The Real Story Of Risk by Glenn Croston (book review).
Firstly, this book, ‘The Real Story Of Risk’ has nothing to do with the game of Risk but how we cope with the odds of survival in the world about us. Author Glenn Croston points out from the start that we have a greater chance of being attacked and killed by pet dogs than we have than by killed by a shark and yet what do we fear the most? As such what we fear most is against what we should fear least. As anyone who’s seen me explain statistical odds should know, I probably have more akin to this book than some of you reading it.
Throughout this book, Croston points out the various ways we take risk with our lives and the influence of others to it, much of it with the emphasis on the American way of life, although there are odd bits related to other countries so there is some bearing for all of us. Most dangers aren’t spotted because they creep up on you and accumulated in your system. Remember that the next time you indulge at a fast food restaurant. Even Croston points out he’ll indulge after going for a run, which is a bit worrying as with a book such as he’s written here, even knowing the risks of obesity, excessive fats and sugars, the risk level isn’t seen too bad.
Some of our fears, as related to snakes, have been instilled in us by our ancestors as to the danger they are in. Some of this, I’m not entirely sure about, mostly because Man was always capable of outrunning a snake and would surely take precautions against sitting down next to one. There are also other far more dangerous animals around whom it would be harder to flee from, mostly because they are a lot faster. That doesn’t denigrate the danger some snakes can pose. Well, unless there were a lot more around in our distant past but considering that there are only a few wild snakes in the UK and only one actually poisonous, I’m not convinced that is the basis for the fear.
Croston does make a very good case for how we measure long term risk against short term risk that does make for important reading for everyone. He uses the action of global warming as not an immediate concern and why so many people are letting their own actions slide as a lesson to buck our own ideas up. However, as much as many people will react enthusiastically for a few months, even to the most adverse weather conditions like flooding, this always tends to simmer down until the next dangerous spell of weather. From my perspective, I think Man has a habit of changing priorities when something else feels the top slot and doesn’t keep an eye on the rest. Look at how the likes of HIV and AIDS have dropped down the list somewhat, even if the danger hasn’t gone away. It’s how newspaper and other media headlines work, although it doesn’t explain how insignificant celebrity news has tended to dominate for so many in recent decades. Maybe Man is too ready to except a quick fix than something that will last?
The odds of a lot of things killing you are surprisingly low on a statistical basis, which I suspect desensitises a lot of people into thinking that it will never happen to them…well, until it does. It probably stops a lot of people becoming nervous wrecks the instant they step outside. Croston points out that the young especially think they are invulnerable and that nothing will harm them. I’d go one step further and say, it’s the lack of life experience itself that is probably the key and no matter how many lessons on the subject they get, most people will think that they will be amongst the people who will never experience such things. When you look at the statistics of various ways to die, you would indeed have a good chance of getting away unscathed but these statistics don’t show the near misses or the ways the majority don’t put themselves at risk. I remember reading years ago that there weren’t many old smokers, mostly because many of them have died before they reach old age from cancer and other problems. You don’t really see that when an old person says that they’ve smoked all their lives and it hasn’t affected them so don’t see the risk.
In some respects, I wish Croston had gone further in some of his assertions and shown graph comparisons as I suspect these would sink in far more than words. I mean, you have far more chance of being in a car crash than in a plane crash and as he points out, the fear that goes with the latter is that you’re letting your ability to control a situation go from your hands to that of an unseen pilot. It’s also interesting how some of us can let superstitions guide our luck. For myself, I’m more inclined to walk under a ladder to prove there is no luck associated with it than to avoid one. Croston makes an excellent assessment on how charitable donations are far more effective highlighting the plight of one person than the many who are suffering but I think that’s also more a demonstration of how most people prefer to see things one to one. We are far more likely to feel affected by one person’s plight than millions simply because it’s how we are conditioned to see life. After all, we care for ourselves first, then next of kin and anyone else afterwards.
Croston does bring up the cases that I’m familiar with from other books over recent years. Although I think the bowing to authority figures is far more prevalent in the USA than the UK, where we tend to have a bit more contempt, I suspect that is often down to society’s conditioning.
As a Type 1 diabetic, my own levels of risk changed very sharply after the few years I had it. You develop a continuous risk assessment of who would you trust to be around should you become hypoglycaemic, that’s a low blood sugar making you appear a bit drunk-like and needing something sugar-based to break out of it, to coma, which you have totally no control over and can only hope the people about you have the sense to call an ambulance. As such, I’m always assessing my own risk in any situation so probably more aware of the risk front of a variety of things, including the dangers of a variety of foods than be polite and eat anything offered.
Even so, I did find this book a very useful read and as you should be able to tell from me picking out and questioning some of the highlights, also learnt a lot as well. Evaluating risk should be a part of normal life and you should never take anything for granted, including your trust in others to do the right thing. If nothing else, reading this book might reduce your fears in some things and give more caution to others. Well worth the risk reading.
(pub: Prometheus Books. 294 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $19.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-660-3)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com