NERVE by Taylor Clark


Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool
Email this review


Clark (Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture, 2007) examines how people react under pressure.

The author sets the stage with a nail-biting account of a potentially cataclysmic event during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a highly stressed Soviet submarine commander almost made the fatal mistake of shooting off a nuclear-armed torpedo. Even though he was afflicted with debilitating anxiety attacks, the author was still surprised to learn that anxiety disorders now top the list of mental disorders in the United States, exceeding depression. While anti-anxiety medications help ameliorate symptoms, Clark wanted to get to the root of the problem. His search for answers as to why many of us “fret about things that are, for lack of a better word, bullshit,” yet others—including police officers, pilots and trauma surgeons—manage to successfully circumvent the brain's flight-fight-or-freeze response to perceived threats takes him on a fascinating quest for understanding. He first looks at neurological studies of the brain, which provide insight into how it can be trained to distinguish between real and apparent threats and deal with crisis situations by repeatedly evoking fear and working through it. Clark interviews a wide variety of people, including athletes who inexplicably choke in tight situations and others who appear at the top of their game when the pressure is most intense. The author also discusses World War II, when Londoners calmly weathered nightly German bombing raids—after a while they became predictable and therefore less frightening—while soldiers crumbled under sporadic artillery fire. During the writing of this book, Clark learned to face his own fears and function effectively. He recognized that feeling fear and keeping cool in stressful situations are not incompatible but often complementary.

A compassionate psychological page-turner.

Pub Date: March 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-04289-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2011


NonfictionTRYING NOT TO TRY by Edward Slingerland
by Edward Slingerland