WWWW: Laurence Gonzales on survival

DeepSurvivalLGThe brain is an organ of adaptation. We just have to learn how to use it.  — Laurence Gonzales.

This time we actually have a cluster of links about a single person and his ideas. Laurence Gonzales is a long-time outdoor writer. From a home base in National Geographic’s Adventure magazine, he undertook a long-term and deep study of the psychology, physiology, and social history of survival — and failure — in extreme situations. His Deep Survival is the result, and it in turn has spawned several follow-ons, including Everyday Survival and Surviving Survival. A quick overview of each work is available at his own page, along with media including news stories and video interviews.

Deep Survival had its genesis in Gonzales’s youth, when he heard the story of his father, an 8th Air Force combat pilot whose B-17 was shredded by German flak. He fell 20,000-plus feet in the cockpit section and, to the amazement of his rescuers, survived. He was the sole survivor of his crew, and his son always wondered: why? That led to a lot of investigation into both the scientific knowledge base and historical case studies that addressed the questions in the subtitle of Deep Survival, namely, Who lives, who dies, and why. It turns out survival exists as a sort of Venn intersection of skill, luck, and biology.  Deep Survival addresses survival in extreme situations, mostly: combat, disaster, adventure sports. (A lot of mountain climbers illustrate Gonzales’s work, often in a “don’t be that guy” way). In the follow-on Everyday Survival he looks at survival in less extreme situations. And in last year’s Surviving Survival he goes into the adaptations — biological and psychological — that result from surviving a near-run thing, and the ways humans can use them to their benefit, to recover from events that can be near-disabling in their power.

Surviving Survival is an excellent read for any of you that might be looking at a team picture some years in the future, going why him and not me? But Deep Survival is a must for anybody, and especially anybody who goes to the field. What you learn there about the roles of the amygdala and cerebral cortex in being lost, that one chapter alone, is incredibly rewarding for anyone who must navigate in the wilderness.

Along with the survival series — a fourth book next years is a United 232 survivor story, the tale of the airplane crash-landed in Iowa City after a total loss of control — Gonzales has also written two other works, a non-fiction book about flying (quite good) and a novel that reminded us of the themes and style of the late Michael Crichton. The novel, Lucy, ultimately wound up reminding us just how much we miss Crichton… Gonzales may be a better writer, in terms of technical expression, but the story was predictable and too many of the characters flat cartoon stereotypes. His is a unique voice, though, and every word he writes is worth reading, especially if you go where the iron crosses grow.

So here are some links.

  • This is an excerpt from Surviving SurvivalIt’s long but worthwhile, and tells the story of shark-attack survivor Micki Glenn… her bad break, her good breaks, and the ingredients of her remarkable psychological resilience.

That should get you started.

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