In 1962, 500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the free world was almost destroyed. When Russian submarines bearing a nuclear warhead were bullied to surface by American ships unaware of the subs' explosive cargo, the Russian captains were in one hell of a pickle—die in an excessively violent blaze of glory or surrender now and attempt escape later. So begins Nerve (Little, Brown and Company, 320 pages, $25.99), local journalist Taylor Clark's new book about fear and how to deal with it, which asks how one Russian captain was able to stay so cool in the terrifying heat of pressure that he kept the Cold War cold.
Clark's first book, 2007's Starbucked, examined the impact of coffeehouse culture on society. This time he takes on a different kind of jitters. A lifetime of nail-biting and brow-furrowing has given Clark, a self-proclaimed worrier, a vested interest in the emerging field of fear science. Beginning with a breakdown of neuroscience's understanding of the frightened mind, Nerve examines why some athletes choke at the peak of their careers and why soldiers in some wars are able to withstand constant trauma and in other wars crack under sporadic threats. Clark takes a look at his own fear in hopes of ending his days as a deer in the headlights and finds helpful the U.S. military's "eight P's" mantra: "Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance." Nerve is a fascinating summary of dry science that reads a bit like Woody Allen giving tips on how to keep Batman-like composure.
GO: Taylor Clark reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Tuesday, March 29. Free.