The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence / Edition 1

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Overview

True fear is often a signal that can save your life. Are you listening?

  • The baby-sitter you've just hired makes you uneasy—what should you do?
  • You sense you are being followed —do you confront the stranger...or run?
  • A fired employee says "You'll be sorry"—should you take him seriously?
  • A person in the elevator you are about to enter just doesn't look right—do you wait for the next car?

A date won't take "no" for an answer. The new nanny gives a mother an uneasy feeling. A stranger in a deserted parking lot offers unsolicited help. The threat of violence surrounds us every day. But we can protect ourselves, by learning to trust—and act on—our gut instincts.

In this empowering book, Gavin de Becker, the man Oprah Winfrey calls the nation's leading expert on violent behavior, shows you how to spot even subtle signs of danger—before it's too late. Shattering the myth that most violent acts are unpredictable, de Becker, whose clients include top Hollywood stars and government agencies, offers specific ways to protect yourself and those you love, including...how to act when approached by a stranger...when you should fear someone close to you...what to do if you are being stalked...how to uncover the source of anonymous threats or phone calls...the biggest mistake you can make with a threatening person...and more. Learn to spot the danger signals others miss. It might just save your life.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A how-to book that reads like a thriller...provocative...empowering."—The Boston Globe

"De Becker has a lot to say about crime and the fear of crime, and he says it persuasively...his blend of empathy, reassurance and common sense wows readers."—Newsweek

"Chilling and fascinating."—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316235020
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/16/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 214,963
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Gavin de Becker is a three-time presidential appointee whose pioneering work has changed the way our government evaluates threats to our nation’s highest officials. His firm advises many of the world’s most prominent media figures, corporations, and law enforcement agencies on predicting violence, and it also serves regular citizens who are victims of domestic abuse and stalking. De Becker has advised the prosecution on major cases, including the O.J. Simpson murder trial. He has testified before many legislative bodies and has successfully proposed new laws to help manage violence.
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Read an Excerpt


* * *


In a very real sense, the surging water in an ocean does not move; rather, energy moves through it. In this same sense, the energy of violence moves through our culture. Some experience it as a light but unpleasant breeze, easy to tolerate. Others are destroyed by it, as if by a hurricane. But nobody--nobody--is untouched. Violence is a part of America, and more than that, it is a part of our species. It is around us, and it is in us. As the most powerful people in history, we have climbed to the top of the world food chain, so to speak. Facing not one single enemy or predator who poses to us any danger of consequence, we've found the only prey left: ourselves.

Lest anyone doubt this, understand that in the last two years alone, more Americans died from gunshot wounds than were killed during the entire Vietnam War. By contrast, in all of Japan (with a population of 120 million people), the number of young men shot to death in a year is equal to the number killed in New York City in a single busy weekend. Our armed robbery rate is one hundred times higher than Japan's. In part, that's because we are a nation with more firearms than adults, a nation where 20,000 guns enter the stream of commerce every day. No contemplation of your safety in America can be sincere without taking a clear-eyed look down the barrel of that statistic. By this time tomorrow, 400 more Americans will suffer a shooting injury, and another 1,100 will face a criminal with a gun, as Kelly did. Within the hour, another 75 women will be raped, as Kelly was.

Neither privilege nor fame will keep violence away: In the last 35 years, more public figureshave been attacked in America than in the 185 years before that. Ordinary citizens can encounter violence at their jobs to the point that homicide is now the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. Twenty years ago, the idea of someone going on a shooting spree at work was outlandish; now it's in the news nearly every week, and managing employee fear of coworkers is a frequent topic in the boardroom.

While we are quick to judge the human rights record of every other country on earth, it is we civilized Americans whose murder rate is ten times that of other Western nations, we civilized Americans who kill women and children with the most alarming frequency. In (sad) fact, if a full jumbo jet crashed into a mountain killing everyone on board, and if that happened every month, month in and month out, the number of people killed still wouldn't equal the number of women murdered by their husbands and boyfriends each year.

We all watched as bodies were carried away from the Oklahoma City bombing, and by the end of that week we learned to our horror that nineteen children had died in the blast. You now know that seventy children died that same week at the hands of a parent, just like every week--and most of them were under five years old. Four million luckier children were physically abused last year, and it was not an unusual year.

Statistics like this tend to distance us from the tragedies that surround each incident because we end up more impressed by the numbers than by the reality. To bring it closer to home, you personally know a woman who has been battered, and you've probably seen the warning signs. She or her husband works with you, lives near you, amazes you in sports, fills your prescriptions at the pharmacy, or advises on your taxes. You may not know, however, that women visit emergency rooms for injuries caused by their husbands or boyfriends more often than for injuries from car accidents, robberies, and rapes combined.

Our criminal-justice system often lacks justice, and more often lacks reason. For example, America has about three thousand people slated for execution, more by far than at any time in world history, yet the most frequent cause of death listed for those inmates is "natural causes." That's because we execute fewer than 2 percent of those sentenced to die. It is actually safer for these men to live on death row than to live in some American neighborhoods.

I explore capital punishment here not to promote it, for I am not an advocate, but rather because our attitude toward it raises a question that is key to this book: Are we really serious about fighting crime and violence? Often, it appears we are not. Here's just one example of what we accept: If you add up how long their victims would otherwise have lived, our country's murderers rob us of almost a million years of human contribution every year.

I've presented these facts about the frequency of violence for a reason: to increase the likelihood that you will believe it is at least possible that you or someone you care for will be a victim at some time. That belief is a key element in recognizing when you are in the presence of danger. That belief balances denial, the powerful and cunning enemy of successful predictions. Even having learned these facts of life and death, some readers will still compartmentalize the hazards in order to exclude themselves: "Sure, there's a lot of violence, but that's in the inner city"; "Yeah, a lot of women are battered, but I'm not in a relationship now"; "Violence is a problem for younger people, or older people"; "You're only at risk if you're out late at night"; "People bring it on themselves," and on and on. Americans are experts at denial, a choir whose song could be titled "Things Like That Don't Happen in This Neighborhood."

Denial has an interesting and insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn't so, the fall they take when victimized is far, far greater than that of those who accept the possibility. Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low-grade anxiety. Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).

If we studied any other creature in nature and found the record of intraspecies violence that human beings have, we would be repulsed by it. We'd view it as a great perversion of natural law--but we wouldn't deny it.

As we stand on the tracks, we can only avoid the oncoming train if we are willing to see it and willing to predict that it won't stop. But instead of improving the technologies of prediction, America improves the technologies of conflict: guns, prisons, SWAT teams, karate classes, pepper spray, stun guns, Tasers, Mace. And now more than ever, we need the most accurate predictions. Just think about how we live: We are searched for weapons before boarding a plane, visiting city hall, seeing a television show taping, or attending a speech by the president. Our government buildings are surrounded by barricades, and we wrestle through so-called tamper-proof packaging to get a couple aspirin. All of this was triggered by the deeds of fewer than ten dangerous men who got our attention by frightening us. What other quorum in American history, save those who wrote our constitution, could claim as much impact on our day-to-day lives? Since fear is so central to our experience, understanding when it is a gift--and when it is a curse--is well worth the effort.

We live in a country where one person with a gun and some nerve can derail our democratic right to choose the leaders of the most powerful nation in history. The guaranteed passport into the world of great goings-on is violence, and the lone assailant with a grandiose idea and a handgun has become an icon of our culture. Yet comparatively little has been done to learn about that person, particularly considering his (and sometimes her) impact on our lives.

We don't need to learn about violence, many feel, because the police will handle it, the criminal-justice system will handle it, experts will handle it. Though it touches us all and belongs to us all, and though we each have something profound to contribute to the solution, we have left this critical inquiry to people who tell us that violence cannot be predicted, that risk is a game of odds, and that anxiety is an unavoidable part of life.

Not one of these conventional "wisdoms" is true.

* * *


Throughout our lives, each of us will have to make important behavioral predictions on our own, without experts. From the wide list of people who present themselves, we'll choose candidates for inclusion in our lives--as employers, employees, advisers, business associates, friends, lovers, spouses.

Whether it is learned the easy way or the hard way, the truth remains that your safety is yours. It is not the responsibility of the police, the government, industry, the apartment building manager, or the security company. Too often, we take the lazy route and invest our confidence without ever evaluating if it is earned. As we send our children off each morning, we assume the school will keep them safe, but as you'll see in chapter 12, it might not be so. We trust security guards--you know, the employment pool that gave us the Son of Sam killer, the assassin of John Lennon, the Hillside Strangler, and more arsonists and rapists than you have time to read about. Has the security industry earned your confidence? Has government earned it? We have a Department of Justice, but it would be more appropriate to have a department of violence prevention, because that's what we need and that's what we care about. Justice is swell, but safety is survival.

Just as we look to government and experts, we also look to technology for solutions to our problems, but you will see that your personal solution to violence will not come from technology. It will come from an even grander resource that was there all the while, within you. That resource is intuition.

It may be hard to accept its importance, because intuition is usually looked upon by us thoughtful Western beings with contempt. It is often described as emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable. Husbands chide their wives about "feminine intuition" and don't take it seriously. If intuition is used by a woman to explain some choice she made or a concern she can't let go of, men roll their eyes and write it off. We much prefer logic, the grounded, explainable, unemotional thought process that ends in a supportable conclusion. In fact, Americans worship logic, even when it's wrong, and deny intuition, even when it's right.

Men, of course, have their own version of intuition, not so light and inconsequential, they tell themselves, as that feminine stuff. Theirs is more viscerally named a "gut feeling," but it isn't just a feeling. It is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation. It is our most complex cognitive process and at the same time the simplest.

Intuition connects us to the natural world and to our nature. Freed from the bonds of judgment, married only to perception, it carries us to predictions we will later marvel at. "Somehow I knew," we will say about the chance meeting we predicted, or about the unexpected phone call from a distant friend, or the unlikely turnaround in someone's behavior, or about the violence we steered clear of, or, too often, the violence we elected not to steer clear of. "Somehow I knew . . ." Like Kelly knew, and you can know.

The husband and wife who make an appointment with me to discuss the harassing and threatening phone calls they are getting want me to figure out who is doing it. Based on what the caller says, it's obvious he is someone they know, but who? Her ex-husband? That weird guy who used to rent a room from them? A neighbor angry about their construction work? The contractor they fired?

The expert will tell them who it is, they think, but actually they will tell me. It's true I have experience with thousands of cases, but they have the experience with this one. Inside them, perhaps trapped where I can help find it, is all the information needed to make an accurate evaluation. At some point in our discussion of possible suspects, the woman will invariably say something like this: "You know, there is one other person, and I don't have any concrete reasons for thinking it's him. I just have this feeling, and I hate to even suggest it, but . . ." And right there I could send them home and send my bill, because that is who it will be. We will follow my client's intuition until I have "solved the mystery." I'll be much praised for my skill, but most often, I just listen and give them permission to listen to themselves. Early on in these meetings, I say, "No theory is too remote to explore, no person is beyond consideration, no gut feeling is too unsubstantiated." (In fact, as you are about to find out, every intuition is firmly substantiated.) When clients ask, "Do the people who make these threats ever do such-and-such?" I say, "Yes, sometimes they do," and this is permission to explore some theory.

When interviewing victims of anonymous threats, I don't ask, "Who do you think sent you these threats?" because most victims can't imagine that anyone they know sent the threats. I ask instead, "Who could have sent them?" and together we make a list of everyone who had the ability, without regard to motive. Then I ask clients to assign a motive, even a ridiculous one, to each person on the list. It is a creative process that puts them under no pressure to be correct. For this very reason, in almost every case, one of their imaginative theories will be correct.

Quite often, my greatest contribution to solving the mystery is my refusal to call it a mystery. Rather, it is a puzzle, one in which there are enough pieces available to reveal what the image is. I have seen these pieces so often that I may recognize them sooner than some people, but my main job is just to get them on the table.

As we explore the pieces of the human violence puzzle, I'll show you their shapes and their colors. Given your own lifelong study of human behavior--and your own humanness--you'll see that the pieces are already familiar to you. Above all, I hope to leave you knowing that every puzzle can be solved long before all the pieces are in place.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 75 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 75 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2000

    Practical and instantly applicable

    I was writing a research paper when I first picked up this book. I wasn't planning to read all of it, just support some of my conclusions. The paper was almost late because I couldn't put the book down once I started! When I was a small child, I naturally followed my instincts (that's what small children do), but I started ignoring them as I got older. I felt the need to be polite and not upset the other person. This book reminded me that being polite at an inappropriate time can have serious consequenses. I started paying attention to what my subconscious (instinct) wanted me to do. To quote a book I read once upon a time, 'If you're feeling fear, something is really really wrong.'

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    Amazing!

    My professor at my college suggested my whole class read this book. He has been a policeman in NJ and VA, so I was very interested. I have a BA in Criminology and I can sincerely say, this is one of the most important crime books you will read. It does not blame men or women for crime; it merely suggests steps to avoid situations you may have previously overlooked as putting yourself in a risky position. I know men AND women who have enjoyed reading this book. Great read particularly if you live by yourself!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    As a woman,mother,registered nurse I found this book to be very

    As a woman,mother,registered nurse I found this book to be very informative. Don't apologize for refusing to get on a elevator if you feel unsafe, know that 18 calls a day does not show devotion, it IS stalking and you are right to feel nervous. I will have my daughter read this book before she leaves for college.Not to make her scared but to help her be aware her "gut" feelings should be trusted!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Oprah Finally Got It Right

    I have always said that there is nothing stronger than your own feelings. This book underlines that message. If you have a gut feeling that something just isn't right, it usually isn't. This book is a must for any woman. Oprah Winfrey has featured many books on her show and each one has always been the greatest thing you could ever read, but this one is the truth.

    I also recommend R.A. Clark's "When God Stopped Keeping Score." If you ever have been challenged by your past, guilt or anger, this is a must read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2010

    This Will Save Your Life

    Listening to your intuition is the key to your safety. De Becker reveals real life stories from his clients - the FBI, celebrities and people like you and I - to reveal that life-threatening danger will be something we all encounter. He explains what to do when you know something bad is going to happen even though you think you don't have a solid reason why you know; how to deal with danger when it's staring you in the face; and how to avoid it. Sayin 'no' is more than okay, it saved my life and it can do the same for you. Compelling - this book will have you gasping out loud! It's undoubtedly great for every woman, no matter her age or at what point she's at in her life. I especially recommend it to all single woman and those in college. The Gift of Fear truely can save your life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    Must read!!!

    This book was excellent, a truely excellent read. As someone who works with the public in a law enforcement setting this book prepared me to pick up on signals and clues that we see' every day but do not pay much mind to. It also makes you reflect upon previous experiences and makes you realize how you could have been is more danger than you realized. Living in a smaller town where most people don't lock their doors and trust a stranger who seems a little 'too' helpful... I have learned to trust my instinct and for signs to look for and pick up on that can really clue you in to someones true intentions. After only reading the 1st few pages I was hooked, and I am not generally an avid reader aside from required college textbooks.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    I bought this book many years ago when he was on Oprah and I can

    I bought this book many years ago when he was on Oprah and I can't count how many times I've recommended it since then. It provides great insight into the behavior and mindset of harassers, stalkers and the like. The book provides advise on how to deal with these situations. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Recommended, received as described!!

    Cost, description, and shipping were all exceptional. Thank you.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

    A Must Read!

    I was sexually abused from the ages of 11-17(I lived in the Middle East at the time),once back in the States I was raped at the age of 19 by someone who was a family friend,at 20 I married my daughter's father who was an abuser and I stayed for 5 years just taking it,so when I met a man who seemed too good to be true at 26 I suppressed any and all doubts I had about him. My family loved him,he had 19 years in the NAVY and would retire when he had 20 years,he had full custody of his then 4 year old daughter,he treated my daughter well.......but he also never left my side while we were dating. He started talking marriage 3 weeks into the relationship,he never had his daughter with him she was always at his mother's,he bought me a cell phone 2 weeks into our relationship with a gold necklace stating that he go me the necklace so I would not think the phone was a way for him to keep tabs on me,4 weeks in he bought an engagement ring,if I would not answer the house phone or cell phone he would drive an hour to my house to see why,if I made plans to be with friends or to be with my daughter he would show up at my house to make sure I would not be able to go out as planned. I tried to break up with him many times but everytime he would come to my house(I lived with my mom due to the fact I have 2 autoimmune diseases and had been in and out of the hospital and had had roughly 11 surgeries over 18 months) crying and begging my mom to speak with me and that he just loved me so much. He was able to manipulate my family into thinking he was this great guy who just really loved me and wanted the best for me and my family would tell me my gut feelings were wrong and that he really loved me. When I finally told him I was leaving he lost it and for 5 hours he held me and my daughter inside the house cutting the phone line and taking my cell phone apart so we could not get help and he beat me leaving me with a concussion and then going after my then six year old daughter when I could not protect her. I wish so much that I had read this book before I met him. I wish my mother had read this book before I met him. It is a wonderful book and I will never ignore my gut feelings again. It teaches you to pick up things that you might not have ever thought about needing to pick up on,it teaches you about the ways people try to manipulate you into thinking a certain way about them,and it teaches you to pick up on the body signals that people give off that would allow you to pick up on them not being up to any good. The information in this book is invaluable!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Personalized Handbook for Safety (and relief)

    This book was excellent. It is well-written and precise. You can learn to be safe without become a worry-wart. Be prepared, listen to your intuition and you will be as safe as you can be.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2010

    Invaluable!! Get it today!!

    If you learn only one thing -- you will be safer. How can you put a price on that! Excellent book. Easy reading!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 16, 2010

    Recommended!

    This is a truly fascinating and engrossing book. The author gives a lot of useful and informative advice for everyday life. The examples he cites are terrifying and all-too true. I borrow this book to everyone I know; the issues covered are so important. This book was recommended to me and I'm so glad I read it! A must-read for everyone (women in particular), this book is very empowering in that it teaches us how to listen to our "gut" reactions and instincts during potentially violent situations. One message in particular has always stuck with me; the fact that women are generally too polite to be rude to a man that they are having sketchy feelings about. Please read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    A must-read for every female

    This book provides valuable insights into trusting your instincts in ways that could save your life. When so much emphasis is placed on the logical and concrete today, it's eye-opening to realize that we have a sixth sense about people and that we indeed should pay attention to that tiny voice and yes, even cultivate it. De Becker provides excellent examples that make the truth of his words jump from the pages. Further, he provides very practical step-by-step guides to evaluating situations. It's a must-read for every female in particular, but also very valuable for men. In fact, a male friend recommended it to me. This book is a keeper that I'm certain I'll refer back to again and again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 19, 2008

    Straight-forward, fascinating, invaluable

    This is a valuable read for any woman. The majority of the advice in the book is valuable common sense that most people (women) ignore. We all know that getting into an elevator, alone, with a man that you get a bad feeling from is not a smart move. But women do things like that anyway for fear of insulting people. This book points out the obvious (yet often ignored) facts: If you have to step on a few toes to feel safe, do so, even if it's a little embarrassing.<BR/>"The Gift of Fear" is a wake-up call to women (and men) everywhere to listen to your instincts, keep your eyes open, and really think about the little things we can do to keep ourselves safe. The author, Gavin de Becker, says over and over that violence is predictable as long as we know the signs, and we're paying attention. He's absolutely right.<BR/>I have recommended this book to all my friends. The writing style isn't Charlotte Bronte, but it's still an enjoyable read. Very touching, very interesting. An excellent resource.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    Book worth more than years of karate

    The Gift of Fear is the most brilliant book about self defense I've ever read. I could've avoided some unpleasent experiences if I had learned to trust my gift of fear. The premise of the book is to learn to trust one's instincts. Debecker also does a good job delineating the difference between true fear and worry. He wisely states that we are less mindful when we are worried about things that are not happening. He also does a good job explaining red flags such as forced teaming and the unsolicited promise. Debecker does a good job exploring the psychology of predators. This book is a must read for anyone who works with victims of domestic violence.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2006

    Essential Reading

    I picked up this book a few years ago and have revisited it several times now. It's an amazing and potentially life-saving book. I gave copies of it to all my sisters and my girlfriend. Trust your instinct. And read this book. You'll be glad you did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    My daughter's friend just recently told me that I had given The

    My daughter's friend just recently told me that I had given The Gilft of Fear to her and my daughter to read. She told that it changed the way she looked at things. All these years later and it has been many years she still uses the wisdom from that book. How many books have a legacy of this magnitude

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    A must-read- and page turner

    I reread it every year......buying for all my female business clients
    this year. Gavin is the best.....and I am delighted to be his aunt too.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012

    Can save your life

    I have 4 children, as soon as they turn 13, I start to tell them about the book & then I have them read it. Some parts may be a little scary, but it teaches them how to use what they already have! I can't say enough about how much this can change your life! This should be a must for all law enforcement!!

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Listening to my first instinct

    The Gift Of Fear is a wonderful way to insure yourself that what you feel is so very important. Gavin will tell you that animals, although less intellegent, will use the all important sense of fear that many times will save thier lives...but humans fail to listen to what thier bodies tell them. The American statistics are astounding...very good information!

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