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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.

I hope that Ms. Ripley will consider writing a book that looks at why people don't seize opportunities when they are not in a threatening situation. I believe that her recommendations for better leadership, more preparation, clearer directions, advance experience with simulations, and knowing yourself better would apply to that class of problems as well. By combining the two perspectives, I think she could help us understand how to be more successful, as well as safer.

Brava, Ms. Ripley!
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on September 25, 2009
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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on August 31, 2010
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 16, 2013
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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on December 7, 2012
A conversations starter and page-turner, this book leaves you both in shock and astonishment at the way fear and danger manifests in human beings. Studies of where people have lived when they should have died, and where people have died when they should have lived.. all provide insight into the reasons why disasters pan out the way they do. Finally, Ripley really makes you think about the way you might respond in these situations and provides insight on how you might change this behaviour.
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on January 22, 2014
Very well researched and even the author puts herself to the test to find out if she has what it takes to survive. We can all develop a survival mentality. Read this book and pass it on to a loved one.
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on September 29, 2015
Amanda Ripley is a great author. I read her other book on Education and it was equally well done. Insightful, easy to read, and great information.
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on September 27, 2008
This book is quite good, particularly if you'd like to evaluate yourself and understand how well you might do in a life-threatening emergency.

One criteria, which is used to predict how well those being tested for admission into our military's Special Forces will do, is especially intriguing. You're asked if you've experienced three symptoms:

1. Things seem to move in slow motion.
2. Things seemed unreal, as if in a dream.
3. You had a feeling of separation from what was happening, as if you were watching a movie or a play.

Answering "Yes" to all three means you're LESS likely to make it through the grueling Special Forces training. In a tight situation you'll probably freeze or panic. That's not good when bullets are flying.

At first, I was disappointed. I'd answered yes to all three, but based on experience, I think I handle a crisis well. Then I noticed that the questions are preceded by "thinking back over last few days...." Oh, that makes an enormous difference. I never have those feelings in day-to-day life. In fact, it's been years since I had one, They only come in life-threatening experiences, such as while mountain climbing and in a car accident that left both cars totaled.

It turns out that's OK. Experienced Special Forces operatives have precisely those experiences in tight situations. Kept within limits, they help us focus on the danger at hand and shut out distractions. But if you have them in daily life, your brain is likely to be overwhelmed in a real emergency. Instead of seeing only what you need to see, you see nothing. Instead of seeing things in slow motion, you freeze. Instead of separating slightly from events, you tune them out entirely.

In one case, I was in a precarious spot on a cliff face when the friend I was with slipped and fell. If both of us were to live, I had to pass through the three stages the author discusses. Denial was gone in a flash. We were roped together, so if I didn't act quickly, I'd snatched off the rockface after him. Deliberate took less than a second. The rock was too bare to provide a handhold, so my only hope was to grab the rope and exert as much drag as possible before it snapped taunt. If that meant my hands were ripped to shreds, then so be it. Decide was more like acting and meant grabbing the coiled rope and letting the last twenty feet burn through my hands. After I'd arrested his fall, I remember looking at my bare hands, expecting to see flesh ripped to the bone. They were merely a bit red from the friction.

My only complain comes from her blog, linked from TheUnthinkable dot com. There she makes remarks about gun control that are silly beyond belief. She's certainly not like the marvelous Sarah Palin, who rides snow machines through a frozen wilderness and hunts moose without a flicker of fear. And lack of confidence and knowledge about weapons doesn't speak well of her in a crunch, since two traits of those who do well in danger are that they're confident of their abilities and prepare well. "What if her reporting of studies of people under stress is equally flawed?," I asked myself. Probably not, I eventually concluded. She's clueless about anything connected with guns because she works for Time magazine, where that sort of ignorance is the norm. But she probably got the other studies right.

In short, the book's well worth reading. Just don't ask the author to go hunting with you. She might not panic, but I'm not sure she knows which end of a rifle to point toward the target.

Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II
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on February 9, 2016
Good insight into surviving the unthinkable.
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