“True stories of miraculous endurance and sudden death," reads the jacket copy of Laurence Gonzales' Deep Survival. This series of survival stories serves as examples of the way outdoor adventures can turn tragic, when life may be dependent on a single decision. Using the most recent scientific studies, Gonzales explains the sequences of events and/or decisions that can leave an outdoorsman in mortal peril within seconds. Careful planning, the fluidity of thought processes, the flood of emotions in unexpected situations- every issue comes into play.
The first part of the book, “How Accidents Happen,” specifies the precise behavior that can lead to unplanned-for incidents. In fact, too rigid a plan may be itself a deterrent to survival, if that plan keeps one from pursuing alternatives whenever necessary to meet changing conditions -- even quitting the adventure when that is the safest choice. The individual must always be prepared to deal with any obstacle nature may throw out to challenge him.
In the second half, “Survival”, Gonzales relates amazing tales of courage, the actual experiences of pilots, sailors and mountain climbers, the accidents that befall them and the split-second decisions that make all the difference. Gonzales stresses that it isn’t one’s equipment that saves his life, but rather the nature of what lies in his heart. The integrity of the individual is key to his success, whether in reaction to fear, lack of humility or the ability to overcome the shock of the moment. Emotions are of prime importance; fear, for example, can become a powerful tool when used to sustain the activity needed to secure safety. Every survivor must remember one salient fact: anything is possible. “The only thought you can allow,” says the author, “is one that directs your own cause of action.”
Gonzales pays homage to his father, whose extraordinary survival in World War II served as a lifelong example to his son. The author’s life clearly has been shaped by the integrity of his father’s personal endurance, tested by harrowing wartime conditions, and an indomitable will to live. The author draws strength from his father’s ordeal as he pursues his own challenges in the outdoors, acquiring survival skills that are tempered with humility and open-mindedness.
Outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers will appreciate the authenticity of Deep Survival and the spirit in which it is written. Those who have walked on the edge of life understand such tales of survival. Yet Gonzales offers food for thought to every reader. He delineates a clear path for emotional as well as physical survival. The lessons learned are applicable to even the smallest details of the life well-lived, the intent of that life, the willingness to endure and enrich. As an especially fortunate few have learned, “Days stolen are always sweeter than days given.”