Posts Tagged ‘review’

Books about Survival and Desert Islands

May 11, 2016

I like books about survival and desert islands, and here are some of my favourites.

Extreme Survivors: 60 of the World’s Most Extreme Survival Stories

27 Sep 2012

This exhaustive book is split into sections called Survival, Prison, War, Shipwrecks and Hostages. To some degree, it’s like reading the Wikipedia pages of 60 incredible stories of survival, with two or three pages on each including pics and maps. It’s very well researched and written, covering everything from Apollo 13 (“The astronauts were 199,995 miles from Earth when they heard a loud bang.”) to the Chilean miners. The only downside of this book is trying not to accidentally see the maps until you’ve finished reading (avoiding a spoiler). Definitely recommend this one.

An Island to Oneself

Tom Neale was a quiet, introverted New Zealander, who craved the solitude of a desert island. In the 1950s he made his way via freight ships to the tiny (600 acres) Surarov atoll, in the South Pacific. His book is about the six years he spent there by himself, growing vegetables and living in a hut.
Most survival books are a whiteknuckle ride through wretched despair and tear-jerking self-discovery. But this one is a pretty chilled out book about a guy tending his allotment, in the middle of nowhere. I enjoyed it, and it’s free to download here:

Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea Paperback

1 Aug 1996

It’s 1982, and an American yachtsman in a tiny boat, capsizes off of the Canary Islands. He’s left in an inflatable life raft, and drifts for weeks and months across the Atlantic. This book is his recount of that journey, and it’s a brutal life-and-death struggle against the ocean. I absolutely recommend this book.


Walking the Amazon: 860 Days. The Impossible Task. The Incredible Journey

Paperback – 7 Jun 2012

It takes a special kind of lunatic to get into a survival situation on purpose. Ed Stafford is a grizzled ex-army rhinoceros who decided to hack his way down the whole length of the Amazon River. What made this book more interesting than most is how frank he is about the hardship. Most adventurers have a kind of ‘ we watched the sunrise over the Sahara’ mindfulness. Ed, on the other hand, is pissed-off, waist-deep in a swamp and cursing at the world.
You know you sometimes read about an adventure and think ‘I’d love to do something like that’? Not this one. It’s Hell. Great book.


TV Shows

Escape to the Wild

Television – 2015-2017

In each hour long episode, Kevin from Grand Designs (for series 1) or Jimmy Doherty (series 2) spends a week with a family of Brits who have moved to the back of beyond.  It’s like Channel 4’s long running No Going Back, but instead of going to rural France to do up a chateau, they’ve gone to Belize to build an eco-house.

I loved this show, not just because I’m a sucker for anything with campfires and fishing, but because these are fascinating people. At its core, they’re all living in a paradise, and a paradox. Paradise, because the family is always eager to show us the gorgeous sunset (‘You don’t get this in England!’) and the kids playfully chasing their chickens. A paradox, because they talk about how they escaped the rat race, yet they’re on a new, much more relentless treadmill, of farming, foraging, building and surviving.

The occasional frustration of watching Escape to the Wild is the smugness of the escapee (some worse than others). I’m happy that they love their jungle life, but can’t help getting slightly defensive when they act like those of us who haven’t upped and left must be blinkered slaves to the system.

So why do they do it?

The reality of subsistence living in the tropics is a backbreaking slog from dawn til dusk, so it’s not the rat-race’s hours or repetition that they’re trying to shirk. The kids get an old-fashioned, outdoorsy childhood, although it’s a shame the parents are relentlessly farming and building while the kids disappear into the undergrowth.

Some are drawn by a hobby (kayaking in Uganda, dog-sledding in Sweden, diving in Indonesia). Some are just on a long family holiday (Chile, Tonga). The most intriguing (and uncomfortable) are those who can’t bear real life because they need to control everything (Belize, Canada).

Kevin and Jimmy do a great job of prising the truth out of them, whilst getting stuck in (Jimmy is especially useful). They always ask the host family “Would you ever go back?”, to which they laugh and shake their heads. Sorry, but I can’t help wondering if their answer will change when they got old, or ill. I suspect they’ll be on the first plane back to the UK, and all that terribly boring stuff like like pensions and taxes, will suddenly seem like a really good idea.