Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Gonzales, Laurence

In his earlier book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales examined extreme situations to determine which physical and psychological characteristics correlate most closely with survival. In this new book his focus is on the everyday situations where we are perfectly comfortable and believe ourselves, mistakenly, to be perfectly safe. With vivid examples, Gonzales illustrates how modern man has fallen into pattern of creating scripts for his daily life that prevent him from thinking critically about his surroundings. Gonzales turns his talent for gripping narrative, knowledge of the way our minds and bodies work, and bottomless curiosity about the world to the topic of how we can best use the lessons of our evolutionary history to overcome the hazards of everyday life. Whether you are climbing a mountain or the corporate ladder, Everyday Survival will change the way you view your choices in our complex, dangerous, and quickly changing world. Editorial Reviews From Barnes & Noble In his 2003 book Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales examined why in life-threatening situations, 90 percent of people panic or freeze, while only 10 percent take prudent action. In this outstanding stand-alone follow-up, he explores how modern society has made us vulnerable to the hazards and threats of everyday life. Mixing recent scientific findings with compelling anecdotes, he describes how we have turned off or muted the evolutionary sensors that helped save our ancestors from extinction and offers telling glimpses into why we really act and react the ways we do. Kirkus Reviews A painter sips turpentine instead of coffee; a pilot lands atop another plane; a climber misses a loop on the rope. Such dumb things happen to people all the time-in part, writes Gonzales (Deep Survival, 2003, etc.), because we're programmed for them. Humans memorize "behavioral scripts" that chart courses for repeated, nearly automatic actions: When someone throws something at you, you duck; when your shoe is untied, you tie it. When a script is more complex-getting a plane up in the air, for instance-any variation in it can cause trouble, as when a pilot leaves out a step on the checklist because of distraction. Much of Gonzales's continuing exploration of the realm of disasters and surviving them is a catalog of missteps, bad decisions and scripting errors. The climber in question stopped to tie her shoes, invoking a script very similar to the one used in tying a rope, which she was midway through-she nearly died in the bargain. There's not much that can be done about these sorts of mistakes, however, since the our genetic hard wiring comes plays such a big role. Gonzales's narrative is a touch disjointed, perhaps because the science is uncertain and because he veers away to touch on other intriguing, but tangential, aspects of the strange makeup of humans. Yes, we're apes with killing technology, given to "killing our own children by sending them to war at this glorious stage of our evolution," but that doesn't have much to do with the point at hand, since we're not confusing that act with sending the kids off to college or summer camp. Set aside the requirement for coherent development, though, and Gonzales's piece has plenty of interesting vignettes, such as his discussion ofwhy some people survived the 2004 Christmas tsunami and others did not. A plea for heightened awareness of our surroundings, and good reading for the how-things-work set. Agent: Gail Hochman/Brandt & Hochman

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