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I Read Books: The Unthinkable

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The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why

This was a book I actually bought instead of borrowing from the library. I bought it while visiting Manzanita from Ekahni Books. We were talking to the owner of the shop about tsunamis along the Oregon Coast (I’m not obsessed. I’m not) and she pulled this book from the shelf. It’s not a disaster survival book. It’s not about what to do during an emergency. It’s about what you’ll do in an emergency. This book is about human behavior and what we do in crisis situations. Chances are, you’ll act in predictable ways. Would you freeze in place? Would you wait for an authority to tell you what to do? Would you take action and escape? Would you be a hero and save others?

The author interviews survivors of various disasters and asks them what they did, how they felt, how they survived. In the first chapter, she talks to survivors of 9-11. I had to push to read through it. It was well written and easy to read. It was an interesting story. But I didn’t want to be one of those people fascinated by mayhem and destruction. It still feels a bit emotional, even ten years later. My inner 85 year old clutched her pearls and thought, “Why would you want to read about that?”

However, the book wasn’t gratuitous about any of the emergencies, and didn’t linger too long on the emotional aspects of these events, beyond what happened in the minds of survivors in those moments. Did you know that people evacuating a plane have a tendency to try to collect their belonging from the over head bin, even if the plane is on fire? Did you know that most people will completely freeze like deer in life threatening situations? Have you ever had an event in your life where time seemed to slow down and everything happened in slow motion? But then, why would someone jump into a freezing river to save plane crash victims, while dozens of onlookers stayed on shore? Who runs into a burning building to save others?

Not to sound paranoid, (I’m not. I’m not!) much of the United States lies in the path of natural disaster, or potential terrorist attack. Planning, preparedness and technology can help, to an extent. While we can’t be prepared for everything, and no one wants to live in a state of fear, understanding the stages of denial, deliberation then action, can mean life or death in a crisis situation. Reading this book will not give you specific tips for surviving disaster. There are plenty of preparedness resources out there. But this book will hopefully make you keep your wits about you in an emergency.


  1. For some reason I’m always the first to react when someone near me is having a seizure. It’s happened 3 times in my life. I actually saw a girl seizing in class once in college, and the girl behind her, picked up her coffee, stood up, backed away and yelled, “What do we do? What do we do?”

    Don’t worry about it and save your coffee!!!!!!!

    • Wow…Three times? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have a seizure before. You’re like our mom with the lightning (nearly struck five times.)

  2. meredith and i were seperated at birth, seizure-magnet-wise. i think maybe because we know what to do (not that there is a lot you can do), incipent seizures sense that, like through the force, and happen near us.
    i’m impressed i got through that with a straight face.
    i’m gonna have to locate this book. there is another compelling book, o course i cannot remember the title, but it is bright yellow and was about surviving crazy stuff that happens in the woods. like your canoe goes over a waterfall, or a grizzly joins your for a dip in a small lake… facinating reading. i sat on the floor with it, in some little pretentious shop on the 3rd st promenade, until jake came back and dragged me away. lol.

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