Book Review: Surviving the Extremes: Kenneth Kamler

Posted on August 4, 2010

The full title of this book is ‘Surviving the Extremes, What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance.’ So yeah, that’s what it’s about. Although I am a huge fan of what I call abusing my body for science, I am very happy to have read this book in the hopes that I never go through some of the things that this guy talks about.

Simply put, he Kamler takes us through the many ways that we can die. However, he also cites ways that people will not die under similar circumstances. This dude is the real deal btw. Remember that year where a ton of people died on Mt. Everest? Yeah, he was the doctor who was saving all kinds of people. I’m not usually a fan of people ‘inserting’ themselves into non-fiction, but Kamler’s commentary is invaluable. Researching this stuff would be scary enough, but this dude lived it.

This book is a great read for many reasons, first, despite his scientific background, Kamler is a fantastic storyteller. Science writing is hard, and this guy has it down. There are tidbits that are valuable to the layman or the biologist. For example, he talks very specifically why your Lasic surgery will fail you if you climb Mt. Everest.

Although he very well describes the physical breakdowns, the main point I got from this book is that survival is 99% mental. It is about wanting to survive. It is a common thing for shipwreck survivors to give up, despite the fact that they have food (ocean) and water (rain and distilled water). He also cites examples of people lost in the desert, who really only survive because they find a deep down reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We do lead a precarious existence, and this book will give you a new appreciation for that. On a more practical level, it gives damned good advice for if you are ever deep underwater, in space or in the jungle and find yourself with a pressing need to survive.

Rarely do I read a book that gets my heart thumping. This is one of those books. Pick it up if you are an armchair adrenaline junkie, or you will travel anywhere. Ever.

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens To the Human Body At the Limits of Human Endurance


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