Prepper Book Review: The Survivors Club

7 Jun

Having been a prepper for over thirty years, I’ve read my share of survival books, survivalist books, and prepper books. Most of what I’ve learned, one way or the other, happened decades ago. I’ve read books on combat, war, wilderness survival, self defense, homesteading, and self sufficiency. I’m pretty much read out of the genera. As they say, there’s no new thing under the sun. Sure, I’ll learn something interesting here or there, but I seldom feel compelled to read a new survival book. The one group of books that still gets my attention are the books which chronicle true stories of survival. These books objectively ask the question: What separates a real life survivor from a non-survivor?

The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood is in this class. Sherwood isn’t a survivalist. He’s a journalist. He approaches the topic objectively and without bias. He has no particular ax to grind or agenda to push. If you’re looking for a book to understand the basic psychology of survival, this is a great choice.

If you have extensive military survival training or other survival training, you’ll immediately recognize much of what’s in this book. Some of it will appear common sense. It’s interesting to see how this knowledge plays out for other people in different situations.

What are some of the book’s lessons?

1. In disasters, many people don’t panic. They freeze. They suffer brain lock. The way I remember this being portrayed is that when a person is confronted with something completely alien, their brain searches for similar situations to decide how to respond.

For most of us, in most disasters, we don’t have experience or a mental script to fall back on. Most people haven’t been in a crashing airplane, a burning building, or attacked by a psychotic with a knife. Our mental search draws a blank and we search the mind again, risking putting us into an infinite mental loop.

Some people want to deny the reality of the situation they find themselves in. The book does a great job of discussing this.

The corollary to this is that if you know you might confront a particular emergency, it’s best if you have some training. The training will give you a blueprint of how to respond. The blueprint will never exactly match the situation, but it’s a start. Sherwood describes how he, as an author, got access to participate in Navy helicopter crash training. As part of the book, he participates in commercial airplane crash evacuation.

2. Situational awareness is crucial. Situational awareness encompasses many things. It means you appreciate the risks you face. You’re as aware as you can be of the situation you find yourself in. You’re aware of your resources and limitations.

An important example Sherwood talks about is a professor who studies “inattentional blindness.” This means we can only visibly focus on a narrow range at one time. To take in more of what’s happening we need to look around and pay attention. As many drivers know, we should constantly be visually scanning for threats. The eyes should be moving. The professor makes it a point to consciously scan a traffic intersection for those nefarious drivers who run red lights and cause many accidents. Sherwood writes about this in the context of accidents and luck. Many accidents can be prevented by extra awareness. You’ll have better “luck” in life if you pay attention.

Another good example is counting seats on an airplane and knowing where the exits are. As Sherwood experienced in his crash training, a plane could be filled with thick smoke and you might not be able to see your hand in front of your face. Where is the nearest exit? If you’ve counted seats, you could move seat to seat with your hands as your guide.

3. The role of active passiveness is important. Just because you aren’t active, doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking and formulating a plan of action. You’re mentally scanning for opportunities before you seize on one.

I’ll take an example, not from the book, but from the news. The terrorists who bombed the marathon car jacked a guy. When one car jacker went to get gas and the other put down his weapon and started playing with a GPS device, the hostage made his get away. If you’re ever in a situation like this, there is a huge difference between being passive and being actively passive. See, too, the role of situational awareness. You want to take in all the information you can and seize the best opportunity.

4. You need to make good decisions. Sometimes your decision will be made instinctively and other times analytically. Sherwood tells the story of a lady who fell onto a knitting needle that entered her heart. She realized that pulling it out was like taking a cork out of a bottle. She left needle removal to the doctors. This was credited with saving her life. Ironically, the book says famous crocodile hunter Steve Irwin did the exact opposite when he was stung by a bull ray. He ripped out the stinger, possibly severing his atrium, killing him.

5. If you want to live, you need to keep fighting. We won’t all make the right decisions in every emergency and it can kill us. So, too, some situations aren’t survivable. But if you really want to live, you can have much more impact than you might think.

In one of the saddest stories in the book, a troubled young man jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Deciding he wants to live, on the way down, he makes it a point to right himself so his legs will enter first. On impact, his arms, legs, and much of his body is smashed and he’s forty feet below the surface of the water. Had he landed head first, he would have died instantly. But he can’t swim due to his injuries, and he prays for God to help him. A sea lion nudges him from underneath and gets him to the surface.

For those people who like taking online tests, the book ends with a “Survivor Profiler” test you can take online.

Review by Charlie Palmer -author, The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning

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