Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things Paperback – Sep 22 2009
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A plea for heightened awareness of our surroundings, and good reading for the how-things-work set. — Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Laurence Gonzales is the author of Surviving Survival, Flight 232 and the bestseller Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. He has won two National Magazine Awards and is a scholar at the Sante Fe Institute. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Cons: Last 10 chapters are an odd mix of material on saving the Earth, physics, entropy, natural history, "look who I met when I went here" and biography of Gonzales and his father. Sources not cited, only selected bibliography provided. Poorly edited: Caption of picture on page 22 of the hardcover is incorrect, "dollars" is spelled "dolars" on page 210.
After the success of "Deep Survival", it's almost like this book is just a mechanical attempt to get his next paycheck while his name still has cachet.
The first six chapters are excellent. His link between how we make decisions and our impact on the environment are elegant and provocative. He talks about how we walk about in a "vacation state of mind," oblivious to the effects of our actions. I feel like I see this every day in the way people interact with each other. He then applies this "insulation from reality" to a macro view of the earth's systems and how humanity interacts with them.
After chapter six, the book unravels, jumping rapidly from issue to issue, supporting his statements with increasingly dubious science and venturing into New Age territory. One of the major themes of the later chapters is entropy, which is appropriate as there is a general decline into disorder in the later chapters.
I didn't pick up this book expecting a treatise on environmental responsibility and was not disappointed when Gonzales started down that path. I can, however, see how a "rugged individualist" would be shocked to find ideas about ecological stewardship in a book that looks like it is going to be about wilderness adventures. For those people, you've been warned; maybe you should look for a different book. For everyone else, find this book at your library, read the first six chapters and then return it.
Here are a few sample quotes from the book and additional books that pertain to that quote:
"And one of the most frequently ignored factors in our behavior is the way we form models and scripts and use them rather than information from the world itself in most of what we do." - (Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average & Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things)
"As demonstrated in the Stanford prison experiment, anytime two groups are formed by whatever means, the likelihood is that the interactions between them will become hostile." - (Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression & The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom)
"The burning question for our survival as a species is: Can we leave the ape behind and grow up." - Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos & Living Within Limits: A Scientific Search for Truth)
In the end, Gonzales is attempting to pull off a monumental task in less than 300 pages so I understand why many people don't like this book. I don't believe that makes this a bad book in any way; I recommend it. I consider it a satisfactory introduction to General Systems Theory, even if Gonzales doesn't call it that. If you find the book interesting I would also read General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications and An Introduction to General Systems Thinking (Silver Anniversary Edition). I hope this review helps clear up some issues with the book and gives some additional perspective on the negative reviews.
EVERYDAY SURVIVAL starts with an intriguing premise that modern man has become conditioned to a "vacation state of mind," exposing him to various environmental dangers. Author Laurence Gonzales offers as examples people who saw the tides recede just before the big tsunami of 2006 and tourists who flocked to Mt. St. Helens just before it blew a whopping volcano. As a risk management professional, I began the book with interest and optimism.
Sad to report that, not nearly halfway in, EVERYDAY SURVIVAL veers off track and - in my view - never completely regains its footing. Gonzales sprints down the rabbit trails of evolution, the universe's creation, cosmology, his hispanic heritage, mating habits of bonobo monkeys, archaeology and his relationship to his father. What these themes have to do with the book's avowed premise is unclear.
The title oversells and misrepresents the majority of the book's content, much of which seems out of place or holding at best a tenuous connection to the theme of "why smart people do stupid things."
On second thought, maybe such a thematic digression is one example of the book's subtitle.
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