Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Review: Miracle in the Andes, by Nando Parrado and Vince Rause

Gal Shpantzer and Stephen Northcutt
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A colleague and former student of ours sent me a copy this book to read with the following: The true story of an amazing journey of faith, teamwork and leadership ... and doing the impossible, over and over again. With an intro like that, we were very interested in reading the book. We both cried a bit through the first 100 pages. Gal read it on a plane back to DC, with a been-there-done-that military guy sitting next to me, looking at me like I was a little bit nuts. So I gave him the book while I went to the bathroom to blow my nose and get some TP for the next chapter, and when I came back to my seat, there he was, getting all misty. The only book that has hit Stephen that hard recently was Leadership by Giuliani, where he tells the story of 9/11 at the World Trade Center.

I remember the story and of course the big thing was their diet; they ate the ones that did not survive. The authors did a fantastic job telling the whole story and putting that into perspective. This is also a great story on leadership, Marcelo, the initial leader that began to despair and lose hope so that in the end, survival fell to Nando and Roberto and the lessons on teamwork; if they had not primarily been from the same rugby team could they have managed to work together so well?.

The book illustrates the Stockdale paradox from Good to Great, the optimists eventually lost hope, the survivors faced the hard brutal truth with unending unstoppable face. It is a tail of human endurance, to crash land on a glacier at 9,000 feet, to have so many die of their injuries, the cold, no food, no water when they finally get a camp established an avalanche buries them, to hear on the radio the search is called off and then to climb and unclimbable mountain peak with no mountaineering gear or experience.

One of the interesting things about the psychology of the book is that the author never fought for himself for any length of time, after the deaths of his mother and sister. He really fought for his father, to spare him the agony of having lost his entire family, rather than his wife and daughter. That is a pattern that repeats itself in so many survival stories, and combat heroism as well. It's usually something like "I did it for that person in the group with me, or family back home, or my buddies to my left and right in the tank/foxhole. People, at least the good ones, are not solely self-motivated, even in the most individualistic societies (America), it's something bigger at work here.

One of my favorite subplots was the discussion on faith. Most of the plane was Catholic of course and with death so very, very close at hand, their faith was tested. Some drew near to God, Suzy, critically wounded was constantly praying in her final days, others questioned God. I thought it interesting that there were no atheists. Death is the ultimate test of faith and more than one of the passengers uttered the phrase "I am ready".

So, an overwhelming book, I will always be thankful to Gal for sending it to me and I am glad I read it and recommend it to others.