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From the very first sentence ("He had probably been watching her for a while."), it is clear why The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for so long. Crammed with statistics, facts, case histories and wisdom, it nevertheless reads like an exciting novel. This book will appeal to almost everyone. However, its greatest appeal will be reserved for those who are involved either personally or professionally with the psychology of the criminal and developing and using one's intuition as a survival tool.
De Becker has come up with seven survival signals that are easy to understand and apply. He reminds us that, "The best cons make the victim want to participate." He stresses that "charm and niceness" are invariably used on anyone we want something from, but "niceness does not equal goodness." The book is gender specific. De Becker says this is deliberate because "Men of all ages and in all parts of the world are more violent than women." He has not only an educated grasp of the criminal mind, but an insider's perspective as well. His childhood was replete with scenes of violence, including beatings, shootings and drug addiction. It was the perfect "school" to learn intuition and prediction, which he uses to stunning effect when he advises governments, police departments, rock stars and the average person in trouble.
De Becker devotes several enlightening chapters to how to spot potentially disaffected and troublesome workers on the job. He shows how to predict which employees are likely to take revenge when laid off or fired. He provides a new way to assess job candidates and gives suggestions on what to look for before you hire someone. A book crammed full of statistics may sound dry, but de Becker has a way of presenting them so they adhere easily to your memory. Did you know, for example, that in the last two years alone more Americans died from gunshot wounds than were killed during the entire Vietnam War? How about the fact that the number of young Japanese men killed in a year "is equal to the number killed in New York City in a single busy weekend"? The book has a balanced tone to it.
Although de Becker can shove the facts at us at alarming speed, he nevertheless refuses to indulge in self-righteous head-thumping of criminals. He continually cites research to back up his assertions, such as behavioral scientist Robert Ressler's confirmation about child abuse of serial killers. What percentage do you guess were abused as children? One hundred percent. De Becker is always aware of the human factor, but he also states, "accepting someone's humanity does not mean excusing his behavior
His sections on predicting behavior are excellently done, although I would have liked to have seen more examples. De Becker insists that we all can predict violent behavior as well as other kinds of behavior. One measuring stick, selected from many, is: "What a person is doing now is the context for successful predictions." More examples grounding his explanations of how intuition works would also have been better. He lists 13 "Messengers of Intuition." Among them are nagging feelings, humor, curiosity and hesitation. He could probably devote another book to widening this exploration, but what is found here, though too brief for me, is prime. Some of the book's chapters are a little long, such as 12, 13 and 14 in which he redundantly delineates "extreme hazards." But his take on the "self-harassment" we all do (worry) is illuminating. "Worry is the fear we manufacture," he says and then goes on to outline what worry does for us in a negative sense. It's honest and hard-hitting and after reading it you may forever more be shamed out of worrying.
The wisdom of the book is both fun and useful. De Becker tells us that "our process of falling in love is in large measure the process of choosing not to see faults." He pithily brings in the Buddhist definition of human suffering, "Clinging to that which changes," and makes it serve his point about those who must control others. He explains life to us by giving us Carl Jung's dictim that "When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate." He gives us hope by letting Helen Keller remind us that "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
The back of the book is filled with helpful appendices and resources. It is hard to imagine anyone who would not benefit in profound and practical ways from reading this book. Even our social attitudes are challenged. De Becker points out that every hour 75 women are raped and demands to know, "why are we fascinated when a famous person is attacked by a stalker, which happens once every two or three years, yet uninterested when a woman is killed by a stalking husband or boyfriend, which happens once every two hours? Why does America have thousands of suicide prevention centers and not one homicide prevention center?" Indeed. The Gift of Fear is fascinating and even exhilarating. De Becker has the ability to bring us directly into the mind of a troubled soul and there show us our own inner workings. This allows him to say with total confidence that "there is no mystery of human behavior that cannot be solved inside your head or your heart."
Zoe Calder is an adjunct professor at several colleges in Maine. She has degrees in English, Speech, Psychology and Education. In addition, she is a professional writer, editor and book reviewer with consuming interests in anthropology, nature, philosophy, religion, space, physics, history and humor. This last makes the aforementioned more meaningful.