Life at the Extremes

Life at the Extremes

4.09 (292 ratings by Goodreads)
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The debut of a female Steve Jones - likeable, literate, lucid and laconic. A sprightly, lavishly illustrated book on the science of human survival. How do people survive extremes of heat, cold, depth, speed and altitude? This book explores the limits of human survival and the physiological adaptations which enable us to exist under extreme conditions. In man's battle for survival in the harshest of environments, the knowledge imparted by physiology, the 'logic of life', is crucial. What causes mountain sickness? Why is it possible to reach the top of Everest without supplementary oxygen, yet be killed if a plane depressurises suddenly at the same altitude. Why are astronauts unable to stand without fainting when they return to Earth? Why do human divers get the bends but sperm whales don't? Will men always be able to run faster than women? Why don't penguins get frostbite?show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 24mm | 281.23g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • Flamingo
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 80 b/w illus, Index
  • 0006551254
  • 9780006551256
  • 85,822

Review quote

'She has the power of making the armchair adventurer feel quite frail. Add to that her gift for carving deep into your mind how vulnerable our species is to extreme conditions, and you are in for a thrilling read.' New Scientist 'I read "Life at the Extremes" with horrid delight...It is extremely good, crammed with invaluable information but you don't need a degree in cryptocryogenics to understand it. Here is a scientist who can enthral even as she instructs - and the way she accomplishes this is by telling adventure stories...As a testament to the tenacity of the human race, this book is a potent mix of the ingenious, the heroic and the hardy.' Literary Review 'For would-be explorers snuggled up in their armchairs - or, indeed stretched out on the beach - this book, with its many vicarious thrills, makes for ideal reading.' Economist 'A very good book...which works both as a continuous narrative of delightful vignettes and a quick reference guide. Easy to read, entertaining and informative.' Sunday Times 'Ashcroft is good at opening up aspects of daily life normally sealed off to the non-scientist.' Sara Wheeler, Spectatorshow more

Review Text

Written by a Professor of Physiology at Oxford, this book deals with particular aspects of human physiology that are well described by the book's subtitle: The Science of Survival. What would happen if you were to lock yourself in the freezer? Why can a mountaineer climb Everest without oxygen when, in an aeroplane suddenly depressurized at the same height, passengers would become unconscious within a few seconds? The answers to these and many other such questions are all here. The book is arranged as a series of reviews of different extreme situations. These include how people deal with extreme height, diving to great depths, heat, cold and feats of endurance. Then it moves on to an environment only recently of concern to humanity, that of space. It ends with comment about the overall resilience of life. Whether it is hard detail about life in a space capsule, or quirky facts about how it is penguins avoid frostbite, the writing turns a serious review of its topic into an exploration to savour. It is to be hoped that this author pauses from her research long enough to repeat the task of writing for a wide, general audience again. (Kirkus UK)show more

About Frances Ashcroft

Frances Ashcroft is a Professor of Physiology at Oxford. She divides her time between research on insulin, teaching and more
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