Book Review - Alive by Piers Paul Real - Inspirational Story about Faith, Human Dynamics and the Will to Survive

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Alive - Survivors in the AndesBook Review - Alive by Piers Paul Read

As some may know, I am an avid reader.  I rarely dwell on any single subject and enjoy an eclectic assortment of books ranging from politics and history to autobiographies to real estate, law and marketing to those paperback spy and mysteries.  Although I don't usually use my blog as a platform for book reviews, I occasionally read a book that really moves me and I like to share my find with others. 

I am inquisitive by nature.  So, while I was looking at websites for motivational speakers, I came across a link to Nando Parrodo's motivational speaking website which has a short excerpt regarding how his experiences associated with the crash of Uruguayan Flight 571, their survival for over 72 days in the Andes, and their eventual rescue.  It was very inspirational so I decided to read Alive written by British journalist Piers Paul Read.

So here is a brief description of the story told in the book:

  • On October 13, 1972, the Old Christians, a Uruguayan rugby team, depart for a rugby match in Chile.  While crossing the Andes, the pilot miscalculates the wind speed and believing that he has passed through the Andes and is in Chile turns too soon thereby crashing the airplane into the side of the mountain.  29 of the 45 passengers survive the crash and the book describes their 72 days stranded in a desolate alpine meadow.
  • The author tells a very inspirational story.  It is one of optimistic euphoria at their quick rescue as they hear that search teams are alerted and flying over the air.  As hours turn into days and days turn into weeks, it describes a mix of emotions from resilience in the face of adversity to bitterness, fear and despair whey they hear that the search efforts have been called off.
  • Although it is a story about the crash, their survival and their rescue, it is also an interesting commentary on the role of religion, faith and hope as the survivors ponder why some have died and others have survived.
  • As there was no immediate rescue, the author then describes the group dynamic and new social order that develops among the survivors in the mountain.  It is the story of boys who quickly become men.  It also portrays how leaders emerge and how the group develops its own rules.  It is also an amazing story of how their struggle unifies them as a group.  Although there are occasional conflicts, it describes the strong unity that develops among the group and how each individual makes sacrifices for the benefit of the group.
  • As the food supplies dwindle, the survivors are forced to make a dramatic decision - eat their dead or starve to death.  It is a decision that is not lightly made.  Ultimately, they make the decision to survive by eating human flesh from the dead.  The author doesn't exploit this fact and describes it in a manner that is neither graphic nor lacking for detail.
  • The author generally follows the story chronologically with chapter that parallel the activities of the survivors, search teams and the passengers' families.  As to the families, it tells an amazing story of hope, faith, and compassion.  It chronicles their struggles to remain hopeful as well as their use of prayer and even psychics to maintain their hope. 
  • Although the official search is canceled after 8 days, it also tells the dramatic story of complete strangers from a private airplane club to ham radio operators to mountain villagers to peasants who offer assistance to the families as they continue the search for the plane on their own.
  • Although I do not fully believe in paranormal or psychic powers, the author chronicles the guidance provided by a Belgian psychic as well as a Chilean soothsayer who provided remarkably accurate information regarding the nature and cause of the airplane crash as well as the location of the plane.  The information contained some errors but it did contain a great many correct details regarding the crash site.
  • As the survivors slowly dwindle in number as passenger die from their injuries, avalanches and more, the survivors use their ingenuity to stay alive such as melting in collecting water, cooking human flesh, and manufacturing such items as hammocks, snow shoes, sunglasses and sleeping bags.
  • Finally, after several failed attempts to hike out of the mountain, two passengers set off on a 10 day journey.  Unbeknown to the passengers, the plane crashed before entering Chile and they are on the Argentinian side of the mountain range.  As they set out, they initially hike in the wrong direction deeper into the Andes mountain.  After seeing a distant valley, they set out in the correct direction.  Through much hardship, the two hikers stumble upon cowboys tending to cattle which leads to the rescue of the group.

The story of these survivors is a parable about the human condition and faith in God.  Oddly, the plane crashed just 5 miles from a mountain resort stocked with food supplies.  The story is about hope, faith, and dealing with adversity.  It is a very inspirational and moving portrayal of the events.  In the preface to the book, the author describes the disappointment of the survivors and their families after reading the book.  Although I can't appreciate their experience, the book was extremely moving and the words, although sometimes reading like a news report, were very inspirational.

Other Interesting Links regarding the Survivors:


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PREA Signature Realty is a full service brokerage located at 1709 Park Avenue in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of the City of St. Louis.  PREA Signature proudly serves the following city neighborhoods:  Lafayette Square, Soulard, Benton Park, Benton Park West, Downtown Loft District, Forest Park Southwest, Central West End, Tower Grove East, Tower Grove South, Compton Heights, Shaw, The Hill, Dogtown, Carondelet, Holly Hills, St. Louis Hills, Dutchtown, and the Other Historic Neighborhoods of the City of Saint Louis, Missouri. 

The opinions expressed herein represent the opinions of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of PREA Signature Realty.  All photos and written content were produced by PREA Signature Realty.  All Rights Reserved - PREA Signature Realty (2009).  This content may not be reproduced or reprinted, except for Active Rain re-blogging, without express written permission of PREA Signature Realty.

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Comments (8)

Liz Moras Migic
Chilliwack, BC
Chilliwack, British Columbia - Realtor

good review, great looks like my reading style and pattern are similar to yours :-)

Aug 16, 2009 04:11 PM
Terrie Leighton
Ferrari-Lund Real Estate - Reno, NV
Reno Real Estate Agent ~ Selling Homes in Reno

Ryan ~ I have this book collecting dust in one of my book cases! Thanks to your excellent book review I think I will move it to my reading table next to my bed! I love to be surrounded by books and will diffidently be reading "ALIVE by Piers Paul Real" in the near future.

Aug 16, 2009 04:15 PM
Ryan Shaughnessy
PREA Signature Realty - - Saint Louis, MO
Broker/Attorney - Your Lafayette Square Real Estate Partner

Liz - I try to read at least 1 hour per night.  I drive people crazy because I tend to write comments in my books.  I have a library of about 4000 books.  I purchase 200 books at a time for $70 from a local resale shop.  They love me.  Alive has been sitting there for about 2 years untouched.

Terrie - Our stories are the same.  Alive has been sitting collecting dust for over a year.  The link motivated me to read it and I wasn't disappointed.  This ranks in the top 10 in terms of inspirational books with #1 being Elli Wiesel's The Night talking about the Holocaust and the German death camps.

Aug 16, 2009 04:22 PM
DriveBuy Technologies
DriveBuy Technologies - Austin, TX


That's quite a library! Have you ever read any Umberto Eco? He says he owns something like 60,000 books in two libraries. You've still got time to catch up!

Lately I've been reading In Europe by Geert Mak. It is truly amazing and exhaustively researched. Here is the link.

Let me know if you pick it up; I'd love to chat with you about it sometime!

Aug 17, 2009 03:43 AM
Terrie Leighton
Ferrari-Lund Real Estate - Reno, NV
Reno Real Estate Agent ~ Selling Homes in Reno

Ryan ~ You do have quite a few books! Wow! I tend to hold onto all of my books as well. When I read one that I know someone else will enjoy as well, I will go out and buy them a copy instead of just passing my copy along (might not get it back). My sister-in-law, who does not like to read, made the comment to me once  when I offered to buy her the book I was recommending:"So, you are one of those people who do not like to share books!" One of those...Ha! I was sharing, I told her about the book didn't I?

Aug 17, 2009 05:49 AM
Ryan Shaughnessy
PREA Signature Realty - - Saint Louis, MO
Broker/Attorney - Your Lafayette Square Real Estate Partner

Ian - I will take a look.

Terrie - I am the same way.  I will purchase the books for someone before I give up mine.  However, every few years, I weed out the library by lending out books or donating to Goodwill.  There are only so many books that I can stuff on the shelves at the home or office. 

Aug 17, 2009 06:20 AM
Elizabeth Bolton
RE/MAX Destiny Real Estate Cambridge, MA - Cambridge, MA
Cambridge MA Realtor

Hi Ryan ~ Our book acquisition rates sound similar - I've started thinking of the absorption rate of unread books in my library - yeek - it's a large number!  This sounds like a must read and I'm psyched about the links you provided. That's become a new habit of mine after reading non-fiction, especially memoir - I search online for more, more, more. Great fun.


Aug 17, 2009 08:11 AM
Ryan Shaughnessy
PREA Signature Realty - - Saint Louis, MO
Broker/Attorney - Your Lafayette Square Real Estate Partner

Liz - This book was sitting there with dust on it.  It the original 1972 book, not a later addition.  It had yellowed pages and the type of spine that breaks when you fold it open all the way.  Nevertheless, it was still a great read.

Aug 17, 2009 09:07 AM