Sherwood (The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, 2004, etc.) investigates why some live, others don’t.
His subjects are the people who closely encountered the proverbial cement truck when they stepped out the door one sunny morning, yet lived to tell about it: the woman who dropped six miles through the sky without a parachute; the man who ejected from his fighter plane at sea level doing Mach 1; the woman who fell on her knitting needle, which proceeded through her sternum directly into her heart. Their stories are gripping, to put it mildly, and Sherwood is enough of a storyteller to maintain the narrative pace throughout. He's also enough of a sideshow barker to write that this book “unlocks the secrets of who lives and who dies,” though not with so straight a face as to sound like he’s peddling snake oil. He probes each fantastic story for that mysterious something that pulled the person through. What role did nature play, and what role nurture? Luck is good, Sherwood discovers—luck being a product of openness to random opportunities around you—but keeping your head is critical. The composed often live, the stunned less so, the hysterical rarely. Being relaxed is also a plus, and religious belief, or surrendering to a higher power, has worked its charms. Statistical oddities are curious but unilluminating: Are lefties doomed to shorter lives? Do your initials condemn you? Sometimes the material beggars belief. Can someone who has sunk 20 feet into the ocean and “let seawater fill his lungs” really make it back? Still, Sherwood gains our trust with his Boy Scout common sense: Be prepared, play to your strengths, stay unruffled, keep the faith.
The protagonists may have stayed calm, but these stories of cheating the reaper are crazy wild.