Book Review: “Will to Live” by Les Stroud

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.

Karambit Knife

It would be hard to argue that Les Stroud is not an expert in Survival and in his new book “Will to Survivorman-Les-StroudLive” 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 Miracle-in-the-andes-aliveUruguay 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 Into-the-wild-supertrampwith 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.

Survival Applications:

There are many throughout the book, Les covers everything from curing meat to what you need to have packed for survival if you go for a day hike.

Favorite Parts:

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).

Dislikes:

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.

Overall:

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.

Also read – 6 Dangerous “Urban Myths” About Water

18 thoughts on “Book Review: “Will to Live” by Les Stroud”

  1. I was not planning to read this book, as I had heard most of those survival stories already, but now I am interested in it. Sounds like there is enough good information that we can all learn from. Thanks for a fair and insightful review.

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  2. A two of years ago a younge man (I can't remeber his name) who was a Les Stroud fan decided to attempt an impromptu "survival weekend scenerio" up in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario during the winter. Ten days later, the Ontario Provincial Police discovered his frozen corps huddled in a snow bank. He had undertaken his foolish task, unprepared with few provisions and little knowledge of survival except from what he saw on "Survivorman".

    These programs, in my opinion, can be dangerous. They fill the empty minds of immature people with the notion that survival is a romantic adventure and fail to see the possible lethal consequences.

    The Haliburton Highlands may not be as isolated and forbidding as Alaska's wilderness, however this dense, ruggedly forested, boreal terrain in central Canada has claimed many overly confident hunters and hikers alike.

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    • You have a good point, however, I think it is also a way to thin out the weaker part of the gene pool. These are also the same types of people who don't pay attention while driving 2500 lbs of metal at 70 mph and the same types of people that let their kids run around a store, not paying attention to their safety and manners. It sounds harsh, but getting a few of the idiots like the fore-mentioned guy that did not even prepare for his "survival weekend" off of the planet just might be a positive thing from a big picture stand point.

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  3. Les sent me an autographed copy of the book before it even came out in the States because I sent him a pocket knife. Great book! I also suggest his other book "Survive"

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  4. I'm not a big fan of Les Stroud's tv show even though I do watch it once in a while. Not that I don't like those types of shows (I love man vs wild) but some of the things that Les Stroud does gives false information to the viewers. For example, when he was in Alaska for a week and on the first day he had an issue finding water. He told viewers that snow was safe to eat and it was a good source of water. Most of the readers people here know that snow is not safe because it lowers core body temperature and could send you into hypothermia.

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    • And yet oddly enough I have heard Les tell viewers on more than one occasion that melting snow in your mouth is a death sentence in a survival situation, But then I have seen every show he made. I'm guessing you were not really paying attention to what he said. :o)

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      • I am a huge Les Stroud fan. I actually own each of the three seasons on dvd. Beasley is actually right, in the Alaska episode, Les does state that one can eat snow in a survival situation. I do recall him saying otherwise on different occasions though. I think his basic point is this; obviously if you have no water source at all you may be forced to eat snow to live. Yes it does lower your core temperature but at some points that may be a necissary risk. Its just an option that someone would have to weigh if they were in that particular situation.

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        • I seem to remember hearing or seeing somewhere that eating snow was ok during the day when you are able to move around and keep warm but to avoid it in the evening to avoid hypothermia while you sleep.I wish I could remember where I saw that .

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        • Les also states in that episode if he wasn’t moving or had settled in for the night in a shelter it isn’t a good idea to get water from snow. He was walking while pulling a sled, thus exerting energy. This is why he ate snow. He said it cools his core down and keeps him from sweating.

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  5. I would highly recommend all beginning preppers read the autobiography of Alexander Selkirk who was marooned on the island of Juan Fernandez for 4 years in 1704 . All he had with him was a musket , a knife , carpenter tools , rope , a bible , and some clothing ( starting to sound a little familiar ) when his cloths wore out he made new ones with goatskin and a nail for sewing . as his equipment wore out and his gunpowder supply dissapeared , he had to hunt with a spear and make a new knife out of barrel rings washed up on the beach . At one point he had to use evasion techniques to hide from spanish sailors ( he was a Scotsman and privateer so he would have been killed at that time ) . Talk about gritty and several things to think about if a person is isolated for a prolonged period of time , loneliness ,, etc. In his case he had to remember how to talk again when he was rescued . He was marooned for so long that he could no longer re assimilate and ended up living his last years in a cave in solitude . True Story

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  6. Correction . Been awhile sense I read it .he did not die in a cave , but of the fever serving on another ship after his rescue . I got confused with another person that was stranded around that same era . Even so , it is a good lesson about not giving up hope .

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  7. Personally Im a big Myke Hawke fan who of all the writers has said many times you can do everything right and still die, The bottom line is in life I have seen people do things ass backwards and make it out and I have seen highly trained people never know what hit them.
    In the end we can only improve our odds of survival by Practice ,Prepare, And Pray, At the end of the day all we can hope for is we left it all on the field and made the reaper come get us instead of going to him.

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  8. I have to disagree with your statement "Did he make mistakes, yes, but the kid had guts. More guts than me, more guts than Les Stroud."

    Les Stroud lived off the land in Algonquin Park for a year, and called it a "honeymoon."

    Survivorman may be about falsely created situations, but he does it without tools, without aids, and with no support, while carrying a ton of equipment.

    My family has run trap lines north of Wawa Ontario for 4 generations, and they all think very highly of his show….including my grandmother who, at 97, still has a hunting license.

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    • I also disagree with that statement, it seems to me that it wasn't guts that he had but a total lack of appreciation for the undertaking. There is a difference between guts and naive , if you survive a situation that you are suddenly thrown into by sheer determination…that's guts. However if you deliberately put yourself in a situation that you are unprepared for either through knowledge or supplies or physically then you are naive and asking for trouble.

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  9. Try also to read "One man's Wilderness" by Richard Proenneke who, in 1968, retreated to the wilderness of Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska to build a home for himself and live alone in the wilderness.

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