The Gift of Fear (and other survival signals that protect us from violence) is a book that is well worth a read for the information presented, even if it is not particularly well-written. The book focuses on situations where we fear violence, and tells us how to analyze the possibility that someone will actually commit violence. De Becker is a renowned expert on violence in many forms - domestic violence, sexual violence, workplace violence, assassins, celebrity stalkers, even teenage suicide/homicide violence. The title comes from de Becker’s focus on intuition; the gift of fear, he tells us, is that it alerts us to danger that our mind has noticed without necessarily going through the rational part of our brains. True fear (i.e. not constant, crippling anxiety every time you walk to your car after work, but sudden, unexplainable fear that you are in danger) comes from small changes in the sound around us, a sudden flash of an image that we can’t process consciously, or the strange behavior of someone around us. These things, according to de Becker, tell us to fear attack.
De Becker is well-informed, and has a wealth of stories from clients to demonstrate his points. The book is most entertaining when he gets into his own viewpoints related to the topics - particularly his views on the media’s glorification of assassins, or his condemnation of the way our society treats children & teenagers. It is also interesting in the mis-steps he sometimes takes in making a point - in one chapter, he tells us about pre-incident indicators of violence in situations where one would not necessarily worry for safety. As an example, he tells us about three signs that a kangaroo is going to attack, which he says is a rare occurrence. After listing the indicators, he informs the reader that he actually just made it all up to point out that people sometimes spread false information. Wait, what?