Author: Bear Grylls is an adventurer and motivational speaker who is driven by his Christian faith. He is best known as a reality television personality (Man vs. Wild, Running Wild); as an adventurer, he is best known for climbing Mount Everest, crossing the Atlantic in a raft, and narrowly surviving a parachute failure while skydiving; but he has a number of ventures under way including numerous books, a growing brand, and survival skills training camps.
Grylls came from an aristocratic family. Amazingly, both positive thinking and disaster run in his family: His great-grandfather died in a shipwreck, and, further back, he’s related to Samuel Smiles, who invented the genre of “self-help” with his 1859 book by that title. (F. W. Boreham was a huge fan of Smiles and his motivational biographies.)
Known for his faith and adventures, Bear Grylls is far from a modern Puritan. He is a Special Forces veteran with a lot of close calls under his belt, not all of which are even in this book. This biography is jammed with crazy and amusing stories including prep school hijinx, urban climbing, bullying, and skinny dipping.
In this book, highlights include a very free boyhood, passing selection for the British Special Forces—essentially an endless mountain marathon with full combat gear—and a treacherous Everest bid as he recovered from a skydiving accident which had broken several vertebrae. He also describes the career transition that enabled him to market himself as an “adventurer” and transform that title into a paying job.
Grylls is not an effusive or florid writer, and that makes this book a quick read. The book’s main merit is probably just the fascination of the stories he tells. The way he describes British Special Forces, by the way, makes it sound more wearisome than climbing Everest (though certainly not more dangerous).
Though Grylls is not a particularly profound thinker, he makes up for this by expressing himself in historical quotes and simple inspirational aphorisms:
Do the impossible. Climb the impassable—eat the inedible. (p. 393)
I disagree with Grylls on several finer points, but his lust for life is definitely inspiring. Overall, our differences almost entirely stem from the fact that he is English, and I am not. Europeans are almost never in your face about their faith, and so Grylls doesn’t talk about his faith nearly as much as I expected in this book.
I think the audience of this book was meant to be very broad and popular; Grylls is not just interested in being pegged as a fixture on the Christian bookstore shelves, and I suppose I can respect that.
Fear forces you to look tough on the outside but makes you weak on the inside. (p. 64)
My dad had always told me that if I could be the most enthusiastic person I knew then I would do well. (p. 89)
Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me walk strong when so often I feel so weak. (p. 98)
Dreams, though, are cheap, and the real task comes when you start putting in place the steps needed to make those dreams a reality. (p. 117)
Mental strength was something that had to accompany the physical. And the physical is always driven by the mental. (p. 160)
On public speaking:
Be sincere, be brief, be seated. (loc. 4692, attr. to John Mills)
On finding a sponsor for his Everest bid:
I got lucky. But then again, it took me many hundreds of rejections to manage to find that luck. (p. 269)
On mountains and mountain climbing:
Sir Edmund Hilary, Everest’s first conqueror, once said that the mountains gave him strength. (p. 339)
Statistically, the vast majority of accidents happen on the descent. It is because nothing matters any longer, the goal is attained . . . (p. 347)
There are man for whom the unattainable has a special attraction. (qtd. from Everest: A Mountaineering History)
Note: This review was written November 10, 2015, but published online in 2020.