Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - And Why, by Amanda Ripley

I received this book completely free in the mail through the program Read It Forward. I was excited to get it, because I had actually read a short review of it in Oprah magazine, and it sounded interesting. While I was reading it, it was the week of 9/11 and there was a lot in the news and on TV about those days. I saw the film United 93 and a National Geographic special on 9/11 at the time I was reading the book, so it all seemed incredibly topical to me, not to mention the fact that we had just returned from a visit to the US and had just been through all the international plane travel hullaballo. Who doesn't think about a disaster happening while travelling?

Amanda Ripley is a Time Magazine journalist and her book is excellently written and researched. In spite of its very serious subject matter I highly enjoyed it. Using examples and survivor stories from various disasters, accidents, and terrorist attacks, Ripley walks us through the different stages people go through when put in such a dire situation. Reactions ranging from denial, fear, resilience, panic, paralysis, and heroism are all explored.

Of course, what I was most interested in were Ripley's recommendations for those of us who might one day be in an unthinkable situation. The website for the book has more specific advice here, but two things she does mention in the book struck me:

- always read the safety card on every plane (all plane models are different) and be sure to locate the nearest exit as you board
- after checking into a hotel, take the stairs down from your room so you are familiar with a safe route out

And it is important to be aware of the normal psychological pitfalls that we are all liable to fall into as unexpected things happen, such as being overly optimistic or passive or sucumbing to group dynamics; by reading this book, you can make yourself more aware of what they are and hopefully keep yourself safe in future.

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