Q+A with Ben Sherwood
To watch Charlie Rose's conversation on PBS with Ben, please click here.
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When did you first become interested in survival?Ive always been fascinated by stories of people under extreme pressure. As a boy, I was drawn to all kinds of tales of remarkable survival. Robinson Crusoe was an early passion. As a journalist, Ive always been captivated by men and women who beat the odds and find a way to survive and thrive. So, a few years ago, I set out to uncover the secrets of the worlds greatest survivors. This book is the result.
Are you a survivor?Knock on wood, I havent yet been tested like the survivors in my book. That said, like most people my age, Ive been through some tough times. In August 1992, while covering the civil war in Bosnia, a colleague was shot by a sniper and killed. We were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a news van. Its an experience that still haunts me. Not long after, my father died suddenly at the age of 64 from a massive and inexplicable brain hemorrhage. My mother is a nine-year survivor of ovarian cancer. And Ive seen many close friends challenged by life-threatening illness. So while Im not a survivor in the direct sense, Ive been a co-survivor many times.
How did you research the secrets and science of survival?The science of survival is fascinating. One of the most cutting-edge fields involves the genetics of resilience. An international team of scientists has identified a set of genes that seem to protect people from the greatest stresses and strains in life. Researching my book, I actually underwent genetic testing to see if Ive got the Resilience Gene. Alas, it turns out, I dont have the most active version of the gene, but I do have some genetic protection against stress. If you read the book, youll find out your chances of having the Resilience Gene, and youll also discover easy ways to boost your resilience, including simple changes to your diet.
What was it like going inside the Navy and Air Force survival schools and the FAAs airplane evacuation course.To learn the secrets of survival, I wanted to visit the worlds top experts on their own turf. So I asked the Navy and Air Force if they would give me some basic survival training. I also asked the FAA to put me through its prestigious airplane crash evacuation course. Not long after, I was dunked and dragged around a swimming pool by the Navy in Miramar, California. And I learned about survival and enemy evasion in the woods of Washington State with the Air Force. And I ran from a smoky cabin simulator at an FAA center in Oklahoma City. Each time, I discovered some essential lessons about surviving adversity, not just the extreme kind, but the challenges of everyday life.
Whats your favorite story in the book?I interviewed survivors around the world, and it was incredibly difficult to choose which stories to include in the book. There are many wonderful and deserving stories that I left because there wasnt enough room. Every survivor inspired me in different ways. I have many favorites, but one that always comes to mind is Ellin Klor, who tripped and fell on her way to knitting club. A size 13 knitting needle punctured her breastbone and pierced her heart. After trauma surgeons removed the needle to save her life, doctors discovered that she was also suffering from breast cancer. Ellin has beaten her cancer and is thriving now. Shes a perfect example of how ordinary people find strength that they never knew existed and manage to overcome the most extraordinary adversity. In my view, Ellin is a real super woman.
Whats your favorite survival secret in the book?Whats the best place to suffer a heart attack? If you guessed a hospital, youre wrong. Believe it or not, one of the best places for a heart attack is a Las Vegas casino. For the surprising reason, I hope youll check out the book.
What is the Survivor Profiler?The Survivor Profiler is an exclusive Internet-based questionnaire that was developed for this book that reveals your survivor personality and top three strengths. In just a few minutes online, youll discover what youve got inside to handle adversity. The test is fun, quick, and produces a customized profile of your unique Survivor IQ. Its powerful too. The Profiler can generate more than 152 billion different profiles, reflecting the subtlety and nuance of every persons personality.
If you want to get a quick taste of the Survivor Profiler, you can take the fast, free Survivor IQ Quiz.