The debut of a female Steve Jones – likeable, literate, lucid and laconic. A sprightly, lavishly illustrated book on the science of human survival.
How do people survive extremes of heat, cold, depth, speed and altitude? This book explores the limits of human survival and the physiological adaptations which enable us to exist under extreme conditions. In man’s battle for survival in the harshest of environments, the knowledge imparted by physiology, the ‘logic of life’, is crucial. What causes mountain sickness? Why is it possible to reach the top of Everest without supplementary oxygen, yet be killed if a plane depressurises suddenly at the same altitude. Why are astronauts unable to stand without fainting when they return to Earth? Why do human divers get the bends but sperm whales don’t? Will men always be able to run faster than women? Why don’t penguins get frostbite?
‘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
About the author
Frances Ashcroft is a Professor of Physiology at Oxford. She divides her time between research on insulin, teaching and writing.