"Unthinkable" by Amanda Ripley

Review by Borodutch

"Unthinkable" is yet another book that I will start recommending to everyone who listens. The premise is simple: people don't know how to behave during disastrous events. We might imagine ourselves in such conditions, but when push comes to shove, most likely, we'll freeze in place or do dumb things.

The only way to get ready for such events is repeated practice. For instance, children lie down and roll over not because they've been saying these words but because they've practiced. When our brains encounter the "unthinkable," the only thing that can save us is muscle memory.

There is a reason why FAA staff always listens to the safety briefing during the plane take-off: all plane models are different, and human memory is unreliable. In an emergency, you either do the right thing immediately or hesitate to think and die. For instance, when it comes to emergency landings, you must ditch all the baggage behind! You might survive if you reach out for the carry-on, but people behind you might not. The same applies to not inflating the vests while in the plane.

The author describes how most people in a simulated setting of a plane crash still didn't perform well! Again, this is a simulation with no risk to life.

However, planes aren't the only thing that Amanda discusses. She details how and why disaster casualties happen — like earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, and other terrible occurrences. She compares cases when there were no casualties to when most people died. What's the difference?

  1. The correct approach to disaster relief education — humanity fails at this in general. We must do better.
  2. Building infrastructure that prevents disasters instead of welcoming them (like we do right now).
  3. Increasing community interactions: more tightly connected communities and groups of people tend to survive better.

From now on, I'll always listen closely to all the safety briefings, no matter how many times I've heard them. I am also researching the main disaster risks in my area and will get more ready for that. Aside from this, I was pleasantly surprised by the author's angle when describing 9/11, hurricanes, gunfights, and tsunamis — I haven't thought about these cases in such a light.

Again, I'm recommending everyone to read the "Unthinkable." I firmly believe that everyone would benefit from it!