Review: 127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place

While in the Amazon I heard some stories about Aron Ralston from Marshall Ulrich so when I saw Aron’s book, 127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place, about his entrapment that led to a self-amputation, I picked it up.

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Cons

I spend a lot of time writing research manuscripts for professional scientific journals and by writing, reading and reviewing you learn a lot. One of the things that my advisor has instilled in me is to write technical pieces with the lowest level of complexity- if your audience can’t follow you then you aren’t conveying your message and unnecessarily dense writing can decrease clarity. You can sound smart without using words that people can’t understand. People shouldn’t need to work to understand what you are trying to say, even at the highest levels of technical writing.

I wish Aron would have had a talk with my advisor before writing this book. The book was weighed down by quotes that I think he thought made him seem worldly and intellectual but instead I thought served as distractors. He had passages about nature that reminded me of what a high school student might write if you told them to write like they think a poet should write- they were verbose and flowery and his overdescription actually detracted from the simple beauty he was trying to convey in discussing the awesomeness of nature.

Pros

That being said, you should read this book. The story is spectacular, compelling and honest. Aron has received critiques for being a foolhardy outdoorsmen- the book is littered with stories about how he almost killed himself or others by reckless acts or lack of preparedness. People said that he had his entrapment coming. There are stories of where he goaded friends into skiing a bowl which resulted in an avalanche that nearly killed one friend. He was stalked by a bear and did everything wrong (spoiler: do not throw rocks at bears). He not only suffered frostbite but he did not go to a hospital for treatment, instead opting to treat it himself in his kitchen sink (note: do not try this at home). And most notably: he told no one he was going into Blue John Canyon in 2003 when a boulder fell, pinning his arm. He was again underprepared with little water, minimal food and no clothes but the ones on his back.

The thing about Aron’s story that is so compelling is that it makes you wonder: could I cut off my own limb? Marhsall thinks so. I didn’t. A psychologist at Florida State argues that people who commit suicide aren’t weak as some perceived them to be, in fact they are exceptionally strong- could you cut your own wrists? I am tough, but I am nowhere near that tough. Contrary to my clumsiness I like my body to be in tact and do not enjoy self-inflicting wounds. And that is why this book is remarkable: because by the end of the book when Aron was amputating his arm, it made perfect sense. I think I would have, too.

The writing leaves something to be desired but I think the read is important for many reasons. First, everyone can learn from all of Aron’s mistakes and become better consumers of nature. Second, I think it is an important look into what  things become important when we are stripped of our comforts: basic needs like food, water and shelter and the love of our family and friends. Overall, it is a book that makes you think, which I think is the best kind. If you have a chance, pick it up.

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