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I have been reading more now that I am home and have some downtime. I recently finished Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” and Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival.” Both were very interesting reads, and both were written by journalists, who happen to be my favorite type of author. Krakauer’s book was about the fastest growing religion in the United States, Mormonism. Specifically Mormon Fundamentalism and two murders that stemmed from one sect of these groups. He did his homework for this book, and it is one of his most detailed, considering he wasn’t there for it (as he was for “Into Thin Air.”) It gave me an insight to a religion that is much larger than I had ever known, and made me think about how religions start and spread in general.
The other book I just finished, “Deep Survival”, is about the survival instinct and how it exists in some people, and seems to be strangely nonexistent in others. Gonzales mixes true stories with scientific research to try and figure out what it is that allows some people to live while others die. As someone who likes to live a little closer to that edge of comfort and stability than most people, I found his analysis to be interesting – but slightly repetitive. As most writers do, he is figuring out the answer, or at least his version of it, as he goes. However, his book could have used one last compilation to trim up some repetitions, and focus the scope slightly narrower.
The survival instinct, in far fewer words, is the ability to utilize rationality, emotion, humor and fear in appropriate measures so that they build up the human constitution instead of tearing it apart. One of the most important traits is the ability to retain a sense of humor about any situation. Gonzales also quotes Lao-Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” many times, so often in fact that I went out and got myself a copy, and now carry it around with me pretty often. As a fundamental corner stone of Taoism, it teaches self control, moderation of the mind, and the ability to act by not acting. In survival, it applies to allowing yourself to accept the situation, and move forward with what you have to do to survive.
I highly recommend both books, but Krakauer’s is a much longer read, simply because of its detail. I am currently reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, which discusses how societies survive or fail, and he utilizes a case study method looking at farm communities to the Mayan downfall. I’ll let you know how it turns out.