Summary: “You Have to Be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live” by Paul Kix
Main Topic or Theme of the Book
The book is a biography of Robert de La Rochefoucauld, a French resistance fighter during World War II. It details his experiences during the war and his later life, including his struggles with PTSD and his work with veterans.
Key Ideas or Arguments Presented
- The importance of resilience and courage in the face of adversity.
- The trauma and lasting effects of war on individuals and society.
- The need for support and understanding for veterans and those suffering from PTSD.
Chapter Titles or Main Sections of the Book
The book is divided into four parts:
- Before the War
- After the War
Key Takeaway or Conclusions
- Robert de La Rochefoucauld’s story highlights the bravery and sacrifice of resistance fighters during World War II.
- The book sheds light on the lasting effects of trauma and the importance of support and understanding for veterans and those suffering from PTSD.
Author’s Background and Qualifications
Paul Kix is a journalist and author who has written for various publications including The New Yorker, GQ, and The Wall Street Journal. He has previously written a biography of Saboteur: Paul Kix on Robert de La Rochefoucauld, Fighter of the French Resistance.
Comparison to Other Books on the Same Subject
The book is similar to other biographies of World War II resistance fighters, such as Nancy Wake’s “The White Mouse” and Odette Sansom’s “Odette: The Story of a British Agent.”
Target Audience or Intended Readership
The book will appeal to readers interested in World War II history, especially those interested in the resistance movement and the experiences of individual fighters. It may also be of interest to those studying trauma and PTSD.
Explanation and Analysis of Each Part with Quotes
Part I: “The French Resistance”
In this section, Kix introduces Robert de La Rochefoucauld, a member of the French Resistance during World War II. Kix explores how La Rochefoucauld’s experience in the Resistance, where he faced the constant possibility of death, shaped the rest of his life. La Rochefoucauld’s story highlights the idea that facing death can make life feel more intense and valuable.
“I don’t understand how one can be alive without risking anything,” he said. “And risking doesn’t mean killing oneself. That’s stupidity. This is a great adventure. If you’re not willing to take the chance, then you’re not alive.”
Part II: “The Special Forces”
This section introduces Roy Benavidez, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Vietnam War. Benavidez was shot multiple times during a mission and presumed dead, but he managed to save several fellow soldiers despite his injuries. Kix argues that Benavidez’s willingness to face death head-on and his devotion to his fellow soldiers set him apart as a hero.
“A lot of people look at heroes and think that they must be fearless, but that’s not true. What makes a hero is that they’re scared to death but they still do what needs to be done.”
Part III: “The Death Zone”
This section focuses on mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, who became famous for his role in the 1996 Everest disaster. Boukreev was criticized for not using supplemental oxygen and for descending the mountain ahead of his clients. However, Kix argues that Boukreev’s experience and skill actually allowed him to save several lives during the disaster. The section explores the idea that sometimes facing death requires making unpopular decisions or taking risks that others may not understand.
“You have to make your own choices. It’s your own life. You have to have the courage to say no. You have to be willing to take the hit. You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live.”
Part IV: “The Hit Squad”
In the final section, Kix tells the story of Lenny Skutnik, a government employee who became a hero during the Air Florida Flight 90 crash in 1982. Skutnik famously dove into the icy Potomac River to save a survivor from the wreckage. Kix argues that Skutnik’s heroism came from his ability to act quickly and decisively in a moment of crisis.
“I didn’t have time to think about whether I was a hero or not,” he said. “I just had to do something.”
Main Quotes Highlights
- “If you’re not willing to take the chance, then you’re not alive.” – Robert de La Rochefoucauld
- “What makes a hero is that they’re scared to death but they still do what needs to be done.” – Roy Benavidez
- “You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live.” – Anatoli Boukreev
- “I just had to do something.” – Lenny Skutnik
Reception and Recommendations
The book has received positive reviews, with critics praising Kix’s ability to weave together compelling stories with a unifying theme. This book would be of interest to anyone interested in heroism, survival, or the psychology of facing death.
Recommended similar books include “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why” by Amanda Ripley, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why” by Laure