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The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why Hardcover – Jun 10 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype (June 10 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307352897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307352897
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 2.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 658 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #517,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Ripley, an award-winning writer on homeland security for Time, offers a compelling look at instinct and disaster response as she explores the psychology of fear and how it can save or destroy us. Surprisingly, she reports, mass panic is rare, and an understanding of the dynamics of crowds can help prevent a stampede, while a well-trained crew can get passengers quickly but calmly off a crashed plane. Using interviews with survivors of hotel fires, hostage situations, plane crashes and, 9/11, Ripley takes readers through the three stages of reaction to calamity: disbelief, deliberation and action. The average person slows down, spending valuable minutes to gather belongings and check in with others. The human tendency to stay in groups can make evacuation take much longer than experts estimate. Official policy based on inaccurate assumptions can also put people in danger; even after 9/11, Ripley says, the requirement for evacuation drills on office buildings is inadequate. Ripley's in-depth look at the psychology of disaster response, alongside survivors' accounts, makes for gripping reading, sure to raise debate as well as our awareness of a life-and-death issue. 8 pages of color photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"A fascinating and useful new book.”
The New York Times
“The thinking person’s manual for getting out alive.”
"Ripley is a voyeur on a mission...Her conviction: We’d all stand a better chance of surviving a disaster if we understood what happens to our little gray cells when things get ugly....Spiced with surprising factoids, this book might save your life one day.”
Bloomberg News
The Unthinkable is part study of the science of reaction to extreme fear, part indictment of the US government’s response to the terrorist threat, part call to arms....The end result is a fascinating book....Despite its title and its subject matter, The Unthinkable is an optimistic…
The Times of London
“Engrossing and lucid...An absorbing study of the psychology and physiology of panic, heroism, and trauma...Facing the truth about the human capacity for risk and disaster turns out to be a lot less scary than staying in the dark.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

"This is a book with a purpose, meant to change things."
—Rob Hardy, The Commercial Dispatch

“Amanda Ripley takes us on a sometimes stunning, sometimes sobering journey through disaster, using great stories and respected science to show why some prevail and others do not.  The Unthinkable isn’t merely a book about disaster; it’s a book about survival — maybe yours.”  
——Gavin de Becker, author of the New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear

“With The Unthinkable, Amanda Ripley succeeds in two different ways. First, she covers, with great clarity and accuracy, the science of how the body and mind respond to crisis. In the process, she prescribes certain actions that will increase the chances of surviving a disaster. But it’s the second aspect, the stories, that makes the book so compelling. These tales leave your viscera enflamed because they compel two questions: ‘What would it feel like to go through that?’ and ‘Would I do the right thing and survive?’ This is an irresistible book.”
—Robert M. Sapolsky, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University

The Unthinkable is the most magnificent account of a survivor’s mind that I have ever read. It has helped me know and accept some of my reactions during my 72 day ordeal in the Andes. I can now understand how fear motivated me, and how denial also played a part. This book will help those who’ve never faced disaster to understand their own behavior and be prepared should their luck run out one day.”
—Nando Parrado, New York Times bestselling author of Miracle in the Andes

The Unthinkable reveals why, under the same circumstances, some people caught up in a disaster survive and others do not. Why some are hopelessly immobilized by fear and crippled by panic, and others are filled with strength, endurance, reactions and the other intrinsic stuff of which Homeric heroes are made. How can we ensure which we will be? In her well-crafted prose, Amanda Ripley shows us all how to prepare to meet danger and increase our chances of surviving the unthinkable.”
—Bruce Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Down to the Sea and True North

“When a disaster occurs we invariably learn the "what" of the event -- how many died, how many survived. Amanda Ripley’s riveting The Unthinkable provides genuine insight into the "why" behind the numbers. This remarkable book will not only change your life, it could very well save it.”
—Gregg Olsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America’s Richest Silver Mine

“Ever fantasize about what you would do in a disaster? How would you survive? How would you behave? After interviewing survivors of the World Trade Center attack, Amanda Ripley sifted through amazing tales of survivors from other disasters and mined various sociological, psychological, and neurological studies. Her insights are absolutely fascinating, and they could come in handy one day.”
——Walter Isaacson, author of the New York Times bestsellers Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: A Life, and Vice-Chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority

"Rich in information about the subconscious ways we face danger. In the event that someday you face a sudden life or death situation, reading this book will increase the odds that the outcome will be life."
——David Ropeik, author of Risk!: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You

“Reading The Unthinkable will be life-changing.  We live in an age of anxiety that has too many of us rocked back on our heels.  Once you’ve feasted on the rich insights and wisdom of this remarkable book, you’ll be standing tall again.  While our politicians and media have been keen to exploit and fan our worst fears, Amanda Ripley makes clear that individually and collectively we can meet head-on the hazards that periodically befall us.  We need not be afraid!”
——Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation

The Unthinkable is a fascinating, in-depth look at human behavior under extreme pressure. Its gut-wrenching stories span the full spectrum of action under duress, from panic to heroism. Not only is this book fast-paced and engrossing, it’s illuminating.”
——Michael Tougias, author of Fatal Forecast: An Icredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea

“Amanda Ripley has written a smart, poignant account about the dramas of the existential moment in this new century. She is a provocative voice of a new generation of writers and thinkers whose grasp of daily events and global disaster is piquant, engrossing, and syncretic. Above all, she makes sense of life today in an entirely entertaining and accessible way-- all with a brimming dollop of optimism. If you ever wondered, ‘What would I do if the unthinkable happened to me,’ you hold the answer in your hands.”
—Doug Stanton, author of the New York Times bestseller In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

"A must read. We need books like this to help us understand the world in which we live.
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author The Black Swan and Fooled By Randomness

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the best non-fiction book you are likely to read this year.

I was attracted to this book because I have been in bad car accidents and two hotel fires, once had the airplane window near me break during a flight, designed the plan for an event where the safety team saved two children's lives, and have driven through many dangerous blizzards where every other car was spinning off the road out of control. From those experiences, I learned to appreciate that there were good and bad features about my reactions during those stressful times. I was also astonished to see how many people would have been injured or killed if someone hadn't taken fast and insistent action.

Needless to say, I'm convinced that I will have experiences like these again in the future and wanted to be better prepared. I was very pleased with what I learned as Ms. Ripley explained the psychology and physiology of dealing with various life-threatening situations. With this added information, I'm sure I'll make faster and better decisions in the future . . . and implement those decisions better.

Many books written by journalists about serious subjects don't get much below the surface of who, what, when, where, why, and how of events they wish to use as set pieces. Ms. Ripley is the happy exception to that rule. This author really thinks about what she is studying and went all over the world to gain more information. In addition, she writes well.

I was very impressed by how well she expressed the problem of human beings not knowing what to do if they haven't thought about a problem before or haven't had experience in an area. This is a subject of much interest to me because it is the main barrier to people grasping important opportunities that they are ignoring.
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Format: Paperback
It's definitley worth your time to read this book. I found it quite eye opening to read the accounts of what people do when they are faced with the unthinkable. We think we know what we would do if we came face to face with a life threatening challenge, but as Amanda
Ripley so carefully illustrates through her research and documented accounts, unless you come up against a crisis which you have been trained to deal with, don't bet that your response would be predictable or even in your best interest. Ripley points out that humans do not always behave the way we would expect. This book tells us, we do not really know ourselves as well as we like to think . Along with the documented first hand witnessing of behaviours that seem downright strange in a crisis situation, the book is full of fascinating characters demonstrating the value of being mentally prepared for the unexpected.

I found the book both disturbing and encouraging at times. I am motivated to follow the suggestions given and will never enter an airplane, or a hotel room again without paying attention to what I usually consider mundane or common place. Just knowing what to be aware of is a valuable asset in a crisis. I would recommend this book to anyone who lives on the planet and would like to continue to do so.
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Format: Hardcover
I found the information presented here really interesting and eye-opening. Ripley takes us through the three stages of response in a crisis: denial, deliberation, and decision. I learned quite a lot that I didn't know before, for example: talking on a cell-phone causes tunnel vision, even for a short period after the call has ended (making talking on the phone while driving that much more dangerous!), one can have a genetic pre-disposition to PTSD, and the requirements for a situation to cause panic. That last one was particularly interesting to me since I have had my share of anxiety attacks in the past and one full-on panic attack which was scary at the time. I now have a much better understanding of why that happened. One of the things Ripley tries to stress throughout this book is that it is crucial to know your own 'disaster personality,' and have a well rehearsed plan in place so that when disaster does strike, you can jump into action right away. It made me more confident about my own ability to handle a crisis situation.
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By Brent L TOP 500 REVIEWER on Nov. 16 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not at all the typical disasters type book.

Her look at survivors and the nature of survival in emergencies and disasters was insightful and progressive.

The step by step trip the book goes on, walking you through the events and what made the survivors survive, why they did what they did, and how they seem it now, speaks to the nature of humans when confronted by the unknown.

I was very surprised by this book. Having been involved in emergency preparedness for a long time now, I was not expecting much I had not seen before. Ripley's approach was divergent from the norm, her insight was very different from the more clinical and scientific studies most in this field are all too used to, and the tone was one of exploration and learning rather than fear mongering (a breath of fresh air in and of itself).

I highly recommend this book to people in the preparedness and emergency management (especially planning and public education) fields.
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