makes any sense at all), and quotes from a wide range of seemingly irrelevant works just to make things feel heavy, maaaan (the Tao Te Ching seems to be his favorite for this purpose, though he's also fond of the Stoic philosophers). If you're a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, or similar authors that treat deep, complex topics in shallow, simplifying ways, you'll probably dig this. I just couldn't shake the feeling that everything I read was being dumbed down.
Profile Image for Books Ring Mah Bell.
357 reviews262 followers
January 7, 2009
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 tales he throws in a bit of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and unfortuantely, too many personal anecdotes. (He rode motorcyles in the desert with Lyle Lovett - ZZZZZZZZZ)

Tips: If you don't want to get lost in the woods, stay on the trails and with your group. Know how to use a compass.

Don't climb up frozen mountains. (I just don't get that)

In the event you are whitewater rafting, get thrown out of the raft, please don't say no when someone tries to rescue you.
Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 17 books2,931 followers
July 4, 2018
This is a fascinating book about how accidents happen, why people get lost, and how and why some people survive and others don't. Gonzales is also working through some massive daddy issues about his larger-than-life WWII veteran father, who survived being shot down by the Germans and went on to be a biomedical Ph.D. researcher, issues which have driven him, the son, to do all sorts of crazy things in search of the "cool" his father possesses. ("Cool" in the jazz sense of "be cool," although it also tends to translate in action into "cool" in that other sense of awesome and imitation-worthy.) Cool, says Gonzales, or the ability to keep a balance between your rational brain and your emotions in crisis situations, is a lot of what makes one person a survivor and another one not. Humor helps. Also empathy. People are more likely to survive if they are trying to help someone else, or if there's someone in their life they are trying to get back to

Gonzales backs up his ideas with a lot of neuroscience and a lot of closely analyzed examples, and I think he's more right than not, although I think some of his conclusions, such as that seeking out risk marks you as a survivor, are a little self-serving, since he himself is clearly an adrenaline junkie of the first water. Also, some of his own examples contradict that, like the Army Ranger captain who drowned on a commercial rafting tour. I could totally be persuaded that seeking out risk is good practice for crisis and that because you have practiced you are more likely to be able to achieve the state of cool you need ... but that's not quite what Gonzales says.

Overall, though, this is an excellent book, beautifully and thoughtfully written. Gonzales owns his daddy issues and in fact they make the book personal and empathizable in a way that a simple study of crisis and survival would not be. One of the best takeaways from the book is the Rules of Life Gonzales and his six-year-old daughter came up with:

1. Be here now.
2. Everything takes eight times as long as it's supposed to.

These seem to me like rules to live by.
Profile Image for Paige.
563 reviews127 followers
March 5, 2008
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 they'd have more of that type of information.

I really liked the survival stories, especially just that blurb about some crazy Japanese sergeant who lived "for the Emperor" alone in the jungles of Guam for TWENTY EIGHT YEARS!!!!!!!!!! WTF!!! I need to see a movie about that dude.

The best thing about this book would have to be the survival stories all the cool information about the brain. The worst part, for me, was the way he wrote, his personality. He wrote survival stories all right, although almost every time I found myself wondering, "How do you know every tiny detail that these people saw?!?!" I mean, if it was in an interview, I'd rather just read what the survivor said than read what this guy has to say about it. And I don't know, something about him (and it wasn't just a couple things, it was really persistent) just rubbed me the wrong way.

I still liked the book and would recommend it to people, though. If I found it for sale for $1 I would buy it, but if it was $3 I'd consider it.
Profile Image for Ying Ying.
273 reviews115 followers
May 15, 2019
I was very surprised that this book would be a 'spiritual' book. The author ascribes the survival process to a positive mental attitude and a zen mentality, where you accept whichever dire circumstances you are in and take whatever actions you can to move forward. It is about remaining calm and taking responsibility for yourself. It is also about going beyond oneself to survive and live for someone else.
The appendix, which is probably the most valuable portion of the book, contains distilled lessons covered through the entire book. The stories embedded in the preceding chapters are interesting, though relatively slow to go through.
436 reviews15 followers
February 27, 2009
Gonzales looks at cases of plane crashes, lost hikers, and that sort of thing to try to figure out what makes the survivors special. I have a healthy curiosity about this subject but found this book pretty useless. It's a lot of haphazard speculation and Gonzales never really reaches any sort of unifying theory about the subject. All I really learned from this book is that fighter pilots are even more bad-ass than I had assumed.
Profile Image for mehg-hen.
402 reviews54 followers
March 11, 2021
If you kind of love giving up, if you have to google "how to kill self-pity" and if the news/life/your imagination makes you take a look around and think a) everyone is fucked b) we are all helpless c) everyone is a victim, this book is a very good antidote.

He gets at the reserves of strength people have, now to build those reserves, and when you need to deploy them. In an insultingly petty parallel, I have a friend who taught me to work out very very hard, much harder than I thought I was capable of, and when I was getting over-dramatic, he would say "don't get emotional" and "tell yourself you can do it." It is annoying that those tools work in an almost universal way.

The stories of survival are incredible. A plane crash where only one person lives, getting shot out of the sky and falling 25,000 feet, and countless climbing accidents.

This is very good covid reading. It also will help you see you can make your own life better, and if nothing else you are not stranded at sea for over two months and pretty sure you might die. After reading that, it's much easier to climb my own personal obstacles which are frequently just the embarrassingly comfortable "but I don't want to" or "I'll face reality later." In a survival situation, experience with those thought patterns is a terrific way to end up dead.

The lesson is things can be overcome and survived. Also there's a great lesson/metaphor/theory about how a sand hill functions that will make you stop preventable accidents in advance. Also: put a survival kit in your car. But beyond anything, if something happens, get very angry and make jokes. I'M READY!!!
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,385 followers
December 15, 2016
Leitura legal e cheia de relatos de sobrevivência, escrita por alguém que se aventurou bastante e teve contato com histórias de muita gente. Ele costura histórias marcantes e bem escritas com lições que podem ser tiradas de cada uma delas, bem como o que faz alguém se comportar bem ou mal naquela situação.

Tem um certo exagero no conteúdo, no sentido de teorias do caos, sistemas complexos e similares que ficam um pouco forçados em relação com as histórias. Dá para entender que há uma relação, mas parece que faltou fôlego para amarrar as duas pontas, algo que o Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension faz muito melhor. E as lições de sobrevivência são um tanto repetitivas e redundantes. Mas como um todo é um bom livro, com histórias bem impressionantes.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
120 reviews20 followers
May 27, 2017
Well if I am ever in a survival situation...I'm dead!

Thought book was interesting but had it not been a required reading for school I would not have read it.
Profile Image for Branden.
45 reviews12 followers
March 6, 2009
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 these stories and the reasons why some people can be labeled as survivors. This book is part psychology, part neuroscience and part philosophy in the answers that the author discovers. This book doesn't just talk about literally surviving while being lost in the wilderness or stranded on a mountain, but also talks about how to survive in the business world and keep relationships alive. The main lesson I took from this and the main reason for why some people are survivors is that the survivors know how to keep their cool. Whatever situation you may be in, whether it's surviving the wilderness or surviving a work situation, the best thing you can do is keep your cool while you assess your new surrounding and adapt to your new situation. Accept the situation for what it is and realize that you're not always going to be able to change your environment, you must adapt and focus your mind on what you'll need to do to survive and panicking while you do nothing definately will not help the situation. Those who don't adapt are those that will eventually die.

Again, a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys reading about real-life disasters (Into Thin Air, Miracle in the Andes, Touching the Void, etc.)and those that conquer those disasters.

1 review1 follower
April 30, 2008
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, granted) and talks about him often, and toots his own horn on many occasions. But this is one of those books that I find relevance in constantly throughout my day.

The best point made is that "survivors" don't always survive, and non-survivors don't always die. The odds/fate are sometimes too great, even for the best of us. But survival isn't only about what skills and tools you have, but the correct mental outlook to enable us to think clearly and react appropriately when things get tough. And it doesn't have to be a true survival situation...divorce, death of a loved one, fired from your job...all require a solid mind set and the mental tools to "survive" it.
Profile Image for Daniel Christensen.
139 reviews17 followers
September 15, 2020
This is Gonzales’ free-ranging book on survival. Per the title – who lives, who dies, and why. It’s a mix of pop-psychology, pop-science, case studies, biography/autobiography and philosophy.
The pop psychology: people make bad decisions because of their mental models, their brains (especially inappropriate emotional cues), and bad habits of attention.
The pop-science: disasters are a natural consequence of complex systems.
Case studies: a really varied assortment of examples of when people survive (and don’t survive) all sorts of events.
Biography/ autobiography: how his father survived being shot down in WWII, and how it impacted Gonzales’ life.
Philosophy: what it means to live a present life.

I liked it. It was a fun mix. I should note that It got a bit too literary (flowery) in spots. I don’t think many of his theories can be easily falsified, so it sits somewhere between science journalism, story-telling, and pseudo-science. That’s not an overwhelming negative, the book wasn’t meant as a period reviewed article, but it’s a point to note.

That said, this is the second time I’ve read the book, and I think it holds up well.
Profile Image for ALI.
226 reviews4 followers
July 3, 2021
I thought—and still think—the concept of 'Deep Survival' is very interesting, but, unfortunately, found the execution a bit lacklustre. I'll keep this brief anyway, but, in short: this book was just difficult to read.

Gonzales jumps from story to story, glossing over any specific detail in favour of cramming in as many examples as he can fit, alongside some personal anecdotes and somewhat narcissistic retellings of his own "near-death" experiences (which inevitably pale alongside the others). It took me forever to get into 'Deep Survival,' and even then, I couldn't say I was really "invested"—the minute I thought I was following a story, Gonzales jumped to the next. The entire book is incredibly disconnected, and while Gonzales summary of his rules of survival at the end of the book was helpful, half of them I don't even think he showed at all before that last chapter.

All in all: great idea, bad execution.
Profile Image for Robert Cox.
428 reviews28 followers
September 10, 2021
-In inherently interesting topic where Gonzalez retells some exceptional stories and recounts research and expertise from other sources

-Everything else
-Gonzalez who almost overcome with his own greatness interjects irrelevant personal details and anecdotes. He is convinced that everyone from his young daughter to his ex wives are equally impressed with his existence.
-The author does not seem to bring anything new to the subject matter, presenting an amalgamation of others work and stories that he does little to bring value to
-Finally, the essential question of the book is not sufficiently answered. Pieces written the better part of a century ago by Frankl or Nietzsche give better answers to the question of survival in an qualitative fashion and I'm sure the number of better quantitively papers and books on survival number in the hundreds
6 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2009
Miserable. This guy draws vague and idiotic inferences from his exploitative accounts of survival. Hey guess what Gonzales? maybe every non survivor had the same traits and experiences as the survivors in your stories...right before they died and were unable to tell you. He bastardizes psychology in the process and even manages to come of self aggrandizing and desperate to look cool.
Profile Image for Little Black Car.
462 reviews
April 13, 2020
I rarely give up on books but this one just wasn’t worth the uphill fight with the author’s ego.

Most of the survival stories are told better in other books. I have no idea if the science referenced here is solid but the repetitive writing makes it sound like pretension over substance.
Profile Image for Cindy (BKind2Books).
1,600 reviews35 followers
August 16, 2023
I did mostly like this book. While it does not contain recent accidents (it was originally written in the mid-2000s), the stories are interesting and there's some good info on how to increase your odds of survival. For me, some of it comes down to "don't do risky stuff," although there are times that you are simply thrown into a perilous situation.

The book is divided into 2 parts - how accidents happen and who survives and how. Both really could have been their own book. I could see a lot of what I did as a med safety pharmacist in some of the info on accidents and how they happen. How people make mental missteps and how deviation from usual practice gets normalized. The second part was more focused on people in nature - whether climbing or sailing or some other activity - and how they survived either their own or someone else's stupidity. The guy hiking in the wilderness. The group taking a sailing trip. But lessons could be applied to other activities because even everyday things - like driving to work or crossing the street - can be risky.

I did think that the author injected himself into this story too much. I liked his story about his dad surviving a plane crash in WWII, but he appears to tell it only to explain his thrill seeking behavior (climbing, acrobatic pilot, etc.) It would have been more compelling without the personal trips down memory lane that seem only there to awe the reader.

Overall I liked it. The appendix, with its 'rules' of adventure, was worth remembering:

✅ To stay out of trouble and avoid accidents: Perceive, believe, then act. It's important to have a plan, and a back-up plan. But don't be afraid to change the plan (adapt) to changes in the environment.

✅ What separates the living from the dead is an ability to see the error and adapt, a determination to get back on the path. Even the most unforgiving environments allow a few sins if you adjust your behavior and take action in a timely fashion.

✅ Know your stuff.

✅ Get the information - consult experts about what you are doing. Park rangers. Lifeguards. You get the idea.

✅ Figure out what can go wrong - accident reports for instance. Look for the mistakes other people have made and be on the watch for similar things / avoid them.

✅ Be humble - don't think that just because you're good at one thing, it makes you good at other things.

✅ When in doubt, bail out. If you don't think what you're doing is worth dying for, then don't go just because you've paid for the activity or trip.

12 steps survivors take in the face of mortal danger:
✅ Perceive - believe. Notice the details. Believe your senses.
✅ Stay calm
✅ Think. Analyze. Plan. Get organized and set up routines.
✅ Take action. Break down tasks. Set attainable goals. Deal with what is within your power.
✅ Celebrate successes. Even the small ones.
✅ Count your blessings and be grateful.
✅ Play - keep brain engaged.
✅ See the beauty - it relieves stress and allows the brain to take in new info more effectively
✅ Believe that you will succeed / live
✅ Surrender your fear of dying and 'put away' the pain (resignation without giving up)
✅ Do whatever is necessary
✅ Never give up - let nothing break your spirit. There's always something else you can do.

And he notes that you can do everything right and still die, just as you can do everything wrong and still live. It happens all the time.

Quotes I liked:

...experience, training and modern equipment can betray you...it's not what's in your pack that separates the quick from the dead. It's not even what's in your mind. Corny as it sounds, it's what's in your heart.

Takeoff is optional, but landing is mandatory.

It is not a lack of fear that separates elite performers from the rest of us. They're afraid, too. But they're not overwhelmed by it. They manage fear. They use it to focus on taking correct action.

In certain kinds of systems large accidents, although rare, are both inevitable and normal. The accidents are a characteristic of the system itself....Efforts to make those systems safer, especially by technological means, made the systems more complex and therefore more prone to accidents.

The Power Law applies: The bigger the accident, the less likely it is.

Technological advances intended to improve safety may have the opposite effect...normalizing risk.

People routinely fail to realize that an accident not happening is no guarantee that it won't happen....Things that have never happened before happen all the time. Unfortunately...it is normal for us to die, but we only do it once.

Five general stages a person goes through when lost - denial that you're lost and press on; realization that you're lost and enter survival emergency mode where clear thought is lost and actions are frantic and counterproductive; sometimes after injury or exhaustion, attempt to form a strategy to match your (inaccurate) mental map; deterioration as strategy fails; resignation after running out of options and making of new mental map.

Purpose is a big part of survival, but it must be accompanied by work....The survivor plans by setting small manageable goals and then systematically achieving them.
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
505 reviews780 followers
November 15, 2016
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.

But this review is about Gonzales’ book, which aspires to “tell people [not] what to do but rather to be a search for a deeper understanding that will allow them to know what to do when the time comes.” His book tries to provide an overarching philosophy, really, for life survival, not just survival when you’re lost in the woods or hanging off a mountain. In fact, if there is a unifying theme of “Deep Survival,” other than survival itself, it is Stoicism. Quotations from Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius litter the book, and their ideas permeate every page. For example, from Epictetus: “On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.” This is because Gonzales believes, with demonstrated reason, that a Stoic approach to unexpected twists in life will maximize your chances for survival, in whatever situation you find yourself.

Gonzales ties all his stories and thoughts back to himself—back to his own growing appreciation for these principles he discovers during his life, and most of all back to his father’s experiences in World War Two and the rest of his life (he was a bomber pilot alive at the time this book was written, 2004). If you don’t like the personal angle, it may seem a bit navel-gazing. But he does a good job making himself and his family relevant, and after all, it’s his book, not merely a textbook for the wanna-be survivor.

Gonzales spends the first half of the book evaluating “How Accidents Happen.” In other words, most of what he focuses on is preventable survival problems. For him, if you stay home, there will be no survival problem. And, for the most part, if you go out into the wilderness and make the right choices, there will also be no survival problem. What Gonzales wants to know in this section is why people act in ways that create situations in which they must survive. His conclusion, shot through the book, is that it’s down to uncontrollable emotions, mostly for bad, but also for good. Quoting Remarque’s description in “All Quiet On The Western Front” of men who, having been at the front for a while, thrown themselves to the ground on sheer reflex, even before they can hear or sense a shell, Gonzales concludes “Emotion is an instinctive response aimed at self-preservation.” But that same instinctive response can also betray.

There is much talk of dopamine, brain structures, stress hormones, memory, and, in the end, “that quality which is perhaps the only one which may be said with certainty to make for success, self-control.” Our brains conspire to impel us by inciting emotions to do things that are not rational and not a good idea, but seem like a good idea to our brains. We need this type of decision making, since it is fast and effective, but it can kill us, if the emotion leads us to do something objectively stupid. Panic is only one of those emotions; pleasurable emotions are also extremely powerful. Controlling those emotions without losing their benefit is everything. And not just the control of manipulation—also the control of knowing what you don’t know. “A survivor expects the world to keep changing and keeps his senses always tuned to: What’s up? The survivor is continuously adapting.” “[T]he survivor ‘does not impose pre-existing patterns on new information, but rather allows new information to reshape [his mental models].’”

Of course, even choosing activities carefully while engaging in rigid self-control is often not enough. Accident always happen; it is the nature of systems, even simple systems. Small failures are self-correcting or at least not catastrophic, until the day they combine with other happenings to create total failure. As with a sand pile, which slides and collapses in unpredictable ways, you can tell that an accident will happen despite your best efforts, but not how or when. (It helps, of course, not to be stupid or have undesirable characteristics. Gonzales, like Ripley, casually slags fat people as unlikely to survive.) This is a commonality of systems: Gonzales notes that Clausewitz pointed out that military systems seemed simple, and therefore easy to manage, but “terrible friction . . . is everywhere in contact with chance, with consequences that are impossible to calculate.” Again, Clausewitz says a general must not “expect a level of precision in his operation that simply cannot be achieved owing to this very friction.” And trying to impose our own reality on actual reality when that friction starts to bite is disastrous.

Even if you choose carefully and have self-control, and avoid a system failure, you may still end up in a survival situation by simple failure of knowledge. If you don’t bother to inquire how the local waves differ from the waves you are familiar with, you may end up in trouble that you could have easily avoided. Gonzales does not promise that everything will be OK; he merely offers analysis and advice for maximizing the chance of avoiding problems.

Gonzales then turns to “Survival”—what to do when, for whatever reason, you’ve ended up in a survival situation. Many people “bend the map”—they try to, when lost in an unfamiliar area, rationalize how they are really in a familiar area. Don’t do that. Be as Stoic as possible. Accept your fate yet work to change it. Never follow rules given by others just because they are rules or because they are the group. Never give up. Fatigue is mostly psychological and difficult to recover from; rest proactively rather than pushing yourself. Balance risk and reward, then act decisively—be a “man of action.” Pray—even if it doesn’t work, it helps you focus and take action. (Although neither Gonzales nor Ripley emphasize it, both note that religious people are far more likely to survive.) “Plan the flight and fly the plan. But don’t fall in love with the plan.” Give yourself small goals and achieve small successes; follow a routine; create order. Focus on yourself, not on blaming others, or relying on them. And, ultimately, you may still die. “But what can be earned is a certain nobility—not in the sense of aristocratic status but in the sense of striving for quality and dignity of behavior and living.” The last is said by a wilderness firefighter of his daily job, but it can just as well be applied to a survivor in a single desperate situation.

None of what Gonzales says is all that startling. I imagine many of us would list some variations on these if asked the question, “what should one do to survive?” But Gonzales weaves these principles into a coherent whole, and links them to a range of interesting stories about real people. As with Ripley’s book, whose more cut-and-dried lessons Gonzales echoes, the reader can benefit quite a bit from this book, if you read carefully and absorb the lessons.
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