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Life at the Extremes: The Science of Survival [Paperback]

4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 30 Dec 2002 -- Trade-In Store
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Book Description

30 Dec 2002

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?

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 347 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (30 Dec 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234200
  • ISBN-13: 979-0520234207
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 14.8 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,104,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In Life at the Extremes Frances Ashcroft, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University, investigates the related questions: how much can the human body endure? What can it survive, what causes it to fail? Why can some creatures tolerate conditions that would kill others? The extremes in question, to which bodies are periodically subjected, either voluntarily or not, include the limits of endurable temperature and pressure; physical constraints on speed; the weightlessness, vacuum and utter cold of space; and a number of environments that, for various reasons, are so unpleasant as to limit drastically the options of life-forms that attempt to inhabit them. By its nature, such a subject does not lend itself to continuous narrative, and Life at the Extremes may be best regarded as a kind of anthology into which one can dip to pull out examples, cheerful or gruesome, of what can happen to living tissue at the extremes. Here is Mr Blagden, accompanied by some eggs, a raw steak and a dog, entering a room heated to 105 degrees C, in the late 18th century. Fifteen minutes later the steak and eggs were cooked but Mr Blagden and the dog were not. A clear and absorbing explanation of mammalian heat regulation follows. Here are dreadful pictures of frost-bitten extremities; Sir Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile; a frog frozen solid in a block of ice but still alive and well; divers and the bends; astronauts and the redistribution of bodily fluids in weightlessness; flamingos enduring their caustic soda lakes; the physiology of the chilblain. Frances Ashcroft writes warmly and with wit: her many illustrative anecdotes are well chosen and provoke much thought about how life copes with, and adapts to, the physical circumstances it finds itself in. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


‘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, Spectator

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great stories and good science 30 Oct 2001
By A Customer
I love this book.
It is a fascinating insight into how the human body copes with extremes of heat and cold, heights and depths, etc. Frances AShcroft explains how our biology copes with these extremes.
And it is not just the biology. The book is full of little stories. There are stories that make me squirm, and say "Stop! Don't tell me any more!" And then I just have to read the next one. And there are other stories that cause me to wonder, like the scientists who carry out experiments on themselves, experiments that lead to all sorts of suffering.
The great thing is this: while I am reading all these stories about life at the extremes, I am also absorbing a lot of basic information about how our bodies work normally, almost without realising I am learning. I was talking to someone about this book, and I started to rabbit away about what happens in an aircraft if it suffers explosive decompression - I was surprised at what I was able to tell my pals.
This book is full of wee stories, gruesome, outrageous, fascinating, inspiring.
It is a brilliant source of tales to tell in the pub.
It is very informative about human physiology, and also history.
To Paul and Shula who gave me this book for my birthday - thanks indeed. Its great.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Fascinating examples of stressful situations in which humans may find themselves, with the physiological explanation presented in a highly accessible fashion. Extremely well-written, very much for both non-scientists and scientists, but particularly useful for the sportsman or woman who would like to know why their body reacts as it does to a range of conditions such as high or low pressure, excess or paucity of oxygen, extreme heat or cold, and so on. Great fun!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating stuff for the non-scientist 29 Aug 2000
By A Customer
As I read this book I realised how much fascinating stuff I didn't know about our environment.And the great beauty of Frances Ashcroft's book is that she makes it all accessible to the ordinary reader,with exciting stories and lucid explanations that the non-scientist can understand.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect - Good Read 21 Feb 2014
By Hona
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A purchase for my University course with particular highlight to adaptive physiology. A great read and not too hard a read either. You are able to learn about altitude and other earthly extreme without feeling like you're being taught, more that you're just reading a nice book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! 26 Jan 2014
By MrGreen
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is very easy to read with great explanations and references. You will learn a lot about nature and technology alike.
It would deserve a larger format and better quality pictures then it would get 6 stars from me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life at extremes 28 Oct 2013
By Milly
Very happy with this book, was quick delivery and is a very interesting read. Will really help me with my uni module thank you
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5.0 out of 5 stars Geeky interesting 9 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A great book in very readable chapters. A great deal of information, well written. I have now bough 3 to share with friends and family
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great book 6 April 2013
By Amy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Basing this review on what my little scientist sister told me - she said it was amazing, interesting and a great read. After reading it she couldn't stop talking about it with me, she was really excited by the stories and science in the book. That's always a good sign of a good book! Bought it for her as a graduation present with the idea that it could be a symbol/motivational tool for her. The author is an amazing female role model for young girls and women who are training/studying/working in the sciences and I know my sister could one day be in that role for others.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, readable, scary
What happens to your body when it is subjected to temperatures or pressures far, or even only just, outside the narrow margins of those in everyday life? Nasty stuff! Read more
Published 21 months ago by H. Hulme
4.0 out of 5 stars good science read
Really interesting read even for those not a great science fan.

Some parts require thinking but the book takes you straight through each topic explaining in a very... Read more
Published 22 months ago by bb
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
This book was excellent, it is fascinating and Frances draws on personal experience to bring the book to life. The book is great for medical students and casual readers
Published on 6 April 2012 by flyinfishy
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant read!
I absolutely love this book. I got it years ago but can easily keep coming back to it for a bit of vicarious adventure!
Published on 14 Oct 2010 by Ms. B. Vallely
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book
This book provides an incredible wealth of information about the human body. It concisely explains human physiology and relates it well to extreme conditions, keeping the reader... Read more
Published on 13 Aug 2010 by U. Jeyabellen
5.0 out of 5 stars enthralling popular science
Approached this book with some trepidation after reading some of the other reviews even though had been thinking of reading this for some time. Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2010 by L. Farrell
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading at the extremes
I did enjoy reading this book and I did learn a couple of those classic titbits to inform, or annoy, friends with. Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2010 by Tom
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
I enjoyed this book a lot. While it can be at times a tad complicated (but really, not often), it's full of interesting facts and anecdotes, with clear explanations of the science... Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2007 by anonymous
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