Thursday, July 05, 2012

Book Review: Mud, Sweat and Tears

I must confess that prior to reading his autobiography, I only knew a couple of things about Bear Grylls. One was that he did some crazy survival stuff on TV (although I'd never seen any of his programmes), and two, that he was a Christian. Yet even knowing very little about him, I thoroughly enjoyed his book, which I'll certainly be returning to time and again for his insights and motivation.

From the Prologue onwards, the reader is brought along on many of Grylls' adventures, the exhilarating and exciting, as well as the horrific and horrible. The lead-in question from the brief taster found in the prologue drives the reader forward: 'When did all this craziness become my world?' The answer, it seems, is from the beginning!

Grylls' family heritage is very important to him, from his ancestor who wrote the first ever 'self-help' book, through to his great-grandfather's love of the County Down coast at Portavo (which helped warm me to the story!) and his untimely death onboard the Princess Victoria as it sank in 1953. The devotion and encouragement of his father was inspirational to him - such as the time his dad was the only spectator in driving rain for a schools rugby match in which Bear wasn't even playing, but was doing linesman!

Throughout the book it is clear that his Christian faith is very precious in his life, as he tells the story of his conversion, and repeatedly illustrates his journey through life and his adventures with Bible verses that kept him going through the toughest times. His simple faith warmed my heart as he speaks honestly about it in contrast to the stuffy church services he had to endure at school:

'My journey ever since has been trying to make sure I don't let life or vicars or church over-complicate that simple faith I had found. And the more of the Christian faith I discover, the most I realize that, at heart, it is simple... To me, my Christian faith is all about being held, comforted, forgiven, strengthened and loved - yet somehow that message gets lost on most of us, and we tend only to remember the religious nutters or the God of endless school assemblies.' (pp 113-114)

In summing up the early part of his life, what about this for a reason to get into the book and discover what he's been doing: 'So there you have it: I had been arrested for nudity, flunked my exams, and failed at getting a girlfriend - but I had a hunger for adventure and the love of a great family in my soul.' (p. 125)

Part Two details his journey through selection to join the SAS, telling what he can because of the Official Secrets Act, as he goes on many pack marches, navigations, campings and survival situations. My legs felt tired just reading what he had endured, but in order to not ruin the surprise that comes in this section, I'll not say much more.

It seems, though, that wherever he turned, shocks and overcoming the odds were his lot. Having been terribly injured in a parachute accident, he then determines to recover and conquer Everest, the story told in Part Three. Once again, his endurance seems super-human as he shares the woes and joys of reaching the highest point on earth. Truly inspirational stuff.

All in all, it's a great book, written as if you're just sitting chatting to the Chief Scout, in lots of small chapters (110 of them). Having read the book, I might even start watching his programmes, so long as his eating bugs and things aren't too gross! You need to read this book (Kindle edition here).

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