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Publisher's Summary

It lurks in the corner of our imagination, almost beyond our ability to see it: the possibility that a tear in the fabric of life could open up without warning, upending a house, a skyscraper, or a civilization.

Today, nine out of 10 Americans live in places at significant risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, or other disasters. Tomorrow, some of us will have to make split-second choices to save ourselves and our families.

How will we react? What will it feel like? Will we be heroes or victims? Will our upbringing, our gender, our personality - anything we've ever learned, thought, or dreamed of - ultimately matter?

Amanda Ripley, an award-winning journalist for Time magazine, set out to discover what lies beyond fear and speculation. Ripley retraces the human response to some of history's epic disasters, from the explosion of the Mont Blanc munitions ship in 1917, to a plane crash in England in 1985 that mystified investigators for years, to the journeys of the 15,000 people who found their way out of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Then, to understand the science behind the stories, Ripley turns to leading brain scientists, trauma psychologists, and other disaster experts, formal and informal, from a Holocaust survivor who studies heroism to a master gunfighter who learned to overcome the effects of extreme fear.

Finally, Ripley steps into the dark corners of her own imagination, having her brain examined by military researchers and experiencing through realistic simulations what it might be like to survive a plane crash into the ocean or to escape a raging fire.

Ripley comes back with precious wisdom about the surprising humanity of crowds, the elegance of the brain's fear circuits, and the stunning inadequacy of many of our evolutionary responses. Most unexpectedly, she discovers the brain's ability to do much, much better, with just a little help.

©2008 Amanda Ripley; (P)2008 Random House, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Overall
  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 10-29-10

these days, you can never know enough......

First, Kirsten Potter performed a stellar narration. The book goes into some interesting detail about why some survive and others perish in disasters. In the last 30 or so minutes of the book, there is an amazing story about a security guy at MorganStanley who was on-site during the 9/11 terrorist attack. It describes who this guy was, what he did, and how it made such a positive difference in the survival rate on that terrible day.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sara
  • Mobile, AL, USA
  • 10-20-08

fascinating

This (audio)book is endlessly fascinating. The author reveals that human behavior in disasters and emergencies often differs greatly than we'd expect. Interesting for a broad audience, and easily understandable.

25 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • Duane
  • DPO, AA, United States
  • 12-10-11

Essential Listening for Survival

I found this book interesting from multiple perspectives.

As a self-defense instructor (LEO, Martial Arts and Women’s ) I found this to confirm some training methodologies and explain some of my students’ successes. The lesson that Ms. Ripley showed in multiple contexts is that realistic repetition is the key to success in a survival situation. This runs counter to many self defense and martial arts methodologies that teach multiple techniques for differing situations. As a self-defense instructor it reinforced my instinct of teaching the basics in realistic situations until muscle memory is developed.

As an emergency preparedness professional (part time collateral duty), it has reinforced the need to focus on individual preparedness and the need to conduct a risk assessment of the most probable and dangerous contingencies. The analysis of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, and the D.C. plane crash were very interesting and illuminating on human behavior in crisis situations and provide recommendations for how professional emergency preparedness officials could reduce loss of life. The realization gained from this book is that I was previously too focused on regulatory requirements and not on the bottom line - reducing loss of life. I will use this book as a reference in my Emergency Management course work. As a citizen it has motivated me to be more responsible and prepared for my families survival in natural and manmade disasters.

As a retired U.S. army infantry officer with five combat tours, it increased my understanding of my PTSD and explained the behavior of other people involved in previous traumatic experiences that I was involved. All of the information that Ms. Ripley presented made sense to a combat infantryman.

This book is worked well in the audible format. Although this book is essential listening, it is not something that I would use as a reference, although I would listen to it again. I would buy this in hard copy only to gift it to other people. The narrator was not annoying and I was motivated to listen to this book in all of my spare time. Listen or read this book now before you are in a life or death situation!


13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Loved this book on many levels.

What made the experience of listening to The Unthinkable the most enjoyable?

They looked at data, personal experience and MRI's to determine how and why people respond the way they do to trauma and that has value.

What other book might you compare The Unthinkable to and why?

Maybe Tipping Point or Freakenomics to make a far fetched corollary.

What about Kirsten Potter???s performance did you like?

She sounded vested in sharing the story and was easy to listen to for long stretches.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Your world has just been torn apart by the scariest thing imaginable how will you respond?

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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The Mind In Crises

Would you listen to The Unthinkable again? Why?

I would listen to this again. Everybody reacts differently in emergencies.This could save your life.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Are you ready when the sh** hits the fan.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Scott
  • La Vista, NE, United States
  • 08-21-12

Very interesting book about human reactions

What did you love best about The Unthinkable?

I loved how the author showed you through several ministories about real people and what I did correctly... at least in that particular incident and what was going on in their brain. The author effectively debunks some myths and has enough detail from anaytomy to psychology to satifsy a reader. FYI the stories are personal and interesting and not overall "touchy feely" which is great for me. She gets you to sympathy with the people in the story without going on and on as many books do.

What does Kirsten Potter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

She is very clear to understand and uses enough verbal skill to make it actually seem like a dialog and interpersonal chat.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Honestly too many parts were so good, but I would say how a person survived both Twin Tower attacks; it was utterly fascinating.

Any additional comments?

I do not think this book would be good for simply reading so you know what to do. Not saying most people buy it for this, but it is interesting and greatly helps you understand society and individuals when disaster strikes.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating!

First, this book is full of stories of actual survivors - and non-survivors -- of disasters, the stories are inspirational and motivational. Second, this book delves into the physiology and sociology of disasters which is so fascinating and presents a challenge I am trying to meet -- to be aware and be prepared.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Valuable insights

Which character – as performed by Kirsten Potter – was your favorite?

This is not a novel. No characters were "performed." Potter's narration was superb.

Any additional comments?

This is a book that gets you thinking. And it sent me off in many directions of research. The documentary film The Man Who Predicted 9/11 (Youtube) is also well worth watching.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Essential read for everyone

This is quite essential book for everyone to ensure his or her safety that can lead to raising overall disaster risk reduction.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

a firehose of great info

a ton of great info with interesting stories to go along with it. highly recommend if the science of survival tickles your fancy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Justine
  • 12-17-09

Engaging

This book is very engaging, and quite emotive. The disasters discussed are modern, and the science that accompanies is relevant and well researched.

There are some things in this book that everyone should be told about, and for that reason I think that you should get this book right now!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • G. Hamilton
  • 10-18-17

Super Interesting

Great analysis of many dimensions of human behaviour. Excellent interviews and the book was well organised, returning to people’s personal experience of certain events to compare and contrast different facets. This was complemented by thorough academic research.