Great Escapes: The Stories Behind 50 Remarkable Journeys to Freedom


A stunning visual record of the world's most audacious and compelling escapes and escape attempts.

Whether escaping from a prison or evading an enemy, individuals have shown extraordinary courage and inventiveness during their bids for freedom.

Great Escapes relates fascinating details about the 50 most remarkable escapes and escape attempts, including:

  • Chris Ryan, who ...
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A stunning visual record of the world's most audacious and compelling escapes and escape attempts.

Whether escaping from a prison or evading an enemy, individuals have shown extraordinary courage and inventiveness during their bids for freedom.

Great Escapes relates fascinating details about the 50 most remarkable escapes and escape attempts, including:

  • Chris Ryan, who escaped from Iraq during the 1992 Gulf War as part of the Bravo Two Zero squad.
  • Aron Ralston, the hiker who sawed off his own arm after being trapped for five days under a boulder in the Colorado wilderness.
  • The Dalai Lama, the man Tibetans revere as a god, who was smuggled to freedom when the Chinese invaded his homeland.
  • The Underground Railroad, which allowed thousands of African Americans to escape the shackles of slavery
  • The many escape attempts from Alcatraz.
  • The mass breakout of Allied airmen from Stalag Luft III, immortalized in the movie The Great Escape.

Packed with dramatic color and black-and-white photographs, Great Escapes is a powerful testimony to the desire to regain freedom.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594036821
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/25/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 10.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Scott Christianson, a college professor, investigative reporter and New York State criminal justice official, served as director of prison investigations for that state's Commission of Correction. His books include Innocent, Condemned, Notorious Prisons, With Liberty for Some and Bodies of Evidence.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


1 Nature

Unforgettable stories of escape from some of Nature's excesses, as memorable characters battle on land, sea and ice: Shackleton's disastrous expedition to Antarctica, a failed balloon crossing, trapped mountaineers, victims of a raging tsunami, an awakening volcano and a hungry great white shark.

2 Kidnappers

Whether kidnapped by terrorists, a pedophile or an deranged serial killer, the victims must wait for the right moment to escape: seven dramatic stories, from the Entebbe hostage rescue to a terrified victim's effort to avoid becoming Jeffrey Dahmer's next sacrifice.

3 Regimes

Eight inspiring tales of remarkable individuals who refused to succumb to an oppressive regime: American runaway slaves, Aboriginal girls fleeing through the bush, the Dalai Lama evading the Chinese; desperate attempts to escape from Jonestown, Burundi genocide and Cambodia's killing fields; and a bold plan to overfly the Iron Curtain.

4 Prison and the Law

Amazing break-outs from some of the world's "escape-proof" prisons and the enduring mystery surrounding the most sensational unsolved airline hijacking from the 1970s.

5 Man-made Disasters

Some surprising things can happen when resourceful and courageous human beings find themselves caught up in an unthinkable disaster: from trapped submariners and astronauts stranded in space, to victims of a capsized ferry and a flaming dirigible, to office workers and rescuers trying to escape the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center and one of the mostincredible airliner crashes; a split-second can separate the lucky from the doomed.

6 World War II

The Second World War claimed millions of lives, but amid the carnage and horror, some would-be victims manage to survive despite insurmountable odds: prisoners who escaped from Siberia, Auschwitz, and assorted prison camps; and fighters who just won't countenance the fact that, for them, the war is over.

7 Modern Warfare

Shot-down pilots, trapped commandos and a civilian hostage in Iraq, these four accounts of great escapes from modern warfare offer a happy ending for what otherwise might have been another little-noted tragedy.


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They say a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. The same is true for any escape. Unfortunately, sometimes victims are unable to take that crucial step in time to save themselves; others try mightily but fail to defeat the force that holds them. It is often only the luckier ones who can and do escape from something truly monstrous.

This book is about Great Escapes -- notable, amazing, incredible, inspiring tales of individuals who are thrust into a life-or-death crisis situation -- a natural disaster or man-made hell -- and who prevail against enormous odds to get away. What makes them all so extraordinary is that they are true stories, based on authentic accounts. Some are famous episodes in recent history; a few incidents are not so widely known. But all of them involve real individuals, caught in a terrible bind, many with life-or-death decisions to make. Each story seeks to describe how the fly caught in the cobweb managed to break free, and in some instances, save others.

How did anyone escape from Auschwitz or survive inside the collapsing World Trade Center towers? What happens when a hapless and lone individual is faced with the most gigantic tsunami of modern times or the crash of his balloon from 30,000 feet (9,144 m)?

Whether it is an Australian kayaker trapped underwater, or a Middle East terrorists' hostage faced with imminent execution, many of these predicaments entail a split-second decision or an instinctive, conditioned response that makes the difference between survival and death. Others, such as a breakout from an "escape-proof prison" or the return of a crippled spaceship to Earth,require exceptional intelligence, planning and execution of a complex series of actions all of which must be done to perfection under great stress. All involve an element of good fortune that sometimes appears almost miraculous in its beneficence.

These stories span every continent, as well as some of the seas and space. People of many nationalities and groups are also represented. The settings range from mountain peaks and arctic wilderness to teeming jungles and sun-baked deserts, modern cities and primitive villages. The protagonists are soldiers, fire fighters, rock climbers, adventurers, tourists, runaway Aboriginal children, Chinese orphans and Cambodian refugees from Pol Pot's genocide -- and many more.

There are examples of conflict and resistance that remind us how much some individuals will struggle against adversity to try to control their own fate. There are prisoners of war who defy their captors and risk everything to bust out from their dismal camp; slaves who hunger for freedom and devise bold schemes to break the chains that bind them; a terrified captive of a serial murderer or rapist who refuses to capitulate to demonic abuse.

In some instances, the escapee manages to extend a helping hand to others -- to save another person as well, maybe even a stranger and perhaps even an oppressor. Without accomplices, mission control, fellow members of the underground or good samaritans, many of these trapped individuals would never have escaped. Sadly, it is sometimes the bravest and most virtuous who are lost trying to rescue others. Sometimes it is not the noblest that get away.

Each of us must at some time confront our own close call or near-disaster, our dangerous or horrifying bind. Perhaps there is something to be learned from reading about what someone else has done to affect his or her great escape.

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