Book of the Week 18: The Unthinkable, by Amanda Ripley

5th May, 2020

What is it like to be caught up in the middle of an unthinkable disaster? Why are our responses to these extreme and unexpected events themselves often extreme and unexpected? Amanda Ripley began writing this book after interviewing survivors of the 9/11 attacks. “These people had an agenda,” she writes, “They had thinking they wanted to tell other people before the next terrorist attack.”
One of the strengths of the book – which covers not just 9/11 but Hurricane Katrina and various other catastrophes – is the storytelling, often based on interviews with survivors.
But there are other elements, too. Ripley also relies on historical accounts; her opening tale, well-told, is the explosion of the Mont Blanc munitions ship that devastated Halifax in 1917. One of the survivors Samuel Henry Price, went on to become a sociologist who studied our response to disasters.
Ripley occasionally markets the book as a guide to how to survive if you’re ever in a catastrophic situation, and perhaps it would help. That sells the book short, I think: I was fascinated by the storytelling. The science and psychology of disaster responses is less prominent but there was plenty to interest my inner nerd. I have no doubt you’ll see references to Ripley in the next series of Cautionary Tales.
UK: Amazon Blackwell’s
US: Amazon Powell’s

My NEW book The Next Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy is out in the UK in May and available to pre-order; please consider doing so online or at your local bookshop – pre-orders help other people find the book and are a huge help.

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