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Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,076 ratings  ·  123 reviews
A true-life scientific thriller no reader will forget, Surviving the Extremes takes us to the farthest reaches of the earth as well as into the uncharted territory within the human body, spirit, and brain. A vice president of the legendary Explorers Club, as well as surgeon, explorer, and masterful storyteller, Dr. Kenneth Kamler has spent years discovering what happens to ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 28th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published January 20th 2004)
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 ·  1,076 ratings  ·  123 reviews

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Start your review of Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance
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
Nov 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Bernie Gourley
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The title says it all. This is a book about all that can go wrong with the human body when it’s exposed to the most extreme conditions possible—including places where no human can survive without the benefit of modern technology. The medical science provides plenty of tidbits of fascinating food for thought, but it’s the stories of survival (or, sometimes, the lack thereof)—many of which the author, Kenneth Kamler, M.D., was present for—that make this a gripping non-fiction read.

There are only
Bret Dougherty
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Lizz B
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
I read this book for a biomed class at my school, and it surpassed every expectation I had for it—namely, that it would be boring, or purely factual. What I found instead was a novel with intriguing ideas which came from a synthesis insightful pieces of philosophy, incredible true stories of both survival and tragedy, and exceptional descriptions of scientific fact. It was a book I expected to trudge through at best, and so it was a really pleasant surprise for me to enjoy it wholeheartedly. I'd ...more
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a great book, it offers exactly what was promised - human endurance in all the extremes. It really helped that the author had personal experience to share from most of these conditions. The book has enough medical science, but not so much that a casual reader would get overwhelmed. The examples are well-chosen, my favourite was probably the hypothetical Mars trip description.

Also, I like staying indoors.
Melissa Kidd
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book! I knew I would like it when I bought it for my ‘human variation’ class a few months ago. I didn’t know it until just two minutes ago but Ken talks about a tragedy on Everest in this book which is actually what the book ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer is about, a book I have wanted to read for a while. But really, what I loved about this book was the knowledge available here. There are tons of facts here about what your body goes through molecularly and macro-ly when ...more
Paul Weiss
Some environments are simply too extreme …

“… for an organism that needs food and water daily, oxygen by the minute, and heat constantly.”

SURVIVING THE EXTREMES is a thrilling documentary that tell stories of human survival (or not) in six of those environments – jungle; the surface of oceans and the high seas; desert; mountains and high altitude; underwater and deep ocean; and, of course, outer space. It explores the extent to which humans (or some specific races and cultures, subsets of mankin
Jacqueline Hartnett
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Surviving the Extremes is an exciting, adventurous, and thrilling non-fiction book. The book title describes the whole book. This novel is about Dr. Kenneth Kamler and the different adventures he has experiences in a variety of different settings ranging from the dry, desolate, desert to one of the coldest and highest places on Earth, Mount Everest. The book goes into detail on how different environments affect the human body on a molecular cellular level. Each chapter is in a different environm ...more
Melanie Forstrom
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting interwoven tales that tell compelling survival stories, and give you a better understanding of the human body as well as evolution like the gem below. Prob would have given a 5 except I HATED the way the chapter from outer space was written.
“In temperate climates, air temperature is generally lower than body temperature , and as a result, body heat is constantly being given off into the space around it ( radiation). The rate of heat loss depends upon the temperature differentia
❥ M I A
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
The only reason I dropped this from a 4 star to a 3 star is because I felt like I couldn’t take a breath through the span of each massive chapter (if you can even call them chapters). Because there wasn’t a lot of breaks and not a lot of methodical organization, I found myself zoning out or getting lost in Kalmer’s endless descriptions and (for lack of a better phrase) word vomits. The content was fascinating and quite enjoyable to read, but not in such exhausting density. I felt like I was read ...more
Skyelar McQuillar
Nov 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I recommend this book strongly to anyone interested in the medical field or someone who loves to learn about how the body works during intense conditions like being stranded in the desert or on sea.
I reached my reading goal because book was over almost 100 on my lexile score.

Reading goal: read a book at or above my exile score.
Another book I'm writing about several weeks after finishing. Each chapter of this book is a different "extreme" including altitude and depth including hyperbaric environments, and extreme heat vs cold. The author has been at a number of high profile places and events, including working on Mt Everest during the disaster where several people died. Interesting career.
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
My kind of book! I'm drawn to survival stories of all kinds. This book provided explanations for what happens to people physically and mentally in various extreme situations. This was a satisfying read for one who has enjoyed survival books from Little House in the Big Woods to Hatchet, and from Into Thin Air to Survival in Auschwitz. Guess I'm just a survival nerd.
Jenna Lawrence
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book made me believe in the power of medicine and sparked my desire to enter the medical field. I read it as a junior in high school and write this review as a junior in college working towards eventual medical school admission. This book artfully communicates the importance, flexibility, diversity, and wonder of medicine while simultaneously taking the reader on an adventure.
Annette Rodriguez
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jackson Ca
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Great book if you want to read about the science of the body and what happens at the extremes. A few point were dragged on but the stories are good. If you have a weak stomach or don like death then this is not the book for you.
Isaac Johnson
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. I learned many things about this book, I love learning what is happening to the human body in certain situations, it’s really interesting! I’ve heard that there are multiple surviving the extremes books and I’m really interested in reading them after reading this one!
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book! The author has lived some very interesting and unique experiences as a extreme conditions doctor. What he hasn't had experience with he does a good job drawing from others near death encounters. The medical terminology and association with each story is easy to understand and process.
Erik Lindstrom
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
Fascinating, I learned so much and the explanations were very clear but also very in depth and informative.
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
information is good, occasionally boring technical descriptions (it's a lot of information). some nice stories but also some unexplained cliffhangers and loose ends.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Amazingly interesting, would recommend 11/10
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent explanations and in every day words about what happens to the human body in extreme conditions.
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Alessandro Ferrario
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Surviving the Extremes is the book that I read as my non-fiction reading. The book, as its purpose, answers the question: what happens to the body and mind when a human is facing a wild and hostile environment? The author writes a scientific thriller where, the protagonist, is the author himself. He is a surgeon that wants to guide the reader through extreme experiences that he tried on the earth, and beyond. He takes us with a team of explorers into these environments: the jungle, the high seas ...more
Murillo Proença
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, reviews
Dr. Kenneth Kamler it’s a north american who was on Everest’s base camp in 1996, when 15 people died (8 in the same day) in the greatest tragedy of that mountain. But this book isn’t about this, is about how the human body react to extreme situations, it mix real stories to detailed teachings of the organism functioning and how it breakdown. And react too! A fantastic book!
One of the many things I’ve learned reading this book, was that our body is so fragile, but at the same, so smart and so str
Julie Nguyen
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Endeavour to the End of the Earth

Kamler has devoted his life to observing and researching the depths of human constraint. The restrictions man has is limitless and thats why Kamler puts himself in to the face of danger by researching the most extreme parts of the world. Throughout each grueling and detailed chapter, Kamler explains the human body and how fragile and delicate it can be in various situations, especially when placed into harsh environments. With Kamlers knowledge and his profes
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