Saturday, May 28, 2011
Surviving the Extremes
The subtitle of Surviving the Extremes is “What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance”. And it more than delivers in that respect. The author, Dr Kenneth Kamler, has been to the Amazonian rainforest and on an Everest expedition and those parts are written from experience. But he discusses desert and underwater and high seas survival just as well.
The book examines the effects of environments in which the human body never adapted and was never meant to experience, much less live in. It also provides examples of people who both survived such conditions and those who succumbed. The saddest of the latter, to me, was the story of Audrey Mestre, who attempted to beat her own record for free diving by ascending from a depth of 166 metres.
Dr. Kamler explains the biological effects of such environments in detail. I loved those parts. From the atomic level up to the cellular, the book depicts how platelets and the immune system and the finely regulated chemistry of the brain respond to stress and starvation and lack of oxygen. Pulmonary edema due to the high altitude of Mount Everest, treating snakebite in the Amazon, how exactly camels thrive in the desert, it’s all here.
The book even includes a chapter on what it might be like in outer space, as a member of an expedition to a distant star. Yes, that will carry its own biological and psychological risks.
My favorite chapter is the one about surviving in a desert, because I lived in the Middle East for 18 years. Granted, most of those were spent in an air-conditioned room rather than, say, digging up roots in the bottom of a wadi to suck a few droplets of moisture from them. But I’d recommend this book to any writers hoping to throw their characters into such environmental danger zones.
You could learn ways to make it even more difficult for them.