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Book Review Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, By Stephen M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney, Cambridge University Press, 2012, 204 pages, £19.99/$22.99 pbk, ISBN: 978-0-521-19563-2

ISSN: 0963-8237 (print), 1360-0567 (electronic)
J Ment Health, 2014; 23(1): 46
!2014 Informa UK Ltd. DOI: 10.3109/09638237.2013.841878
Book Review
Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest
Challenges, By Stephen M. Southwick and Dennis S.
Charney, Cambridge University Press, 2012, 204 pages,
£19.99/$22.99 pbk, ISBN: 978-0-521-19563-2
Having both a personal and a professional interest in the
individual’s capacity for improving resilience, I was delighted
to find a book tackling just that. Resilience is not just a dry
resource for clinicians and researchers, but rather a ‘‘how-to’’
guide for anyone with an interest in improving their psycho-
logical resilience to stress and trauma. Having conducted
numerous interviews with groups of individuals that have
displayed extraordinary abilities in overcoming hardship –
former Vietnam POWs, U.S. Special Forces instructors and
individual members of the public who have faced challenging
situations – the authors analysed their stories and experiences
and distilled them into 10 common themes contributing to
resilience. These form the backbone of the book. Each chapter
follows a similar structure: a narrative story of a traumatic
experience faced by one of the interviewees is presented,
the evidence from the resilience and mental health literature
supporting the role of this trait in resilience and the
mechanisms through which it works are outlined, and
practical tips are provided for readers on how they could
apply this to their own lives. Reading several chapters in
one sitting was a little repetitive, but I think it would be easy
for readers to pick the sections that most interest them.
I am not a clinician, but I think that it is safe to say that
for most psychologists and those familiar with current
psychological theory, this book is unlikely to break new
ground in terms of the factors that have been suggested to
be associated with resilience. However, the authors have
produced a highly accessible guide to many of the concepts
used within psychological therapy, covering CBT techniques,
mindfulness, fostering positive thinking, dealing with fear
and the links between physical and mental health. Combined
with inspiring stories of individuals facing personal
hardship, Resilience is a good means of disseminating the
tools for improved mental health to the wider public. Offering
advice on gaining social support, developing spirituality as
a resource, utilising role models and fostering personal
growth, this book is suitable for those looking to improve
their ability to cope with life stressors.
The research presented is accessible for the lay audience
the book is intended for, and even includes a crash course
on basic neuroscience early on so everything is easy to follow
for an interested reader. However, as a student of epidemi-
ology taught to appraise research and causality, I sometimes
baulked at the evidence supporting the chapters. There were
occasions when I would have appreciated more evaluation
of the relevant research (or in some instances simply
more relevant research – the section on ‘‘The Neuroscience
of Extinction’’ in the chapter on Facing Fear relies heavily on
discussing psychological therapies rather than neuroscience,
for example). A more nuanced and detailed discussion of
some the supporting evidence would have allowed me to place
more faith in the messages of the book. I also found myself
wondering if it would have been possible to include some
examples of individuals who did not display the traits outlined
in the book utilising the learning to improve their resilience,
or even to demonstrate that individuals with worse outcomes
had lacked these traits. This would have strengthened the
academic merits of the book, and would possibly have
improved its appeal for clinicians.
Lindsey Hines
Department of Addictions
King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry
London, UK
J Ment Health Downloaded from by King's College London on 07/30/14
For personal use only.
Many of us will be struck by one or more major traumas sometime in our lives. Perhaps you have been a victim of sexual abuse, domestic violence or assault. Perhaps you were involved in a serious car accident. Perhaps you are a combat veteran. Maybe you were on the beach in Thailand during a tsunami, or in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Or maybe, you are among the millions who have suffered a debilitating disease, lost a loved one or lost your job. This inspiring book identifies ten key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Incorporating the latest scientific research and dozens of interviews with trauma survivors, it provides a practical guide to building emotional, mental and physical resilience. Written by experts in post-traumatic stress, this book provides a vital and successful roadmap for overcoming the adversities we all face at some point in our lives.