Book Recommendation: The Survivors Club

Attacked by a mountain lion while mountain biking. Ejected from a fighter jet at supersonic speed. Falling off a cruise ship 50 miles from shore, without anyone knowing, and staying afloat for 17 hours.

Many of us enjoy reading a good survivor story. But, have you ever wondered about who survives these situations and why they specifically survived? Beyond the newscast sound bite, what really makes someone a member of the survivors club? Is it the will to live? Physical conditioning? A positive mental attitude? Luck?

If you want a deeper investigation into these questions read The Survivors Club (subtitle: the secrets and science that could save your life) by Ben Sherwood. For this book, journalist Sherwood interviewed legions of survivors, and not just the kinds you read about in adventure magazines, as well as doctors, psychologists, and scientists. He subjected himself to the navy’s Aviation Survival Training Center, where sailors learn to survive “mishaps” over open water, and the air force’s survival, evasion, resistance, and escape training.

The fascinating book is filled with big picture questions. Does the will to live make any difference? Are some people actually luckier than others? It also has many interesting facts. I was heartened to read (while flying in turbulence) that 95.7% of people survive airplane crashes (so don’t buy into the myth of hopelessness, pay attention and take action). And, if you must suffer a heart attack, do so in Las Vegas casino. They’ll have a defibrillator on you in minutes, faster even than in a hospital.

Naturally, all of these questions about survival lead to this one: would I survive?

Sherwood says everyone is a survivor, but it helps to know your survivor personality. When you buy a copy of The Survivors Club you get a special code to take a survivor profile test on Sherwood’s website, You’ll find your survivor personality out of five types — Connector (28%), Realist (24%), Thinker (21%), Fighter (15%), Believer (12%)— as well as your top three strengths (aka your survival tool kit) out of 12 traits.

The summary results of a Survivor Profile.

According to the test, I am a Fighter (beforehand I would have bet on Thinker or Realist). According to the Fighter profile, I attack adversity head on with purpose and determination. Against any odds, I’m driven to succeed and won’t stop till I achieve my goals. That sounds pretty good.

Since research shows you can increase your chances of surviving and thriving by leading with your strengths, the test also identifies those traits, also called your tool kit. Mine were identified as: flow, resilience, and purpose.

The test also identifies your bottom ranking tools, traits you may still have, just not as strongly. Mine were: faith, empathy, and ingenuity. Ouch, apparently I’m not overly empathetic, at least not in a survival situation. It also would be nice to see a complete ranking of all your traits.

I had one issue with the book, which covers a range of individual survival stories and scientific research. In a later section Sherwood focuses on the power of religion and faith, even miracles, to save you. The subject is interesting and worthy, but I didn’t agree with Sherwod’s statement that “faith is the most universal survival tool, if not the most powerful” (page 157).

While I understand that faith can be a very empowering survival tool, I questioned its first place status, which seemed granted without scientific reason. Indeed, when I took the online test, Sherwood’s tool kit ranked faith in 9th place (tied with purpose, see sidebar at right) among all test takers’ number 1 rankings of the 12 traits. First place was a tie between love and intelligence (14.89% each). To be fair, I’ll note that faith was one of my weakest traits.

Despite this issue, I still recommend The Survivors Club. It won’t give you all the answers to survive any situation, but it gets you thinking about what you can do to up your chances. After reading this book I’ve found I’m more mindful and situationally aware, positive about the inevitable struggles we all face, and ready to take control of those struggles. I’m ready to reread Laurence Gonzales's Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (referenced repeatedly in The Survivors Club) to see how Sherwood's book stacks up against that classic.

Visit for more information on the book, and profiles and videos of survivors. The site also has some short, free survival tests.


Filed under: People & Organizations, Books


5 reviewer rep
4 forum posts
August 19, 2009 at 10:58 a.m. (EDT)

Those who are attracted to this book may also enjoy Peter Stark's Last Breath: Cautionary Tales From the Limits of Human Endurance. It devotes a chapter to each of many ways to die in the wild, then talks about the physiological processes involved in each of those deaths. Some are actual accounts, others are made up composite tales; some victims succumb, others recover.

BTW, most of the ways to die are things that we've probably all risked (foolishly) in our outdoor adventures: hypothermia, hyperthermia, falls, etc. Some are less common or more localized - box jellyfish stings in Australia, e.g.

I found it fascinating.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
2,008 reviewer rep
4,456 forum posts
August 26, 2009 at 3:52 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the book suggestion, Kimby. I can only find at as an audiobook so far, but I'm adding it to my list.

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