I did not anticipate getting through this as quickly as I did … two long El rides and a couple of waits for a bus pretty much covered it, and I had it ready to review a mere 24 hours after its arrival. This is, generally speaking, A Good Thing, as it means that Stefan Swanepoel's Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life wasn't “a struggle” to get through, usually indicating it being both engaging and reasonably well written. This is not to say it's a classic, or that I didn't have some caveats going in on it.
I must admit, before I requested a copy, I did “a bad thing” and went to read some of the reviews that are already out there (the book is fairly new, having just come out this March) on it. This typically “sets one up” on how one's going to be “seeing” the book, but I wanted to get a sense of if it was going to be worth it (for either Wiley or me) to get a copy … and some of these were brutal. I was, needless to say, quite relieved to find that the book was no where near “as bad” as some were painting it, but, in retrospect, I can see some of the points raised.
First of all this is a “fiction” with characters representing others in adjusted scenarios (the protagonist and the author both have been married 30 years and have two kids, but the former has girls and the latter boys), and one always comes to wonder where the line runs between “personal experience” and fictionalized elements. In this it reminds me a bit of James Redfield's Celestine novels, and approaches the territory staked out by Marlo Morgan in Mutant Message: Down Under, although not representing itself as that sort of “native wisdom”. Frankly, I was surprised to find that the author hailed from Kenya, so much of the material here could well have been absorbed first-hand in his youth. However, this presents “7 Skills to Master Business and Life”, and doing so in this sort of context reminded me quite a lot of Mark Victor Hansen & Robert G. Allen's books Cash in a Flash: Fast Money in Slow Times and The One Minute Millionaire: The Enlightened Way to Wealth, where half of the book (oddly, in those cases, every other page) is a story about how a group of characters came to discover and use the processes detailed in the rest of the book.
Surviving Your Serengeti also had the possibility of wandering off into insufferable “newageism” of the “what sort of an animal are you?” variety, but I was pleased to find that Swanepoel managed to present what is that sort of a structure in a very reasonable and applicable way.
The “7 skills” are all related to the behaviors of certain animals that the protagonist and his wife encounter when on a Safari trip that she'd won in a contest. The set-up and descriptions of these folks' lives and situations could have been cribbed right out of those Hansen/Allen books, but they at least provided some context and texture to the characters (as opposed to Redfield's wooden portrayals). The scenarios are fairly contrived, but at least are plausible within the supporting story arc (which does unfortunately remind one of a Celestine book) and allows for a fairly diverse group of animals to be introduced in the narrative.
To cut to the chase, here's the line-up: “The Enduring Wildebeest”, “The Strategic Lion”, “The Enterprising Crocodile”, “The Efficient Cheetah”, “The Graceful Giraffe”, “The Risk-Taking Mongoose”, and “The Communicating Elephant”. In each case, the protagonist is introduced to these animals in the wild where he can observe their behaviors, and these “skills” are discussed within the context of those actions. Each is dealt with in a separate chapter, and at the end of these there is a section which (quite usefully) takes the “skill” out of the animal context and suggests ways that this could be used in business, at home, or (the reason I sought out the book in the first place) the job hunt.
Part of the story deals with figuring out “which of the animals you are”, which is probably something that I wouldn't have applied much attention to, but they have provided a handy on-line quiz that will help you narrow that down (at http://whatanimalami.com/) … which determined that I was a Wildebeest (and I thought I only smelled that way!).
Surviving Your Serengeti is no big life-changer, but a light reminder of where you can find examples to use in your daily activities, framed within the animal world, but re-focused as a template for personal action. As noted, this is pretty much brand new, so it should be available at your local brick-and-mortar booksellers, but the on-line guys both have it at about 40% off and there are already copies in the used channels. Again, this is a much better book than it might have been (given the caveats of things it resembles on various levels), and has been unfairly slammed in other contexts. If you're interested in a quick-reading story about an African Safari, with a lot of attention paid to animals and their activities, with take-aways you can use in your life, do consider picking up a copy … I liked it well enough, and certainly enjoyed the read!