I recently picked up the new book “Will to Live” by Les Stroud, who is also the host of the TV show – Survivorman. Based on this I had some preconceived notions about this book before I even started, especially since I am not a huge fan of Survivorman.
It’s not that I think Survivorman is a bad show, and I do watch it from time to time, but personally I am just not a fan of those “Made for TV” survival shows. I have found myself more drawn to shows such as “I Survived” or “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”, which are true stories told by the survivors of terrible accidents or tragedies. With all of this in mind, I found Mr. Stroud’s new book “Will to Live” to be a worthwhile read and learned some valuable tips and lessons from his writings.
It would be hard to argue that Les Stroud is not an expert in Survival and in his new book “Will to Live” he looks at seven famous stories of survival and he critiques the decisions that were made by the people involved, their survival kits, the amount of luck that helped them to survive (or not survive) and their “Will to Live.”
Les Stroud is very upfront and says that he is basically playing “Monday Morning Quarterback” and it was very hard to sit in a comfortable chair writing his book and try to second guess the decisions that were made on the ground or criticize the thought process of the survivors. Les picks some very good stories to review. Some were stories that I knew very well and some I had never heard of before. Here is a list of the stories:
1. Yossi Ghinsberg – A young Israeli National who sets off on an adventure in the Amazon Jungle with three other adventurers and becomes separated from the others and hopelessly lost. Good story.
2. Nando Parrado & Roberto Canessa – This classic is the well known story of the Rugby team from Uruguay traveling to play a friendly match against Chile only to have their plane crash high in the Andes Mountains. Nando and Roberto’s 10 day trek to freedom without equipment across the unforgiving Andes mountains to save the lives of the other crash victims is hailed as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) mountaineering feats of all time. After reading this book I have a much better appreciation of what these guys went through to survive. If there was a “Survival Hall of Fame” these two would be right at the top. Also see Nando’s book on this experience “Miracle in the Andes”
3. The Robertson Family – A story of a young family sailing around the world only to have their boat smashed apart in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This one is another good story of self reliance and critical thinking. Both the Father and the Son of the Robertson Family have written books about this experience. “Survive the Sea Savage” by the Father, Dougal. “The Last Voyage of the Lucette” by the son, Douglas.
4. Christopher McCandless – The now famous story of a young suburban kid from a well to do family with a degree from a prestigious university who trades it all in to live life on the edge without any of the creature comforts we all take for granted. Christopher’s story was the basis of the 1996 book by Jon Krakauer “Into the Wild” (One of my personal favorites) and the 2007 movie by the same title. Les Stroud is pretty hard on Christopher McCandless and I think he digs a little too much into him for his lack of survival skills and the mistakes that he made, which of course eventually cost him his life. He is not nearly as critical on some of the other people in the survival stories that he reviews as he is on Christopher. I think that it is the spirit of Christopher McCandless that people appreciate the most. Did he make mistakes, yes, but the kid had guts. More guts than me, more guts than Les Stroud. For people who sit in boring jobs or endless traffic jams dreaming about being free in the wild, Christopher McCandless’ spirit carries the banner of freedom. If you have never read the book “Into the Wild” I strongly suggest it. Skip the movie, it does not do the book justice.
5. James and Jennifer Stolpa – The story of a young couple and their five month old son who brave a terrible snow storm and try to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains by way of a forest service road. Another good story of survival and complete incompetence all at the same time.
6. The HMCS Karluk – The tale of a Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913 to 1916) whose ship becomes hopelessly trapped in the ice above Alaska. This is another good survival story about fateful decisions that had to be made and their consequences.
7. Douglas Mawson – A story of an ill-fated Arctic Expedition. This story was based in Antarctica and resulted in only one man in the group making it back to safety.
Les Stroud’s comments that accompanied the survival stories were insightful and thought provoking on how to best prepare for survival situations as well as how to use items that you find around you for purposes that they were not necessarily made for (example: Seat cushions from the plane were used as snowshoes, car parts such as wiring and side mirrors could provide useful survival tools).
In between the survival stories, Les inserts shorts stories about his experiences living in the wild or shooting the TV show “Survivorman”, I could have done without these stories and thankfully they were short and did not distract from the overall content of the book.
“Will to Live” was a good read and I was pleasantly surprised by how much useful information I gained from the book. Les believes that survival comes down to 4 elements – Knowledge, Luck, Kit and Will To Survive. Throughout the book there are numerous examples of how each plays a critical role in a survival situation.
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