Jon Butler, Pan Macmillan's non-fiction publisher, on why you should read Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben
A wise man (or the marketing copywriter for the Will Smith film After Earth) once said: Danger is real. Fear is a choice.
It’s a clever line, because none of us can know how we might respond, if the time came, to the threat of mortal danger. Would we act quickly and decisively, if our life were at risk? If we did manage to do so, would we choose to do the right thing? Or would we pull the blankets over our head, and leave it to someone else to make the hard decisions?
I’m reminded of that line when thinking about Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben. It's a book that has touched everyone lucky enough to have read it and tells the terrifying, true story of a plane crash in the snowy north of Canada, in 1984. But what comes next isn’t what you’re expecting. This is not a story of trekking through the woods for weeks, keeping warm and undergoing feats of endurance. This is a true-life morality tale that takes place over the course of just one night in the snowbound depths of the Canadian wilderness.
Most of the passengers of the plane were tragically killed on impact. Of the four survivors of the crash, three are badly injured and unable to move: a politician, the rookie pilot of the downed plane, and a cop.
Only one man is fit enough to be able to help the others, to keep them alive and to go for help: Paul Archimbault, a young drifter who, until just a few hours ago had been shackled to the dying cop, travelling to face justice. A petty criminal who now, rubbing his wrists and looking out into the night, finds himself free…
Carol Shaben, an award-winning journalist who is the daughter of the politician who survived the crash, has pieced together a masterful narrative of a thrilling true drama. But it's more than that. In this beautifully paced book, just as Jon Krakauer did in Into the Wild, she has somehow got to the very core of what it means to be human.
As the American writer Joseph Campbell once said, in a line that forms the epigraph of this book, ‘It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.’