“The Gift of Fear:” A Thrilling Novel about Intuition and Survival

Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” is a thrilling novel about how typically overlooked human intuition can be a critical tool for survival. He explores the tactics people use to manipulate you, and how you can recognize those patterns to save yourself from an abusive partner, or psychotic coworker. The book, published in 1997, became an instant New York Times #1 National Bestseller. Despite being published 25 years ago, it remains relevant today, as violence surges nationwide, and people attempt to try and protect themselves.

The author, Gavin de Becker, is well qualified to talk about the subject of protection and survival. His company, Gavin de Becker & Associates, protects well-known celebrities and individuals from harm, including Madonna, Dolly Parton, and Jeff Bezos. He specializes in analyzing threats to determine their credibility. How can you tell if the death threat you got the other day is credible? He can figure it out. His customers also include the US Government, and his firm has designed systems such as MOSAIC to screen threats against the Supreme Court and members of Congress. He has also worked with a plethora of government agencies, including the US Marshall’s Service and the Secret Service.

The book opens with de Becker interviewing a survivor of rape. He shows the reader how her intuition ended up saving her life during her experience. While the opening to this chapter is rather gruesome, it does reflect the reality that many people have faced, and makes the reader understand the role intuition plays in survival.

De Backer explains the value of intuition in later chapters. He interviewed someone who narrowly escaped death at a gas station hold-up, and analyzed how his brain’s intuition saved his life. He was going to buy something inside the station, went inside, but something felt wrong. He left quickly without buying anything, and shots rang out not even a minute later. He explains all of the signs his brain unconsciously caught, and reiterates the value of intuition.

Later chapters go on to analyze those who commit things such as mass murder. De Becker dispels the rumor that “nobody could have ever predicted this” and walks the reader through, step-by-step, the process that turns one into a murderer. One does not simply “snap” and commit mass murder, he explains, but rather there is a long process with obvious warning signs. Understanding these signs and patterns can also help one determine the credibility of a death threat, he explains.

The book is extremely well-written, by likely the most qualified individual worldwide. I appreciated the use of personal stories that show specifically what de Becker is talking about in real-life situations. At times, I feel that the book can over-dramatize the risk the average person faces against situations like mass murder and attacks. De Becker also uses generalizations frequently about the “average American” and how they view violence, but never backs it up with evidence. It feels odd that he would stigmatize and generalize his own audience, which can occasionally come off as a little pretentious.

Despite this, the book is a fantastic read, and I would highly recommend it to nearly everyone. There is something in it for all, regardless of your situation. Rarely does a book answer so many questions, from those about mass murderers and serial killers to abusive spouses and workplace maniacs. The strategies he gives to defuse violent situations can also be extrapolated to calm down confrontational people and understand their motivations. But the end message of the book, despite all of the topics he covers, is to trust your instincts and intuition. It’s there for a reason, and, as he explains, can be lifesaving.