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Life at the Extremes Paperback – 2 Jul 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (2 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006551254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006551256
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,207 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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


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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Suenos6 on 25 Sept. 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Whilst I appreciate that this should really only be a review of the content of the book, I thought I'd mention that, having recently purchased the ebook (kindle) version, it is full of spelling errors and incomplete sentences. This has completely spoilt the reading experience and I have complained to both Amazon and the Publisher.

Please don't let this put you off buying the book as the actual content is good, it is just the ebook version which is currently flawed. I am confident that this will eventually be rectified but buyer beware!
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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 Sept. 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: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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! If you deep sea dive with an abscess in your tooth, it could implode, ouch - or choose to go ballooning, and it could explode instead, lovely! If those oxygen masks do drop from the ceiling above, how many seconds have you got left to put the mask on? What happens when you spend too long bathing in a hotspring? When you've miraculously survived a long and unexpected dip in the sea, please don't drop dead when you get out because of the pressure change on your legs, lie down! Fascinating, well written, explains aspects of circulation, hormones, breathing, what happens at extremes and why, and full of good anecdotes and history of exploration and science. Highly recommended.
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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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