Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ The Unthinkable

Books about the survival of real life disasters are like crack cocaine for me, so The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley is something I'm devouring. So much fascinating information in this.

(For the writers out there, this is also an excellent resource regarding the way people respond to extreme circumstances.)

It lurks in the corner of our imagination, almost beyond our ability to see it: the possibility that a tear in the fabric of life could open up without warning, upending a house, a skyscraper, or a civilization.

Today, nine out of ten Americans live in places at significant risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, or other disasters. Tomorrow, some of us will have to make split-second choices to save ourselves and our families. How will we react? What will it feel like? Will we be heroes or victims? Will our upbringing, our gender, our personality–anything we’ve ever learned, thought, or dreamed of–ultimately matter?
Amanda Ripley, an award-winning journalist for Time magazine who has covered some of the most devastating disasters of our age, set out to discover what lies beyond fear and speculation. In this magnificent work of investigative journalism, Ripley retraces the human response to some of history’s epic disasters, from the explosion of the Mont Blanc munitions ship in 1917–one of the biggest explosions before the invention of the atomic bomb–to a plane crash in England in 1985 that mystified investigators for years, to the journeys of the 15,000 people who found their way out of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Then, to understand the science behind the stories, Ripley turns to leading brain scientists, trauma psychologists, and other disaster experts, formal and informal, from a Holocaust survivor who studies heroism to a master gunfighter who learned to overcome the effects of extreme fear.

Finally, Ripley steps into the dark corners of her own imagination, having her brain examined by military researchers and experiencing through realistic simulations what it might be like to survive a plane crash into the ocean or to escape a raging fire.
Ripley comes back with precious wisdom about the surprising humanity of crowds, the elegance of the brain’s fear circuits, and the stunning inadequacy of many of our evolutionary responses. Most unexpectedly, she discovers the brain’s ability to do much, much better, with just a little help.

The Unthinkable escorts us into the bleakest regions of our nightmares, flicks on a flashlight, and takes a steady look around. Then it leads us home, smarter and stronger than we were before.

  On the morning of December 6, 1917, a bright, windless day, a French freighter called the Mont Blanc began to slowly pull out of the Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia. At the time, Halifax was one of the busiest ports in the British empire. There was a war on in Europe, and the harbor groaned with the churn of ships, men, and weapons. The Mont Blanc was headed for France that day, carrying over twenty-five hundred tons of explosives, including TNT. While passing through a narrow channel in the harbor, a larger ship, the Imo from Belgium, accidentally rammed the bow of the Monte Blanc.
  The collision itself was not catastrophic. The Imo sailed on, in fact. But the crew of the Mont Blanc knew that their ship was a floating time bomb. They tried to put out the fire, but not for very long. Then they scrambled into lifeboats and paddled for shore. For a few heartbreaking moments, the Mont Blanc drifted in the harbor. It brushed up against the pier, setting it on fire. Children gathered to watch the spectacle.
  Many of the worst disasters in history started quite modestly. One accident led to another, until a fault line opened up in a civilization. About twenty minutes after the collision, the Mont Blanc exploded, sending black rain, iron, fire, and wind whipsawing through the city. It was the largest bomb explosion on record. The blast shattered windows sixty miles away. Glass blinded some one thousand people. Next, a tidal wave caused by the explosion swamped the shore. Then fire began to creep across the city. In the harbor, a black column of fire and smoke turned into a hovering white mushroom cloud. Survivors fell to their knees, convinced  that they had seen a German zeppelin in the sky.

The difference* was so marked that Morgan could literally tell whether someone was a member of the Special Forces unit just by looking at their blood results. So then the the question was, which came first? Were Special Forces soldiers just inherently different? Or did their training make them that way?

*Special Forces soldiers produced significantly more "neuropeptide Y," a compound that helps you stay focused under stress.

Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: Grab your current readOpen to a random pageShare two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! To see what others are sharing on the Teaser Tuesdays, check the comments at:: http://shouldbereading.wordpress.com/ 

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea


  1. I think that this book would be terrifying to read (although interesting) I'm not sure my anxiety levels would cope with all the adrenalin I would produce imagining what I would do in various disasters - I do hope you are enjoying it. Here is my First Chapter, First Paragraph for this week https://cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/4158/

  2. Oooh this sounds like a really interesting book. I always pride myself on staying relatively calm in stressful situations but if a ship exploded right next to me I would not remain calm, whatsoever, I think! Thanks for sharing :) I hope you have a great week!
    My Tuesday post
    Juli @ Universe in Words

  3. Wow, this sounds powerful. I would read more. Thank you for joining us.

  4. Oh, you have definitely piqued my interest, even though I don't usually enjoy books about disasters. How people react to disasters is the interesting piece of it, IMO. Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

  5. Thanks for pointing this one out- I'll check it out. The Halifax Explosion looms big in my country's history.

    1. I had never heard of it. It's sad how much history doesn't make it into the history books.

  6. I'm in need of that compound. lol.

  7. This sounds really interesting.