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Download The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why Audiobook, by Amanda Ripley Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (1,393 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Amanda Ripley Narrator: Kirsten Potter Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: June 2008 ISBN: 9780739329313
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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.

From the Hardcover edition. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • The Unthinkable is the most magnificent account of a survivor’s mind that I have ever read. It has helped me know and accept some of my reactions during my 72 day ordeal in the Andes. I can now understand how fear motivated me, and how denial also played a part. This book will help those who’ve never faced disaster to understand their own behavior and be prepared should their luck run out one day. Nando Parrado, New York Times bestselling author of Miracle in the Andes
  • The Unthinkable reveals why, under the same circumstances, some people caught up in a disaster survive and others do not. Why some are hopelessly immobilized by fear and crippled by panic, and others are filled with strength, endurance, reactions and the other intrinsic stuff of which Homeric heroes are made. How can we ensure which we will be? In her well-crafted prose, Amanda Ripley shows us all how to prepare to meet danger and increase our chances of surviving the unthinkable. Bruce Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Down to the Sea and True North
  • When a disaster occurs we invariably learn the "what" of the event -- how many died, how many survived. Amanda Ripley’s riveting The Unthinkable provides genuine insight into the "why" behind the numbers. This remarkable book will not only change your life, it could very well save it. Gregg Olsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Deep Dark: Disaster and Redemption in America’s Richest Silver Mine
  • Ever fantasize about what you would do in a disaster? How would you survive? How would you behave? After interviewing survivors of the World Trade Center attack, Amanda Ripley sifted through amazing tales of survivors from other disasters and mined various sociological, psychological, and neurological studies. Her insights are absolutely fascinating, and they could come in handy one day. Walter Isaacson, author of the New York Times bestsellers Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: A Life, and Vice-Chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority
  • Rich in information about the subconscious ways we face danger. In the event that someday you face a sudden life or death situation, reading this book will increase the odds that the outcome will be life. David Ropeik, author of Risk!: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You
  • Reading The Unthinkable will be life-changing.  We live in an age of anxiety that has too many of us rocked back on our heels.  Once you’ve feasted on the rich insights and wisdom of this remarkable book, you’ll be standing tall again.  While our politicians and media have been keen to exploit and fan our worst fears, Amanda Ripley makes clear that individually and collectively we can meet head-on the hazards that periodically befall us.  We need not be afraid! Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation
  • A fascinating and useful new book. The New York Times
  • The thinking person’s manual for getting out alive. NPR
  • Ripley is a voyeur on a mission...Her conviction: We’d all stand a better chance of surviving a disaster if we understood what happens to our little gray cells when things get ugly....Spiced with surprising factoids, this book might save your life one day. Bloomberg News
  • The Unthinkable is part study of the science of reaction to extreme fear, part indictment of the US government’s response to the terrorist threat, part call to arms....The end result is a fascinating book....Despite its title and its subject matter, The Unthinkable is an optimistic…
    The Times of London
  • Engrossing and lucid...An absorbing study of the psychology and physiology of panic, heroism, and trauma...Facing the truth about the human capacity for risk and disaster turns out to be a lot less scary than staying in the dark. O, The Oprah Magazine
  • This is a book with a purpose, meant to change things. Rob Hardy, The Commercial Dispatch
  • Amanda Ripley takes us on a sometimes stunning, sometimes sobering journey through disaster, using great stories and respected science to show why some prevail and others do not.  The Unthinkable isn’t merely a book about disaster; it’s a book about survival — maybe yours. Gavin de Becker, author of the New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear
  • With The Unthinkable, Amanda Ripley succeeds in two different ways. First, she covers, with great clarity and accuracy, the science of how the body and mind respond to crisis. In the process, she prescribes certain actions that will increase the chances of surviving a disaster. But it’s the second aspect, the stories, that makes the book so compelling. These tales leave your viscera enflamed because they compel two questions: ‘What would it feel like to go through that?’ and ‘Would I do the right thing and survive?’ This is an irresistible book. Robert M. Sapolsky, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University
  • Amanda Ripley has written a smart, poignant account about the dramas of the existential moment in this new century. She is a provocative voice of a new generation of writers and thinkers whose grasp of daily events and global disaster is piquant, engrossing, and syncretic. Above all, she makes sense of life today in an entirely entertaining and accessible way-- all with a brimming dollop of optimism. If you ever wondered, ‘What would I do if the unthinkable happened to me,’ you hold the answer in your hands. Doug Stanton, author of the New York Times bestseller In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

    "A must read. We need books like this to help us understand the world in which we live.
  • The Unthinkable is a fascinating, in-depth look at human behavior under extreme pressure. Its gut-wrenching stories span the full spectrum of action under duress, from panic to heroism. Not only is this book fast-paced and engrossing, it’s illuminating. Michael Tougias, author of Fatal Forecast: An Icredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Idiosyncratic | 2/20/2014

    " Being a Disaster-Scenario Queen, this book was the most useful thing I have read in years. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rick | 2/20/2014

    " This is a handbook that everyone should read. You will never stay in a hotel or board an airplane again without taking more notice of your surroundings - and it may save your life. Amanda explains why humans often do - or don't do - the things we do, and gives her readers a checklist to break the cycle. Read this book and complete your own critical self-analysis. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Angel | 2/10/2014

    " Probably one of the most fascinating books I have read in 2012. Couldn't put it down. Amanda Ripley covers tsunamis, fires, plane crashes, the Katrina flood, the 1993 incident at the Twin Towers, and 9/11. She delves deeply into how people think and behave during disasters. I've learned interesting things like how some people are better suited to survive disasters and even have different blood chemistry than the rest of the population. A great read for those who want to be better prepared to survive an emergency or catastrophe. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Alida | 2/9/2014

    " Should be mandatory reading for everybody. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Linda Redding | 2/8/2014

    " A successful journalist, Ripley can really smith words.This piece reads fast and easily. Also, without a doubt she introduces some interesting concepts about behavior of human beings in seriously threatening situations. I just wish that her conclusions were drawn more from scientific data and less from anecdotes and memories of victims. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Josh | 2/2/2014

    " I really struggled to get into this book and ended up not being able to finish it. I read the first 100 pages and then half-skimmed the rest. It struck me as just a compilation of somewhat interesting stories about tragedies and psychological and sociological studies about our reactions to "disasters". I didn't "get" her theory or really care. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Linda | 1/15/2014

    " This should be a must read for everyone as we are all potential victims of disasters both natural and man-made. It also will make me laugh less and pay attention more at the next fire drill. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Shokufeh | 1/11/2014

    " I found this book fascinating, well-written, and useful. To the point that I'd find myself reading it in the bathtub for an hour at a time. I checked it out from the library and renewed it just because I wasn't ready to part with it, even though I'd already finished it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 BLACK CAT | 10/14/2013


  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kelly | 9/10/2013

    " Highly recommended - not only was it interesting, but I felt like I learned something about disaster preparedness, when I hadn't initially expected to learn this. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Chris P. | 9/6/2013

    " This is an absolutely fascinating study of those cases in disaster where some people survive and others don't ... and what differentiates them. Hint - its almost always not physical. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bella | 9/2/2013

    " Wow, this book was intense. I couldn't put it down. It could've even been longer as she could've gone even way more into the psychology of disaster response and trauma response. Incredible bibliography, too! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jason | 6/8/2013

    " This book was a great start into the psych of Fear, Heroes, & Survival. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cynthia | 2/23/2013

    " This should be required reading everywhere! How would you react if caught in a disaster? So much better to plan ahead, than to found out the hard way. Fascinating read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 beentsy | 1/15/2013

    " Very interesting book looking at who survives disasters/extreme situations and why they survive. Not a dry read at all, bits of humour and a very human viewpoint. Oh, and I really hope I have a decent sized hippocampus. It seems like it might be important. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Barbara | 10/16/2012

    " Listened to this on tape & found it fascinating. Highly recommend it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Sandra Lambert | 10/15/2012

    " This woman has been in my brain. I've always though, as she does, that the "first responders" at a crisis not police or firefighters, but the people that are there. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kari Gang | 5/30/2012

    " A very interesting introspection into what makes the brain tick during a disaster/emergency. Why do some people freeze and become numb while others begin to give orders which anyone listening follows? Lots of research by the author with recent accounts including 9/11 and Katrina. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 5/27/2012

    " Worth your time if you have any interest in these types of things. Results of a lot of research on who survives disasters and why. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Caroline | 4/2/2012

    " I wish I could give this book six stars. It is fascinating, absolutely fascinating and could very well save you life. This is a MUST-READ! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Craig | 8/31/2011

    " Concise accounts of regular people involved in all kinds of extreme situations; hurricanes, fires, terrorist attacks, etc. Gripping stuff. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lance | 5/13/2011

    " Great understanding of risk managment as well as emergency prepairedness. Many stories about disasters and police/military events. Definate re-read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Trish | 5/4/2011

    " The site says that there are 304 pages, but my copy has 227... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jeff | 4/5/2011

    " Ripley links the effect of catastrophe with the science of human reaction. Compelling, but also compassionate. This book is worth reading, if only so you'll know the story of people like Walter Bailey and Rick Rescoria. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Julie | 3/17/2011

    " From now on I will always locate the exits in buildings and listen to on the on flight safety instructions. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Christin | 3/11/2011

    " 4.5 stars. I really liked this book, it was fascinating. I talks about several different disasters and many different reactions to disaster that our bodies and minds have. It is easy to read and really intriguing. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Teresa | 3/7/2011

    " This book really changed the way I think about things now, especially when I'm traveling. I'd recommend it to anyone! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jason | 3/6/2011

    " This book was a great start into the psych of Fear, Heroes, & Survival. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Paul | 2/1/2011

    " Interesting reading and worthwhile to know how to forecast how you would likely respond in an emergency. "

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About the Narrator

Kirsten Potter has won several awards, including more than a dozen AudioFile Earphones Awards and been a three-time finalist for the prestigious Audie Award for best narration. Her work has been recognized by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and by AudioFile magazine, among many others. She graduated with highest honors from Boston University and has performed on stage and in film and television, including roles on Medium, Bones, and Judging Amy.