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The Unthinkable: who survives when disaster strikes and why AMANDA RIPLEY

  • Oct 30, 2012 · 6:30 PM
  • This location is shown only to members

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.

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  • RK

    Related books suggested by Brent from TPL:
    Disaster Psychiatry: Readiness, Evaluation, And Treatment (Katz, et al)
    Moving On After Trauma: A Guide for Survivors and Friends - Scott
    The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments - Geiger
    Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away - Wilson
    A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster - Solnit

    November 1, 2012

  • Marian B.

    Great meet-up. Looking forward to the next one!

    October 31, 2012

  • jane

    I liked the book better than the other people, but I liked the Other People better than the Book. Good discussion.

    October 31, 2012

  • Emily

    Great meet-up, forgot to rate the discussion- 9 I'd say. Thanks everyone!

    October 30, 2012

  • Laurie

    It's ironic that we are discussing this book the day after a disastrous storm hit Toronto.

    October 30, 2012

    • Christine N.

      Hi Laurie,I would call it sychronistic.

      October 30, 2012

  • RK

    Speaking of disasters, there are some extreme weather warnings for tonight related to Hurricane Sandy. Before heading out to the meeting tomorrow, remember to check email or this page in case there is a cancellation due to weather, to avoid disappointment.

    October 29, 2012

  • Andrei

    Watch "Surviving Disaster" at or on Netflix. Don't miss the episodes on "Towering Inferno" and "Pandemic".

    October 20, 2012

    • Laurie

      Thanks - great sites with useful ideas.

      October 28, 2012

  • giovanni m.

    thanks. great sites.

    October 13, 2012

  • Andrei

    Another excellent resource is the collection of Global Incident Maps, especially those on current disease outbreaks (, food & water ( and aviation incidents ( Their HazMat map is also great but covers only the US (

    October 13, 2012

  • Andrei

    Real-time map of disasters worldwide: - recommended by Amanda Ripley on her website. Scroll down to see the detailed list, which includes even the status of the Yellowstone supervolcano. For major emergencies in Canada since 1900 see the Canadian Disaster Database ( - choose your filters and search, then follow links in the results table for more details.

    October 13, 2012

  • RK

    I haven't finished the book just yet, but thought some members might be inspired to check this out:
    City of Toronto- Emergency Preparedness Guide

    October 8, 2012

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