Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

by Laurence Gonzales
W.W.Norton

book review by Christopher Klim (with commentary from the Eric Hoffer Book Award)

“The design of the human condition makes it easy for us to conceal the obvious from ourselves, especially under strain and pressure.”

Accidents cover a wide spectrum of often life-threatening scenarios. On the surface, survival appears random or at the very least circumstantial, but the survivors or top performers when challenged are those that use logic in harmony with inbred animal instincts or emotions, and they never follow the rules, not even their own, yet keep in touch with all of their knowledge and resources, their very position on the planet.

Author and journalist Gonzales offers a comprehensive examination of the path through living and dying in crisis. The answers aren’t singular or predictable. Just the stories alone, as retold by Gonzales with passion and a journalist’s conciseness, are worth the read, and they are intermittently supported by science and research to complete the picture.

The book is divided into two parts—accident and aftermath—and it’s the latter, the stories of survival, that are even more compelling, as well as illustrative of the human experience and the way the mind operates. Unfazed by its promising title, this eloquently written and well researched investigation of survival through crisis entertains, informs, and incites. From the flawless landing of a military jet plane on a moving ship in the dead of night, to the miraculous drifting to safety through shark infested waters, one act of survival after another is described in minute detail.

The book makes an important contribution to the survival literature from both an academic and a practical standpoint, as it incorporates fact and humanity, science and soul. Not only valuable reading for individuals engaged in high risk activities, it’s for all who will face emotional, physical, or financial distress at some point in our lives. And how do you know when that will come? You don’t. One of the central messages is to be prepared b developing a core to fall back upon when it is most needed. The last thing you want to discover in crisis is that you don’t have a core or much of one to guide you. Then you’ll literally freeze up like a deer in the headlights, like a stuck machine, like most people.

And what type of life is it if you do not? As Eric Hoffer once said, “The remarkable thing is that it is the crowded life that is most easily remembered. A life full of turns, achievements, disappointments, surprises, and crises is a life full of landmarks.” A crowded life also brings danger, even crisis, and those who survive are not always obvious.

This updated edition is the Eric Hoffer Book Award Gran Prize Winner and has been appreciated by a wide array of people and careers. It just might change the way you think.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

by Mike Lankford
Melville House

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Utterly odd and unique and stunningly beautiful—and not what they asked for at all. The monks hated it. Completely.”

In a time of enlightenment and brutal death, Leonardo da Vinci was truly brilliant. Artist, scientist, mathematician, inventor—he existed to solve problems great and small in the world, while envisioning a future that would not come to fruition until centuries after his death. He is a historical figure that cannot be completely known or spoken of enough. Perhaps the term “Renaissance man” was invented to describe him.

Anyone who has spent time with brilliant people knows three things: First, no matter how clever and successful we are, we are not brilliant. Second, the brilliant are not like us, instead given to bouts of introspection so deep that they seem disconnected from their very environment. Third, they are a mystery, so expansive that their depths cannot be plumbed by regular people. Brilliant people rarely give us what we ask for, but instead what we should have asked for. The natural result is to assume that they walk among the immortals. Leonardo da Vinci was one such man, and given his creative output, who could blame us for hoisting him above others?

In his latest biography, Lankford tackles the conundrum of a legendary man who died five hundred years ago. Employing historical records, as well as Leonardo’s creative works and notes, the author reconstructs the legend, breathing spirit into the person, his motivations, and the key moments of his life. He accomplishes this with charm, wit, and a deft hand at research, all the while warning us that no one could truly know da Vinci—not even in his time. The genius was constantly riddling problems, while stretching the boundaries of known technique and convention. Although his acclaim would eventually be wide, his circle of confidants was small, if he ever actually confided in anyone. Delving into Leonardo’s personality, one is left with the impression that he took each task very seriously, but appeared to harbor an inside joke never fully revealed to us. So how does one get inside da Vinci? Lankford’s approach is to imagine Leonardo by employing time, circumstance, and the know record.

An exemplary moment arrives during the creation of The Last Supper. It’s a masterpiece of perspective and art, employing untested technique, which frankly did not hold up well over time and was further insulted by near annihilation during World War II. Even the painting is now an imagined thing. Although it was last restored during the 19th century, it is better understood by its reproductions, than the crumbling original in a convent near Milan. But we have clues within a 16th century reproduction, and we know from the artist’s notes and materials that he was under pressure to perform against challenging conditions. The wall was damp and given to erosion, and Leonardo was no master of fresco, requiring him to think quickly rather than his preferred method of meditation and revision. He gambled with technique to counteract these issues, and so it’s easy to imagine the pressure placed on him by himself and others. Lankford realizes this event with requisite intrigue and light.

The honesty in which Lankford reimagines Leonardo da Vinci is refreshing. The author devotes space on the page to suppose alternative realities while drilling down toward the likeliest possibility. The truth is that da Vinci was still a man and his life wasn’t easy, especially during an age of short life expectancy and the oppressive demands of an economically unbalanced society. Leonardo was never wealthy, counted on the patronage of uninspired aristocracy, and skirted the various deaths of the time to live to an unusual sixty-seven years of age. Who knows how much of his vast brain power was spent just to survive? While no exact records of Leonardo’s struggles exist outside of notes in his own hand, there exists post facto reflections of contemporaries and a parade of admirers through the centuries. His legacy is one of an enduring artist, creator, and visionary, and clearly his passion for learning and understanding has transcended time. Lankford sets all of this in motion in this quirky and utterly enjoyable depiction of one of history’s greatest figures.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Note: Each year, the Eric Hoffer Book Award gives the da Vinci Eye to books with superior cover art.

How the French Saved America: Soldiers, Sailors, Diplomats, Louis XVI, and the Success of a Revolution

by Tom Shachtman
St. Martin’s Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Conclusions that appear inevitable often require the most time and effort to make happen.”

Early in the American Revolution, a French emissary for Louis XVI, a king who fancied replacing the British handhold on America with his own, secretly visited the colonies to both measure the resistance and consider future prospects. The emissary was impressed, if not startled, by America’s resolve to achieve independence. France’s expectations needed to be adjusted. Their best hopes were to weaken and humiliate England by assisting the rebels. However, given the tentative truce in Europe, this needed to be launched under cover for as long as possible. Thus begins Tom Shachtman’s unique perspective of how a rebellion succeeded.

For more than two hundred years, the American Revolution has been characterized as a colonial uprising by brave upstarts against an underestimating motherland that eventually found itself worn out and overwhelmed. This legend is typically recited in history classes across the United States, but that’s only part of the story. The first half of the revolution can be classified as a series of blunders, misfortunes, and narrow escapes from utter defeat. If it weren’t for the timely aide in the form of supplies and experience from the French, the foolhardy resilience of the Americans, and the constant political maneuvering on the part of both, the colonial campaign against the British would have collapsed.

George Washington, as documented in his letters and pleas to congress, staff, and just about anyone who would listen, understood the plight and urgency of the revolt as well as anyone. Not only did he overcome his own miscues, he learned to expect nothing to go as planned. His military officers coveted their own agendas, supplies and reinforcements showed up days or weeks late, and his troops were woefully unprepared. Although the troops were never perfect, France may have been the key factor in helping Washington’s army to act like one.

Eventually, Europe recognized more opportunity in America than opposition, and the tide of war turned. Together the colonists and France marched to Yorktown where Washington laid siege and finished the war, or at least this phase of America’s birth. The country was still a mostly unknown continent to form over decades with liens against it from various foreign factions that needed to be resolved by guile and force. Here, at the midpoint of Shachtman’s unique and studied contribution to U.S. history, the book pivots to further expand France’s role in securing America’s foothold after victory.

Shachtman is a detailed researcher, who is both a historian’s and biographer’s dream. With books such as Rumspringa, Whoever Fights Monsters, and American Iconoclast, he delves into the parts that others overlook to form a complete picture. He goes for the extra third of information, the deep research that leaves little debate regarding events. One of his greatest strengths is that his opinion rarely bleeds onto the pages, yet he still interjects unique observational skills and the occasional takeaway line. He becomes fascinated with the subject, not arbiter of it as many modern biographers tend to be.

How the French Saved America follows the mode of Dumas Malone’s classic study of Jefferson, where the story is unearthed through the discovery of fact. The book is heavily annotated and indexed, leaning toward scholarly but eminently readable. Since history has reduced much of France’s involvement in the American Revolution to exchanges between Washington and Lafayette, Shachtman’s new accounting reveals the enormous contribution France made in blood, treasure, and political capital to secure America’s independence.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Milk Street

Milk Street: The New Home Cooking

by Christopher Kimball

Little, Brown and Company

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“There is no ‘ethnic’ cooking. It’s a myth. It’s just dinner and lunch served somewhere else in the world.”

Christopher Kimball and his famous Milk Street team of cooks and editors want to change your mind about home cooking. Specifically, they wish you’d quit thinking of your recipe choices as traditional American—if that truly exists any longer—versus ethnic dishes (i.e. not American). The crumbling of borders hasn’t been smooth in all cases, but it shines in the kitchen. The array of once exotic ingredients and different techniques, especially with recent market accessibility and a return to authentic dishes, that are available to the average person will not only change the way you think about food, but it will expand and elevate your palate in intriguing new ways.

To wrap your head around this approach, Milk Street: The New Home Cooking is organized by the way we go about meal preparation (i.e. dinners, desserts, etc.), yet also by the way we actually eat (i.e. breads, small sweets, etc.). The recipes tend toward an exciting way to cook a main ingredient, while prepared with easy to follow techniques and global seasonings. The palette is the entire world, and there are many fusion moments contained within, further demonstrating the modern kitchen as holding no boundaries.

The book begins with a brief discussion of pantry staples (i.e. fats, acids, spices, etc.), while taking the time to discuss specific choices within in each category. One of the most crippling aspects of attempting new meals is not having a prepared pantry. This forces you into an unlikely impromptu shopping trip, while probably resulting in falling back on routine recipes. Having even half of Kimball’s suggested pantry exposes you to a wide array of new recipes. And there is simply no excuse, if you consider yourself even a journeyman home chef, to not have a decent set of basic implements. The author touches on those with his legendary aplomb.

Throughout its pages, Milk Street brings a high-end presentation with gorgeous photographs of each finished recipe and stout single-page organization. Who doesn’t initially browse a cookbook by the picture, while hoping to recreate something similar? This book gives you the confidence that you can. Whether it’s as simple as the Skirt Steak Salad or Skillet-Charred Brussels Sprouts—this reviewer already won the day with that recipe—or as scrumptious as the Sticky Toffee Pudding or Curry Braised Eggs, you won’t be intimidated to stretch your muscles. And that’s a lot of what Kimble does; he brings foreign seasonings into familiar stead.

If you’ve ever listened to Kimball’s weekly Milk Street radio program on NPR, you’ll be taken in by his charm, sincerity, and understated wit. The show presents an array of ingredients, techniques, and recipes, as well as the overarching discussion of what’s on the menu tonight. It makes you hungry and more importantly changes your mind. This cookbook does the same. The recipes are patiently explained, with the same important tips you receive during his broadcast.

Surprisingly, this is Milk Street’s first cookbook. It should be shelved at the ready beside The Joy of Cooking, the more perfunctory but essential bible for the novice in the kitchen. Instead, Kimball’s offering brings home cooking into, not only the modern world, but the whole world. We’re glad he and his team had the requisite time and patience to make this important statement about the contemporary kitchen.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Sheep No More: The Art of Awareness and Attack Survival

by Jonathan R. Gilliam

Post Hill Press

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“Despite what some security ‘experts’ may say, fear is not a gift.”

Former Navy SEAL and FBI Special Agent Jonathan T. Gilliam takes a decidedly philosophical approach to self-defense: Each of us are potential targets of crime and violence to various degrees depending on our experience, education, and exposure. Throughout the book, Gilliam reverses the perspective to that of the attacker—albeit military, criminal, mass murderer, or terrorist—so that we better understand how potential targets are formed and how we become the target.

Some of this is common sense, such as targets are selected to minimize the attacker’s exposure and maximize results. For example, military operations often strike before dawn in enemy strongholds, a mass murderer selects a crowded venue with weak security, and a criminal, if not emotionally driven, identifies a singular target in the most secluded area. All attackers do surveillance prior to striking, and they have a goal in mind. Even an emotionally driven attacker allows a few seconds to convince himself that he can hurt his target, identifying how and where he will strike.

Much of what an attacker does is size up potential vulnerabilities. He’s identifying a target and looking for a way in. All too often, we make ourselves vulnerable through ignorance and complacency. Sure, we might know of danger, but either don’t know where to look or even look at all. While the safest method is to flee from trouble, including the choice to avoid trouble areas in advance, this is not always a realistic approach in today’s world.

To better protect yourself, Gilliam suggests that you assess yourself as a target. Divide your life into sectors and then sub-sectors based on routine and activities. Within each sector are critical assets, critical areas, and critical times. Using comprehensive sector identification, critical areas of vulnerability will emerge along with potential avenues of approach for attackers. He finishes off this evaluation with a target equation that helps measure who, why, where, how, and when an attack will occur. If done thoroughly, it won’t just be one type of attacker identified. This analysis can be applied to every sector/locale within your life.

Knowing your areas of vulnerability will help you close avenues of approach, but you’ll never be able to eliminate them all. Eventually you’ll have to assume a defender’s mindset or what to do when an attack is underway. Here, pre-planning inspires a mindset that ultimately becomes instinctive, as opposed to making up a plan in the moment which is virtually useless.

Much of what Gilliam purports is developing the habit of situational awareness, especially in highly vulnerable areas such as moving freely through unfamiliar areas or pausing inside contained public areas, but even familiar situations and places become vulnerable based on the available avenues of approach and the time of day. For example, different types of home-related criminals strike the target at different times of day. Gilliam stresses a healthy dose of “what-if,” which inspires confidence and wards off fear.

The author uses many examples, both famous and personal to reinforce his dual-think approach (i.e. imagining the attacker and planning a defense against vulnerable targets). This method is at the core of his call for self-defense through awareness, which will help you evade an attack if you haven’t first avoided it through planning. As Gilliam says, freezing up or panicking during an attack, which is exactly what the overwhelming majority will do because they have no plan, may in fact seal your fate. At the very least, fear reduces your options and their effectiveness.

Gilliam’s overall approach to self-defense is built from years in the military and law enforcement and tempered by the reality of current events. His multifaceted experience brings unique insight, cutting past the charlatans. Most of us are never going to be Zen masters of self-defense, but we can increase our odds considerably by following Gilliam’s suggestions. He reminds us that as individuals we can keep walking about the planet either remaining paranoid of potential events (ignorance), naively hoping for the best outcome (complacency), or becoming educated about the sources and methods of potential attackers (awareness) and thereby increasing our odds of success and/or avoiding trouble altogether.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Grape Olive Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture

by Matt Goulding
Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“You can tell how serious a culture is about an animal by how thoroughly they butcher it.”

Spain is a conundrum. Married to the past, modernized by the European Union, unified and fractured by blood and history, it is a country that embraces both common and diverse cultures with grace. It’s a happy family about to burst into a bitter feud at any moment, but the food and lifestyle that surrounds it is as good as it gets in Europe while coming off as deceivingly simple. This landscape is covered in Goulding’s excellent tour of Spanish food and living from top to bottom and east to west. However, the book after all is titled, Grape Olive Pig, and so let’s begin there, folding in Goulding’s observations along the way.

Spanish wine—the grape part of the discussion—is misunderstood and misclassified in America. As they say in Spain, they need to do a better job of advertising their varietals, at least as good of a job as they do in France or Italy. Keep in mind, there have been times when Spain provided grapes to France due to vine disease or France would have had no wine to drink. Always seeking simplicity and the perfect note, Spanish wine covers the palate as well as any country’s offerings, but if wine is something you prefer to drink with food, cava—Spain’s answer to champagne—is what to drink everywhere else. There’s a cava for every taste and budget, and it’s sold in stores beside soda pop and water. So much so that you might think Spaniards drink cava instead of water. Well, some do.

Olives are the thing you get while awaiting a meal, although they could be served as part of a tapas spread. This makes them seem like a second thought, but this is in no way true. The olive has been mastered in this country, and they are reason enough to return. They are stuffed, pitted, or served au naturale and on the stem, but they aren’t cured to the extent of their Italian cousins. This exhibits a fundamental attitude about Spanish cooking: Leave the ingredients alone; seek out the freshest and finest, and let them do their best work unmolested. The elements of a Spanish meal are easily identifiable, leaving no place for them to hide and nary a cover-up.

The way in which Spaniards prepare the pig is second to none. Italians will argue, but this reviewer has gotten down and dirty with both and gives the edge to Spain, although either one would leave you in porcine bliss. Again, the start is paramount to success. The black-footed ibérico pig—free-ranged and fed a diet of acorns—serves up the finest sausages and hams on the planet. The varieties are complex, succulent, and individual signatures of Spain’s regions.

In this cultural guide and musings, Goulding, an expat and resident of charming and accessible Barcelona, circumnavigates Spain’s regions and serves up history and food through both personal and cultural reflection. Spain’s pivotal importance in western culture requires a wide-angle lens, but to provide illumination, the author drops into details at just the right moment to offer the essence of each stop along the way. He reiterates the culture’s emphasis on simple, fresh market ingredients—a salad consists of just-picked lettuce, liberally applied olive oil, and salt; paella requires saffron rice, salt, pepper, and the right pan and staples to determine its outcome; meat is freshly butchered and simply grilled with little and often no seasoning; and dozens of tempting variations build up from olive oil and tomato smeared bread.

This is not Goulding’s first rodeo on the food tour. He’s an experienced chef and columnist, who’s written a similar food memoir in Rice Noodle Fish, also plumbing the elemental nature of travel experience within the local cuisine. So watch out. He’s got more to say about what you might eat in the future. However, you’re not going to stick this book among your cookbooks, and you’re not going to place it on your bookshelf beside Como agua para chocolate. You’re going to drop it on your coffee table and invite friends to take it home, but then bring it back. Promise?

In a time when it seems as if the art book is giving way to mass-produced paperbacks that disintegrate faster than an Antarctic ice shelf, the hard cover production of Grape Olive Pig is gorgeous, a labor of love with an engrossing layout and beautiful photos, graphics, and lettering. The writing reveals intimate knowledge of Spanish food, but hooks you with a shared memoir that kisses the line of overly personal but never crosses it. That’s the tease that keeps this book moving forward and allows you to see the overview of Spanish cuisine while making sense of it. This book is perfectly composed, with the just the right and freshest ingredients.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Free Women, Free Men: Sex – Gender – Feminism

by Camille Paglia
Pantheon Books

reviewed by Christopher Klim

“…the sexes are caught in a comedy of historical indebtedness. Man, repelled by his debt to physical mother, created an alternate reality, a heterocosm to give him the illusion of freedom. Woman, at first content to accept man’s protections but now inflamed with desire for her own illusory freedom, invades man’s systems and suppresses her indebtedness to him as she steals them.”

Bob Dylan once said that he’d never run out of material because “man can’t change.” This applies to the so-called battle of the sexes. It will always be afoot, changing only boundaries and battlefronts, and therefore author and intellect Camille Paglia will never run out of material. In her collection of essays spanning three decades, she doesn’t further the conflict as much as calling for real progress. She tries to make sense of the way we live now. And plenty sense, she does make.

Paglia writes about two main themes: modern feminism and contemporary academia. Fair enough. Most writers cover only two or three topics within their lifetimes, but pigeonholing this author into just two themes would be a gross simplification. While modern feminism and academia can be explosive topics—and the author admits to dropping bombs down the hatch and into their coveted halls—she delivers a common sense approach to her analysis that is often avoided on those fronts. By questioning their misguided efforts to achieve noble goals, she ends up challenging the working precepts of feminism and academia today.

Among her most common sense articles is “Rape and Modern Sex War.” It was originally an op-ed piece for the New York Times and ultimately one of her most contentious essays. Although she claims that the piece was diced and sliced by both editors and detractors across the globe, its message is clear: Rape is an unacceptable crime in a civilized society, but women will always need to be careful. Accepting that men can be a combustible breed, only a small fraction of one percent are rapists. Still, that fraction, given the right circumstances, can be dangerous, and a woman roaming freely in society must be alert to her specific dynamic and situation. Any person for that matter must be responsible for her/his own safety whenever possible. This simple advice evoked the ire of modern feminists, who on campus have positioned all incoming freshman males as potential rapists and therefore induced stifling constraints like overprotective mothers. They found the author’s call for personal responsibility to be insensitive if not outrageous, which is stunning for organizations hoping to train young men and women to go out into the dirty world. This reaction to Paglia’s article—revisited within the book’s introduction—delineates both the naiveté and recklessness of modern feminism and academia as a combined force.

“The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil” furthers the argument of academic regression. Campuses have transformed into idealistic and protective havens that fail to identify the evil inherent in mankind. With the infantilizing of students and the naive commitment to state of mind politics, students inside the campus bubble are left vulnerable by their own actions and to those who prey upon risky choices. Perhaps the author might have additionally recognized the indoctrination of campus-wide atheism, which ignores evil en route to debunking the existence of God as an all-powerful entity for good. Essential to the Judeo-Christian tradition and other religions is the battle between good and evil and, most importantly, the understanding of each. While campus religious indoctrination is no less acceptable than promoting atheistic beliefs, the campus chapel relationship continues to be dismantled, cutting off an avenue for students to learn about evil or at the very least know of its existence. In the absence of informed caution, there will be blind, misguided fear once trouble bursts the campus bubble, and a scared and ignorant group is historically easy to manipulate.

In “Are Men Obsolete?” the author explores the male as endangered species. As absurd as it sounds, the extinction of men, or at least the erasure of maleness, is a hallmark of radical feminism. As women continue to populate power positions within society, it’s the men who predominantly perform the dirty, hair-raising jobs, and when dark times arrive, women still glance at the men, if only furtively so, to get moving and fight for the risky solutions. And men do without question. While there will always be exceptions on both sides of the divide, they will be rare, and the reaction will be predictable along gender lines, driven by a combination of innate sensibilities and nature. She concludes by pointing out that the end of men would undoubtedly, outside of a sci-fi-horror-like society, result in the extinction of women as well. Each sex requires the other, and it’s time to acknowledge the strengths of each going forward.

Few will argue that feminism began as a righteous equality movement that demanded inclusion in a male-dominated society, but as the author points out, modern feminism has morphed into a disgruntled separatist scheme keen on exaggerating and vilifying male uniqueness. Its extreme elements want to erase maleness altogether, and in doing so, they have diminished what is unique and powerful about womanhood in order to create an idealistic homogeneous society. Why do you think millennial males so soundly ignored the January 2017 vagina monologues in Washington DC? In a modern world, it should make no difference whether one has a vagina or not. But of course it matters. Still, modern feminists have rejected biology and the undeniable differences between men and women that have equally shared in the shaping of civilization. It’s a kind of suicide of thought that willingly blinds itself to half of the facts.

This reckless course has been heartily supported by academia and enforced by a super-parental control body on campus that suppresses free speech and thought. As a result, intellectual discourse has suffered irreparable harm, not to mention damaging a generation of male creativeness and entrepreneurship. The modern male has to escape academia to succeed, rather than grow within its crucible. In truth, the modern female would do well to absorb as little of this poison as possible and work to secure her power position within society, not by force or politically correct control, but by her uniqueness and innate skill.

Paglia questions why modern academia has selected a course of thought suppression over its seminal nature of thought crucible—that once-hallowed proving ground for analyzing any idea. Great American thinker Eric Hoffer has the answer: The universities have been overrun by intellectuals (mostly of the modern Feminist and Marxist variety or some combination of the two), and the intellectual longs to turn the world into a giant classroom in order to indoctrinate their singular vein of thought. Everyone else gets punished severely for thinking out of line. Throughout history, we’ve seen this bloodless behavior repeated by those who usurp power.

Policies on campus and in government appear to be fear-driven and fear-inducing, but luckily we have Paglia bravely speaking out against the intellectual zombies that seek to stunt true progress and real intellectual discourse. Certainly she’s taken hits from various quarters for her outspokenness, but as this collection of essays proves, she has stood the test of time. More importantly, her arguments are as bulletproof as anyone’s anywhere and worthy of authentic discussion. In a time of regressive thought and destructive trends, Paglia is one of mans’ best friends.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review