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Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance
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Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  486 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Physiological constraints confine our bodies to less than one-fifth of the earth's surface. Beyond that fraction lie the extremes. What happens when we go to them?

Dr. Kenneth Kamler has spent years observing exactly what happens. A vice president of the legendary Explorers Club, he has climbed, dived, sledded, floated, and trekked through some of the most treacherous and r...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published January 20th 2004 by St. Martin's Press
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Petra Xtra Crunchy
The opening scene of the book is a man who should be dead on Mount Everest being kept alive by the Buddhist chanting of the Tibetans, which was, perhaps, vibrating at the same resonance as the electric impulses that kept his heart beating. And, perhaps, in the same way that vibrations are multipled when that happens to a glass and it shatters, the heart muscle in strengthened to keep going.* Reading this and the explanations of why things happen when man adventures to extreme zones, is so intere...more
Lizz B
Surviving the Extremes is exactly what it sounds like-- a book about the extreme. From the coldest mountains in the world to the swampy, muggy areas of the Amazon rainforest, to the great vastness of space, the author took us from place to place, describing events that had happened to unfortunate human beings who survived despite the odds. This book was both intriguing and terrifying; I didn't know humans could survive for days/weeks/months at a time in places like the desert or lost at sea, but...more
Paul Ison
I really enjoyed this book. It may be because this is the perfect merging of two of my favorite interests - the science of the human body and stories of extreme adventure. Written by a surgeon who has explored and experienced many interesting adventures himself, this book deals with the frailty of the human body and the various ways we can perish in extreme environments. Traveling through the Amazon, to climbing above the death zone at Everest, to free diving, and traveling in space, the author...more
Brian
From jungle to ocean floor to mountain peak and on into space, Kamler recounts his far-flung, sometimes deadly adventures as a doctor-and-explorer-in-tow on various extreme excursions, sharing his his personal experience and his always-informative medical perspectives on what happens to people in hostile, insulting, or deeply inhospitable environments. I was surprised at how much I learned about my own, usually not-at-all extreme physiological reality: about blood pressure, salinity, "echelons"...more
Josiane Claremont
At first, I was apprehensive because I'm normally not that in to reading biographies, or even nonfictions for that matter! But Dr. Kamler really knows how to write, and that's what made me want to read more than my assigned chapter and go deeper in depth on how the human body systems work under extreme stress in different environments. After reading this, I'll definitely want to be careful when I'm out on exotic vacations!

Although I was a little put off by the fact that Dr. Kamler focused on onl...more
Kristopher Swinson
Kamler is very approachable, seeming to possess the requisite character for a doctor on tightly knit teams, including a sort of humility before greater forces and even (subtly) God. His trace of humor grew more obvious toward the very end. I was willing to put up with extensive (and unexpected) technical details for the overall surprisingly good literary style, to say nothing of the fact that one shouldn't complain about learning, or having to think, more than one had bargained on!

His fascinatio...more
Jan
Kenneth Kamler is a hand surgeon who also managed to fall into the field of extreme medicine. In this book, he takes a look at some of the most extreme environments in the world (i.e. the jungle, the desert, underwater) and explains in great detail what happens to the human body in such extreme conditions. He also includes stories in each of these chapters - both personal stories of his own cases, and stories of others who've faced extreme conditions (some of whom survived, some who didn't). The...more
Bret Dougherty
From survival in the depths of a South American jungle, to episodes of starvation and desolation of the high seas, to the vast range of extreme heat and cold desert temperatures, this read forces you to realize the challenges that the body and mind can overcome.

I gained a ton of knowledge nuggets from this book. I have to admit that the tales of survival and the ability to forge ahead when all else upends glued my attention throughout the read...(How to survive in a jungle hit me the most.) This...more
Justin
A decent little read, although Kamler's analysis and insights feel a bit long-winded and redundant at times. His attempts at explaining the will to survive in purely positivistic terms strains credulity. A social scientific perspective in addition to medical phenomenology could have come to his aid here. None the less, the author offers a learned perspective in his telling of anecdotes of survival. Most poignant of these, is the tale of the left-for-dead Beck Weathers, atop Mt. Everest. Kamler's...more
Uma C
I wasn't sure what to expect of this book when I picked it up. I ended up being completely enthralled in the doctor's journey and found it hard to put down. The book follows Kalmer as he works as the only, or one of few, doctors on extreme expeditions up Mount Everest, in the Amazon, and under water. He also includes interesting and captivating stories of survivors of other extreme situations such as getting lost in the desert and being lost at sea. What I enjoyed was how Kalmer explained the me...more
Chris Lynch
As a collection of snapshots about the limits of human endurance, this isn't bad, though the film-like approach to the narrative (Dramatic moment... cut! Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, in a completely different time... Dramatic moment... cut!) means historical context is lacking at times. Some reviewers thoughts there should've been less science; the scientific interludes were part of the pay-off for me, and though I wanted more depth I think it strikes a reasonable balance between...more
Kristen
Dr. Kamler offers an extremely well-written text considering the topics. However, at times,the detail can be overwhelming unless the reader has prior knowledge to human physiology as it dives into aspects like vapor pressure gradients, chaperone proteins, and circulatory functions. As an Exercise Physiology student, I was asked to read the text as an assignment for one of my classes and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The stories offer credible, real-life scenarios to explain what happens to the body w...more
Lis
Deeply fascinating book. Besides the case histories (many taken from his own experiences) he gives clinical descriptions of what *exactly* is happening inside your body as you survive (or fail to survive) extreme environments.

Of course, many of these stories put me in a froth of annoyance, wondering why some people are so consumed with the desire to put themselves in these extremes. It's nearly impossible for me to feel any kind of sympathy for people like the guy who dies on Mt Everest, leavin...more
Andrea
This was a decent book but it started to get a little too technical for me. The author is an orthopedic surgeon who somehow starts getting invited to be the team doctor on various adventures. The book is about the medical environments he has worked in (i.e. high altitude on Everest, deep sea diving, amazon jungle, etc.) Basically, he writes about what makes you die...how the organs start failing and how long it takes to take you down. Very interesting--and good adventure stories. But, like I sai...more
Wealhtheow
Dr. Kamler has climbed Everest and explored the Amazon. He uses his own experiences to explain how the human body interacts with its environment. He details the bends, seasickness, hypothermia, a truly disturbing array of jungle organisms, and even what happens to humans in space. His writing style is pedestrian, but his material is fantastic. Read this if you're unsure whether you could survive two months at sea with nothing but a life raft, or two days in the desert without water.
Aaron
This is an amazing scientific/biological view of human existence and endurance at the edges of extreme possibility from someone who may actually qualify as 'the most interesting man in the world'.
Chris
Excellent. An M.D. who can write about technical medical details without dumbing it down so much I throw the book across the room. Ended up holding on to this one. Also didn't realize until reading that Dr. Kamler was on the mountain during that deadly May 1996 expedition series (see Into Thin Air).
Denise
This very interesting book is written by a doctor. He was the doctor on some very extreme expeditions and explains what happens to the body in those conditions and why. The sections on climbing Mt. Everest was very interesting - and why would anyone want to subject their body to that! The jungle section is also very memorable. I would have a hard time with the bugs, mud, heat and sweat.
Ali
Loved it, but may not be for everyone. I like straight facts, non-fiction and I'm fascinated by medicine and the human body, so its no wonder I loved this book. The author goes into amazing detail about the processes in the human body and how they react to various 'insults' such as being lost in the desert, at high atmospheres, even space travel. Fascinating stuff and a fun read.
Cathy
From a medical standpoint I really enjoyed this book. I finally found it at the library after some time so I was kind of excited to read it. I have to say that I did learn a lot however there were some chapters I did just gloss over (Such as the one about how outer space affects the body.... Sorry I really don't have much interest in outer space.....)
John
Liked this a lot. Good writing,so although lots of medical stuff, it was still interesting. A big draw for me was the descriptions of the extremes in the jungle,climbing, under water, etc. These were described well, and he made all the people involved very real and human. I suppose book could have been a bit shorter.
Travis
Not bad. Good science, well researched, did a nice job of using his own adventures as a backdrop for some discussions of what the human body does at its very limits. Probably worth reading for anyone who really wants to test themselves, just so they can better understand what the physical limits really are.
Matt
Just OK. The chapters about the Amazon and Everest were really good, I think because the author was there and conveyed the stories with immediacy, but the chapters about the sea or other situations that he wasn't in were not nearly as good and got a little too medically for me.
ddri
A rare bridge between an incredibly well-written and referenced book, an exceptional and accomplished adeventurer, and exciting knowledge. An easy read that belies the decades of hardship and study by the doctor, mountaineer, diver and explore author.
Rae
A look at how the human body is able to endure such extremes as high altitude, cold, desert heat, deep water, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
Kathy Parrish
Non-fiction book. Each chapter tells how the body reacts and survives (physically and mentally) to extremem conditions such as living in the rainforest, living at very high altidtueds, in the desert, how to surive if your stranded at sea etc.
Kevin Hartman
Good stuff, the author is a doctor who goes on expeditions to all kinds of extreme environments. He describes, with only the detail an MD could, all of the terrible things our incredible human bodies can handle as well as some which they can't.
Marek Andreansky
An interesting read. When I started reading the theatric writing style of the author scared me off but when I got back to the book later and managed to eat through the beginning I got interested and fully finished the book.
Jason Nomura
Science is acceptable for a mass market without being either too watered down or too complicated. DId not learn much science or medicine from the text, but it is an enjoyable collection of stories and experiences.
Kristin
A slightly dry, but still intriguing, examination of the human ability to survive in a variety of extreme conditions including the jungle, the desert, high altitude, deep sea and space.
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