I’d like to review a book that was published in 2008. It’s a book you probably never heard of, and if you came across it you would probably just chuckle, if you recognized the title, and then walk away. But it’s a book worth looking into, not just for the practical survival tips, which I found sufficient but relatively lacking. Rather, read it for its attempt to convince us of our responsibility as stewards of this planet, and for its attempt to argue that survival belongs not to the fittest, but to those with Faith.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to take some high school boys on a camping trip. They were seniors and they owned the world, so they thought. So I thought it would be a good experience to take them out into the wild and really “rough it”. It had been a while since I’d been camping, so I did some research; hours of youtube videos and survival blogs. I eventually decided to buy a survival book to carry a long. I was taking them some place with no cell phone service, we were truly roughing it.
I went to one of those big bookstores with a café in it and got distracted by those discount hard backs they always seem to have stacked at the front of the store. I say, “distracted,” because I really wasn’t expecting to find anything useful in those piles of autobiographies and coffee table decorations. I like to think it was divine intervention, but I would hate to suggest that Bear Grylls’ book made it to the 75% off discount stack for my benefit. Never-the-less there it was, Man vs. Wild: Survival techniques from the MOST DANGEROUS PLACES ON EARTH. Truth be told, not my favorite show, but I do enjoy it and it was one of the shows I spent hours watching in preparation. So I bought the book. I briefly looked at the table of contents, saw the “Fundamentals of Survival,” fire, food, shelter. It looked good enough.
Later on that evening I read the back cover and it had a quote from the book:
“When disaster strikes and we find ourselves alone in an unknown and hostile environment, why do some people survive and others perish? Almost all of the most extraordinary tales of survival seem to involve an indefinable Ingredient X, which can only be understood as having its source in that mysterious entity, the ‘human spirit.’” –Bear Grylls. I thought to myself, “Ehh, is this some kind of “new age” propaganda? Maybe I should’ve sat down and read through it some, first.” I was skeptical, but I was in store for a pleasant surprise.
The first hint came from the Introduction. It started off with what I had expected, i.e., stop polluting, love the earth, go back to nature, etc. But I became aware that God was mentioned several times. At the end of the introduction as Grylls comes to a conclusion, he writes:
“Use the tools in this book to help you out of any trouble you might get yourself into on this road of high adventure. But, above all, use your God-given natural spirit.”
Now this was interesting. On the back of the book he, or rather his publisher, placed, “… that mysterious entity, the ‘human spirit.’” It occurred to me that maybe he really wanted to say “God-given,” but was told something like, ‘you won’t sell any books if you do that.’ And certainly if he went and wrote “I’m a Christian” right away in the introduction, he may immediately lose readership there too. So he’s slowly building up to something. Itching to say what’s really on his mind, but is held back by his marketing team and publishers. Or simply, he was just a confused hipster, who was spiritually sensitive but confused. After all, I’ve seen many, if not most, of the episodes of his TV show, and I’ve never heard him talk about being a Christian. There was too little info to build a conclusion off of, but enough to spark my curiosity and cause me to read closer. I began looking for spiritual hints, rather than fire-building tips.
I didn’t have to go far, just to Chapter 1: Fundamentals of Survival. After an introduction, in which he mentions Christmas, he begins the chapter discussing the “Psychology of Survival.” He starts by considering “When disaster strikes… why do some people survive and others perish?” He goes on to admit that “common sense” would lead us to Darwin’s theory of evolution in which the “fittest,” the strongest and most intelligent, will survive. This is the questioned posed on the back of the book, but what the back is missing is the context. Grylls uses the psychology of survival to counter the idea of natural selection. He asserts, “It is true that both these attributes (strength and intelligence) play a major part… but it is far from being the whole story.” And then the quote from the back of the book is completed, “Almost all of the most extraordinary tales of survival seem to involve an indefinable Ingredient X, which can only be understood as having its source in that mysterious entity, the ‘human spirit.’” Grylls is arguing that survival doesn’t belong simply to the fittest, but to something intangible, to a certain spirit. Which I believe is the “God-given” spirit he mentions in the introduction.
Now the book is getting interesting. I was not expecting to find some apologetics in a book about surviving in the wild. And sure enough, a few pages later, to help close off his argument that a psychology of survival is necessary to live in extreme situations, Bear Grylls testifies,
“We all need hope, more than you might realize. And that hope needs a home, which for me is my Christian faith. Where you find your faith is personal to you, but Jesus Christ is the source of my survival fire.”
The book continues this trend. Through each chapter, as Grylls gives tips on how to survive in various extreme climates, he gives personal anecdotes and continues to assert that it is his Faith that keeps him alive through the worst situations in the most dangerous places on earth. If you’re a fan of Bear Grylls, you may have already known that he was a Christian. He has published many Christian-targeted books under his own name, and so has his wife. I didn’t know this, but I can see now why this book was destined to the 75% off pile. Though I’m certain he was censored, just like his show– to which this book is linked through its title, when writing this book by his producers and publishers, Bear Grylls still used it as a means to testify that it is faith in Jesus Christ that will save your life, quite literally.
As a book on survival, I was a little disappointed. I’d give it a C+; not as comprehensive as it could’ve been. But I believe that though it was advertised as a book on survival, it was actually written as an apologetic against natural selection. And as a guide for surviving not only in this world, but also in the next. That’s where its true value lies.