Book Review: The Survivors Club

Shared with permission of Leon from

Posted on March 11th, 2010 by Leon in Recommended Readings

by Leon Pantenburg

The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood

One of the most important goals of survival common sense is to help you develop a survival mindset. Essentially, that means you must have a rational plan to deal with, get out of, or find a way to survive, a life-threatening predicament. Bottom line: You must know what to do next.

Most of us can’t take all the survival field classes and seminars we’d like to, and only a fool would create an emergency to see how he might react. And may God  preserve and protect  the people who rely on the “survival” or “reality” shows to learn survival skills!  I fervently hope these folks never have to use what they learned on prime time!

But the rest of us can read and study, and hopefully get an insight into how we might act under extreme stress. That knowledge is a tool we must use, and it must be included in every survival kit.  The Survivors Club is a book that presents some of this critical information.

Author Ben Sherwood interviewed people who have survived everything from the World War II Holocaust to the Twin Towers tragedy on 9/11. He was seeking a common ground, a kind of definition, about why some people survive catastrophes, disasters, and emergency situations and why others don’t.

His conclusion, after extensive research, is that the most important part of survival is in your mind. And – no surprise here – you must develop a survival mindset. Otherwise, all the training and tools in the world are worthless.  Check out his book at for only $8.  The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life

So where do you begin?

According to the U.S. military, you must first decide you will survive.  The US Army Field Survival Manual is their official instruction for how to stay alive in hostile environments amd offers this advice on the very first pages:

“The experiences of hundreds of servicemen in WWII and Korea prove that survival is largely a matter of mental outlook, with the will to survive the deciding factor.

“Without the will to survive, your chances of surviving are greatly diminished,” the book states. You can buy the book on Amazon for only $10. US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76 , Illustrated

The next step to surviving might be to accept that whatever is happening to you is not unique. We all want to think we’re special, Sherwood, writes, but any survival situation will cause people to react in established behavior patterns. The sooner you get over being incredulous, the sooner you can start reacting in a positive way and come up with a plan.

Then, a survivor must do something. The most common reaction, regardless of the circumstances, is to do nothing, hang tight and wait for someone else to react first, or tell them what to do.

Psychologist John Leach, author of Survival Psychology, calls this syndrome the “Incredulity Response.”

Leach says people tell themselves: “This isn’t really happening.” The stress of the crises, Leach notes, causes people to lose the ability to make decisions. They turn into statues.

This mindset can be fatal. Leach later wrote: “Denial and inactivity prepare people well for the roles of victim and corpse.”

But surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of panic attacks during an emergency. Researchers examining crises as disparate as the WWII London Blitz and the attacks of Sept 11 found people rarely lose total control and run around mindlessly. Rather, most just freeze until they’re told what to do.

So we keep reading The Survivors Club, because we all want to know the secret, the one thing that can make a difference between living and dieing.

What is the secret of survival? Sherwood asked Ray Smith, former Marine Drill Instructor, with 27 years on active duty in the Navy as a survival instructor. Smith is the author of  How to Survive on Land and Sea. Smith’s answer is simple.

“Faith in God,” Smith says “It’s a major factor in all survival scenarios.”

Smith feels so strongly about that concept that he thinks it should be in the first chapter of any book on survival. In military parlance, Smith claims, faith is a “force multiplier,” a factor that multiplies your strength and efficiency.

Sherwood also interviewed Dr. Al Seibert, one of America’s foremost authorities on survival psychology. Siebert believes one of the most critical skills is what he terms “serendipity talent.”

“When disaster strikes,” Siebert claims, “life’s best survivors not only cope well, they often turn potential disaster into a lucky development.”
Serendipity is not good luck, he adds, but rather it is a skill that can be developed. The process of turning adversity into advantage occurs with amazing speed. In his mind, Siebert said the words “serendipity” and “survival” are interchangeable.

I first ran into the writings of Viktor Frankl, eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, when I was in graduate school. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning remains one of my favorite books. I’ve given copies to people in jail, to folks with life-threatening illnesses, to people facing crises of faith and for no particular reason at all. (It’s another book you should read!)

So it was no surprise to me that Frankl was mentioned in The Survivors Club. Frankl developed a survival mindset to get through Auschwitz.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:” Frankl observed, “The last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Quoting 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, Frankl added:  “He who has a ‘why’ to live for, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”

Purpose gives you the why – the meaning and mission – in your life. It also gives you the power to survive.

I usually prefer to review older books that aren’t in the limelight, because there is a lot of good information out there that shouldn’t be overlooked. And, as soon as a book makes some list, it seems like every professional reviewer takes a crack at it.

But “The Survivors Club” deserves reading and re-reading. It teaches about the most important part of any survival situation: Your reaction to what is happening to you.

Read it, absorb the information and learn. The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life

ABOUT LEON: Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and a wilderness skills  trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont  District.  Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker, two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships, and a freelance writer for the Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Or.

Note from Rich We’ve just purchased this book from Amazon and received it this week. I’ll add my own comments regarding the book and topics within, to this thread, using the comment section below.

Updated: March 26, 2010 — 7:58 pm

The Author

Rich Fleetwood

Rich is the founder of SurvivalRing, now in it's 24th year, author of multimedia CDs and DVDs, loves the outdoors, his family, his geeky skill-set, and lives in rural southern Wyoming, just below the continental divide (long story, that...). Always ready to help others, he shares what he learns on multiple blogs, many social sites, and more. With a background in preparedness and survival skills, training with county, state, and national organizations, and skills in all areas of media and on air experience in live radio and television, Rich is always thinking about the "big picture", when it comes to helping individuals and families prepare for life's little surprises.

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