The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley

Posted on: May 18, 2010

In a stressful situation, our bodies and minds are hard-wired with fairly predictable behavior patterns. Perhaps surprising to many, we don’t immediately jump to panic mode. Instead, we tend to freeze, much like a deer in headlights, when confronted with disaster. When mankind lived side by side with predators, this freezing helped us to survive in that many creatures hunting us searched by sight as much as scent. However, this doesn’t help us much when we’re facing a burning building.

The good news is, we can alter that hard-wiring and adapt our behavior to better suit the threats we face today.

Amanda Ripley is a reporter for Time magazine. She has traveled the world for several years, covering a wide range of human disasters – 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Washington sniper attacks, and the 2003 Paris heat wave. During this time, she examined the human behavior that was exhibited during these disasters. She also researched past disasters, such as the Titanic. She interviewed survivors of fires, shipwrecks, and terrorist attacks, trying to learn how they reacted and, perhaps more importantly, why they reacted as they did.

Ripley also delves into the scientific world, examining studies that have been done on panic, stress, and the effects on the body and mind. She undergoes simulations at various training facilities to understand firsthand how people respond to stress.

The Unthinkable is the distillation of what Ripley learned in her research. Through the interviews and scientific analysis, we learn what “works” and what doesn’t in order to survive disasters. We find out why some people tend to act in a heroic manner while others remain passive. We also read about how there is a tendency for people to remain within their expected “roles” in society–those who aren’t in charge tend to remain followers, though there are exceptions.

This is truly an utterly fascinating study into human behavior. I cannot possibly recommend this book highly enough. In my opinion, this should be required reading for anyone who is even remotely interested in disaster preparations. Only through understanding why we act as we do can we then take the necessary steps to change our behavior ahead of time.

We have added The Unthinkable to our Amazon store here.

2 thoughts on “The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley

  1. I just found your blog, and am noting which books particularly interest me. You’ve provided a nice resource. Thank you.

    I can suggest a couple of additional titles, although they may already be on your “to be reviewed” list:

    Alas, Babylon by Pat Conroy
    The Postman by David Brin
    The Stand by Stephen King
    Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
    On The Beach by Neville Shute
    A Canticle For Leibowitz byWalter M. Miller, Jr.
    Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
    Some Will Not Die by Aldys Budry
    The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
    Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
    Down To A Sunless Sea by David Graham
    Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt
    Another Place To Die by Sam North
    The World Enda In Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar
    Tomorrow! (Beyond Armageddon) by Philip Wylie
    Triumph (Beyond Armageddon) by Philip Wylie

    Happy reading!

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