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Life at the Extremes: The Science of Survival Paperback – 30 Dec 2002


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Paperback, 30 Dec 2002
£11.15

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Paperback: 347 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First ediito edition (30 Dec 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234200
  • ISBN-13: 979-0520234207
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,297,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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.

Review

‘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

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Oct 2001
Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on 10 Aug 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is so fascinating everybody will want to take Frances Ashcroft's physiology course at Oxford! OK, maybe you didn't get into Oxford, but don't worry, even if you are merely the average "gentle reader" you'll learn a terrific amount about the human machine from "Life at the Extremes". And it will probably stick because the extremes provide built-in vividness which Ashcroft exploits beautifully with a lucid and personable writing style. Hearts and lungs and limbs and highs and lows - you'll gain new respect for the enormous flexibility of our body systems. And you'll learn directly where the body's limits come from. Like everybody, I know water boils at lower temperatures as heights, but hadn't thought about what that means in the lungs. It's not trivial. Atop Everest, water vapor from body fluids takes up 19% of the lung space compared to 6% at sea-level. Less space for oxygen! Along the way, learn about a bona fide human aura (see the Schlieren photograph of a naked human) - guaranteed non-flakey. Given that most of us live where humans can't survive year-round without creating special survival environments, "the science of survival" isn't just for the elite. Thankfully, Frances Ashcroft makes this science accessible and immensely enjoyable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Sep 2000
Format: Hardcover
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 By A Customer on 29 Aug 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
Approached this book with some trepidation after reading some of the other reviews even though had been thinking of reading this for some time. Was expecting it to be 'weighty' and dull.

To my surprise found the authors style of writing very engaging, each chapter having a wonderfully written vivid account of her personal experience of a particular extreme experience.

The book provides a rich, informed account of some complex physiological responses to differing environmental extremes, woven through with history, natural history and every page full of surprising and very enlightening information about the marvelous adaptibility and limitations of the human body.

I would highly recommend this book

A real life saver!!!!?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bb on 16 Jun 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 logical manner.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michelle on 17 May 2005
Format: Paperback
As a scientist who spends a great deal of time at altitude and in the cold I had been wanting to read this book for a long time. Now that I am reading it, my interest in the subject will keep me going to the end, but will require almost super-human effort. This really is 'reading at the extremes'.
Maybe it's the fault of the editor and not the author. However the author set out to write a science book for the general reader but the book reads like the worst kind of science text book. Concepts and laws that I am already familiar are described in a confusing and unclear manner.
Anecdotes are left hanging 'Tragedies still occur, however... One well-publicized disaster was that of Chris and Chrisy Rouse, a father and son team with considerable diving experience, who died of decompression sickness in 1992 while exploring the wreck of a German U-boat.' That's all the author says. Not what happened or why, or went wrong and why. What the anecdote is illustrative of or what connects the anecdote to the preceding paragraph.
The science is sound, but presented in such a muddled manner as to be over complicated and off putting. 'The lowest barometric pressure at which the normal oxygen concentration of the lungs (100 Torr) can be maintained when breathing pure oxygen is about 10,400 metres...' The paragraph sets out to tell us the lowest barometric pressure and gives us the answer in altitude. Useful information can, of course, be extrapolated from this but in a book written for the general reader I wouldn't expect to have to.
If you are medically qualified and want to begin to extend your knowledge and interest into this subject area then this book would be a good springboard for further reading. If you are a more general reader, I recommend you seek out an alternative.
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