Risk management Christmas
November 2, 2018 12:02 PM   Subscribe

My brother has asked for "Any book on decision making in high risk, complex environments (economics, military, emergency room...)" for Christmas. He works in the outdoor/wilderness rescue/medicine/firstresponder field, so stuff geared to that would be cool. He's looking for non-fiction, non-narrative sciencey sorts of books. Assume I'm looking for like a 400-level book, not a 101 sort of book. Any suggestions? I want to get him THE BEST.
posted by Grandysaur to Education (28 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Less about decision making, and more about observation, but Tom Brown Jr. is the tracker and he's written a number of books on the topic.

I haven't read it personally, but Science and Art of Tracking seems like it could be a cool fit, and certainly "400" level.
posted by matrixclown at 12:12 PM on November 2, 2018

Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq by Scott Snook is a fascinating analysis of the breakdown in communication and decision making that led to a tragic accident in the first Gulf War.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:26 PM on November 2, 2018

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell.
posted by Melismata at 12:27 PM on November 2, 2018

Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial.
posted by karayel at 12:43 PM on November 2, 2018

Atul Gawande's "Checklist Manifesto" might fit the bill?
posted by stillmoving at 12:44 PM on November 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Has he ever read any of the "Accidents in North American Climbing" yearbooks? I love these.

They are brief, very clinical examinations of a year's worth of climbing accidents, with very specific lessons about how others can avoid repeating the same errors. He may both enjoy and learn from them.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:51 PM on November 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

What about Thinking Fast and Slow?
posted by jadepearl at 12:51 PM on November 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Perhaps Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales, which focuses on outdoorsmanship and mountaineering but can be extrapolated to other situations pretty readily. It's not 101-level, but it's also not heavily technical.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:59 PM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

This has "primer" in the title, but is not actually 101-level IMO: Failure Is An Option: A Primer and Guide for Managing Crises. (Disclaimer: I know the author through work.)
posted by Lexica at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do No Harm is a memoir from the UK's most renowned brain surgeon about decisionmaking in the operating room, and mistakes that he's made that sometimes had catastrophic consequences. He's a bit arrogant but always fascinating.
posted by heavenknows at 1:13 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

The classic in this subject is Diane Vaughan’s The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. The book is unusual because it is atypical for disasters to be thoroughly studied and problems re-engineered and that information made public. Vaughan uses a root cause analysis across NASA and she concluded the primary cause of the accident was a ''normalization of deviance''. Which is to say the staff became accepting of bad information and bad standards and this systemic degradation lead to the accident. Popularized root cause analysis and coined that "normalization of deviance", and would be the one book to read.

Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies By Charles Perrow argues and provides evidence that accidents become inevitable in complex, tightly coupled systems, and safety precautions only serve to add further complexity and may result in bad side effects. Once a system become so complex a single person can't understand all potential consequences of a particular action is combined with processes that have strict time frames the environment is set for eventual disaster. Challenges many of the assumptions of how people and organizations manage 'risk'.

Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago By Eric Klinenberg would be an excellent sociological look into how a crisis has widely divergent impacts within a community and how a government responds (or doesn't) - and might provide some depth and background to the sort of people he might see in his line of work as an emergency responder.

The Snooks book on Friendly Fire and Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire (very old) are also good examples, but both might be too narrative driven, and both might not have as universal application.
posted by zenon at 1:25 PM on November 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

I was going to recommend Scott Snook and Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire", but NotMyselfRightNow and zenon beat me to it. You might also like some of the work by Gary Klein, such as Sources of Power.
posted by papergirl at 1:33 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Gift of Fear might be another.

Here's a precis from the author of Deep Survival, the book tapir-whorf mentioned above.
posted by Baeria at 2:11 PM on November 2, 2018

If he wants to jump straight into the deep end (so to speak), I really enjoyed reading Staying Alive:: Applying Risk Management to Advanced Scuba Diving [sic]. That typo is directly from the Amazon page, and I have to point out that this is the single worst copyedited book I have ever read. But it's really interesting to read about extreme situations, and it made me rethink a lot of things. One example, most divers these days have a backup mouthpiece (regulator) to allow two divers to share one tank in an emergency. Typically, the backup is the cheapest, lowest performing model available, because who's going to use it? Steve Lewis argues you should use your best one as the emergency backup, because that's exactly when you would need the peak performance. Stuff like that, as well as detailed tables explaining exactly when oxygen will kill you.
posted by wnissen at 2:27 PM on November 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Super +1 to Perrow's "Normal Accidents".

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

...and I know you specified non-fiction, but I recently read armscontrolwonk's "The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel", and let's just say it led to a few sleepless nights. It's based on speculative-but-informed understanding of how governments interact (or don't)
posted by scolbath at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do No Harm is a memoir from the UK's most renowned brain surgeon

I'll second this. It's been a year or two since I read it so I may have the details wrong, but there's several stories that take place in run down post-Soviet hospitals with limited equipment/resources, which might be especially appealing.

Atul Gawande's "Checklist Manifesto" might fit the bill?

I'm apparently into medical books, because I'll also second this. This book is nice because it's can be very applicable to everyday life, and would be probably be very practical for your brother in addition to being an interesting read. Though I suppose I'd call it closer to 200-level than 400.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 3:16 PM on November 2, 2018

Over The Edge: Death at Grand Canyon . Interesting read about all the categories of death in the Grand Canyon; contains short examples in each chapter (lots of bad decisions with dire consequences), plus graphs at the end on divisions in each category (Males/females; ages/occupations). I found it fascinating.
posted by annieb at 3:32 PM on November 2, 2018

Death, Daring, & Disaster, Search and Rescue in the National Parks, by Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, Jr.

Taylor Trade Publishing
ISBN 978-1-58979-182-4

"First published in 1998, this ... distills over 400 exciting tales of heroism from the 150,000 search-and-rescue missions carried out by the National Park Service since Yellowstone was established ... in 1872. Updated to include incidents through 2004.
posted by qurlyjoe at 4:12 PM on November 2, 2018

Just read the OP. The book I mentioned is actually narrative, so maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but interesting stuff nonetheless for anyone else interested.
posted by qurlyjoe at 4:19 PM on November 2, 2018

Changing on the Job and Simple Habits for Complex Times by Jennifer Garvey Berger are both great. They deal more with personal productivity and leadership improvement but cover organizational theory and would be entirely useful in a hospital setting.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:33 PM on November 2, 2018

I've read several of the books in this thread (Checklists, Deep Survival) and while I agree with those, I think a book you should also consider is Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance. It's written by a doctor who somehow has found himself doing a lot of random "extreme" medicine because he is also a real serious outdoor adventure enthusiast. So he talks a bit about many different situations (high altitude, deep underwater, space, way out in the jungle) and how people deal with some of the medical situations they have to deal with. It's a combination of narrative and "blabla this is what happens to your eyeballs when you are in the vacuum of space"

Also slightly lateral to the topic there is To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure by Henry Petrosk which is all about the exciting world of bridge collapses. Do I have your attention yet? Not for everyone but I liked it.
posted by jessamyn at 5:24 PM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

In a way Coles' Heavy Weather Sailing is about risk management.
posted by bdc34 at 6:32 PM on November 2, 2018

Does he like software / not hate Google? The SRE Book borrows a lot from incident response practices, and he may be chuffed to see them applied to software.
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:08 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

4 out of the 5 books in zenon's post were on the reading list for a class I took on disasters/catastrophic errors, along with Normal Accidents. I'll add on Amanda Ripley's "The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why" although it is relatively narrative in nature. I think that because of the nature of [high risk complex environments] it's typically challenging to conduct something like a randomized trial, so the reading tends to be narrative/specific.
posted by tangaroo at 5:40 PM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


might work? I went on a kick of reading this kind of thing after reading the Amanda Ripley book tangaroo mentioned, and I found that one interesting.
posted by BlueNorther at 7:35 AM on November 4, 2018

This is not exactly about risk management or decision making, but it does overlap: The Systems Bible is about reducing risk from poor decisions by improving the systems around them.
posted by kejadlen at 8:52 PM on November 6, 2018

This is a famous book about why so many people die on Mt Washington in NH when things go wrong and small problems spiral out of control. I haven't read the book, but the Yankee magazine article that it's based on is a classic.
posted by Jahaza at 12:09 PM on November 8, 2018

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