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Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance Hardcover – 1 Apr 2004

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THE BLACK, STAR-FILLED LAKE was such a perfect reflection of the night sky that my paddle made ripples through each constellation. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating book, misleading marketing 19 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most interesting books I have read in ages. I'll agree with the other reviewer that the jacket information is misleading. This isn't really a "thriller" as conventionally defined. The author shares some first person as well as historical anecdotes but this really is an incredible biology book, interweaving physiology with some evolutionary biology. A very thoughtful and well-written book! It leaves the reader with jaw-dropping respect for the human body and its ability to adapt to extreme situations. It also touches on the adaptations other animals have to routinely live in environments which are totally inhospitable to humans. It is just too bad that people are disappointed in it because it isn't what the jacket says it is. I have taught basic survival classes for teens and I'm really glad to have this book to recommend because it is a different slant compared to what is out there in survival literature. My teenage daughters read Into Thin Air in high school English and I just wish I had this book before the younger one did her paper last month on dehydration!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
When you don't like novels. . . 1 Oct. 2005
By Oregon Sunshine - Published on
Format: Hardcover
While searching for additional Kamler works, I ran across the existing Amazon reviews and feel compelled to add a word or two.

I saw Dr. Kamler interviewed on television. I did not find him egocentric at all. But I was intrigued by the survival aspect of his work. As a result sought out the book (in hardback, which I very seldom do). I was more than pleased! Except best sellers and classics, I don't often read novels -- but this was far more exciting, adventurous, and inspiring than any novel I can recall reading.

I know nothing about phenomenal new medical technology. I dislike exercise, let alone serious physical conditioning! I've never traveled to a third world country, gone deeper into the ocean than snorkeling, or higher than Pike's Peak in a car. But Kamler's descriptions of places, environments and cultures I'll never see were riveting. He made advanced medical concepts simple to grasp, physical conditiioning admirable, and natural extremes of nature mind-boggling. His descriptions of natural beauty were stragely lyric. He truly changed the way I think about mankind. But the real value of this work is his focus on the ability of the human body, mind and spirit to understand, adapt, and survive the unimaginable. In that he is a master. I will continue to anticipate his future works!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Excellent read 9 Sept. 2004
By Anand Raghavan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a book that ascertains that the human will and spirit,when challenged, can overcome insurmountable odds in the harshest of environments. Dr Kamler has written it in a very succint, easy to read manner. His scientific explanations on the physiology of the human body are very clear in plain English. The book takes us to the deepest ocean depths, vast expanses of the Sahara, Mt Everest and the dense forests of the Amazon.

The only minor complaint that I have is in a chapter where he talks about Mt Everest. He talks about an Indian (from India) team that was ahead of his group and he talks about the Indians (South American) in the same chapter. He refers to both groups of people as "Indians". It confused me but it did not deter me in reading further.

This book is a must read for anyone who loves the outdoors and nature.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Fun & Informative 3 May 2006
By Chan Joon Yee - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those unfamiliar with the author, Kenneth Kalmer was the only doctor on Mt Everest during the 1996 tragedy. This book touches on human physiology and how we adapt to and tolerate extremes in environmental conditions. It contains valuable information with which every adventurer should be acquainted. Though it is written for the layman, this is certainly not the kind of book you can read just before going to sleep. It's pretty heavy on scientific principles.

Dr Kalmer begins with the jungle environment, namely the Amazon forest and swamps. Though heat exhaustion can be a problem here, most of the hazards of this environment seem to come from the denizens of the jungle. Survivors in this environment need to keep a constant lookout for the anopheles mosquito (malaria), black caiman, anaconda, venomous snakes, poisonous frogs and caterpillars, schisto worm (liver parasite), stingray, electric eel and a most interesting creature called the candiru. This is actually a very tiny catfish which has a great affinity for salt. When an animal urinates under water, this tiny creature will follow the stream of urine and lodge itself in the animal's urethra. Surgery is required to remove it.

Ironically, the jungle is also a natural pharmacy that provides medicines to heal the sick as well as poisons for blowdart hunting. No wonder people still live there.

The next hostile environment is the open sea - endless stretches of water, not a drop of which can keep the castaway's body hydrated. Dr Kalmer gives many examples of how castaways survive. The world record is held by Chinese sailor Poon Lim, who drifted on a raft for 130 days without supplies. He collected rain water and used a spring in his torch to catch fish. Methods thought up by other survivors include using improvised solar-powered stoves to distill seawater. The physiology of salt intake, dehydration and starvation are presented along with some coverage on cannibalism at sea.

The scorching desert is an even more hostile environment that causes heat exhaustion, dehydration and starvation to set in even more rapidly. Dr Kalmer explains in detail how the body regulates temperature and maintains a constant internal environment. He also explains how this system can break down under extreme external temperature and dehydration. Death occurs with the loss of 15-20 litres of body fluids. However, defying the limits of human physiology, is one Mauro Prosperi, who claimed to have survived for 9 days in the desert without any water.

Diving medicine is a very big topic by itself, but Dr Kalmer gives us the essentials on what happens to the body during free diving, the mechanics of SCUBA as well as the causes of decompression sickness. As with the other environments, many examples of diving accidents along with a microscopic view of what went on inside the victims' bodies are presented.

High altitude medicine is one area where Dr Kalmer has the most firsthand experience. Bringing out actual situations he encountered on Himalayan expeditions, the author presents a flowing account of Himalayan expeditions alongside an "insiders'" view of the characters' bodies. The mechanics of AMS (acute mountain sickness), HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema), HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) and frostbite are neatly woven into the story. Dr Kalmer even proposes a somewhat controversial evolutionary advantage that the Sherpas may have over other people. Even more surprising but factually indisputable, is his mention of the "miraculous" survival of Beck Weathers and Pasang Sherpa.

The final chapter is really out of this world - space adventure. Space is the ultimate hostile environment combining extreme cold, extreme heat, vacuum and cosmic radiation from which the human body must be almost completely insulated. Topics covered include the physiological effects of G force and zero gravity. Also mentioned are research projects into building self-sufficient spacecrafts for interplanetary exploration. Interesting hypothetical situations are presented and Dr Kalmer manages not to bore the reader with his wit and humour.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Overall very interesting 1 Dec. 2005
By odanny - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You may or may not like this book, and it depends on whether or not you wish to know the medical reasoning behind what happens to the human body at its very extreme limits. Since I am interested in this I purchased this book. Dr. Kamler breaks it into 6 categories:

1) Jungle

2) High Seas

3) Desert

4) Underwater

5) High Altitude

6) Outer Space

I prefered 1, 2 and 5 the most. The medical explanations are actually quite interesting and usually not too dry for the casual reader of all things science related, like myself. If you have any experience in any of these extremes, like long distance running through the desert, then of course you might find those sections more interesting than I did. Since I was stuck on an 8 hour flight twice in 5 days and this book was my only reading material I finished it pretty quickly, but quite honestly, were it sitting on my nightstand it would have taken me some time to finish it I am guessing, as the subject matter at times tended to drag a bit in the medical explanations, (meaning some concentration required) but otherwise it is a quite interesting book, full of insight into the human medical condition and its remarkable ability to heal itself when faced with trauma or extreme weather conditions.
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