The book was a critical success. Walter Clemons declared that it "will become a classic in the literature of survival."
D. Keith Mano, of The New York Times Book Review gave the book a "rave" review, stating that "Read's style is savage: unliterary, undecorated as a prosecutor's brief." He also described the book as an important one:
Cowardice, selfishness, whatever: their essential heroism can weather Read's objectivity. He has made them human. 'Alive' is thunderous entertainment: I know the events by rote, nonetheless I found it electric. And important. 'Alive' should be read by sociologists, educators, the Joint Chief of Staff. By anyone, in fact, whose business it is to prepare men for adversity.
Michael A. Rogers concurs, stating that "Read has risen above the sensational and managed a book of real and lasting value."