Little more than one hundred years ago, maps of the world still boasted white space: places where no human had ever trod. Within a few short decades the most hostile of the world's environments had all been conquered. Likewise, in the twentieth century, medicine transformed human life. Doctors took what was routinely fatal and made it survivable. As modernity brought us ever more into different kinds of extremes, doctors pushed the bounds of medical advances and human endurance. Extreme exploration challenged the body in ways that only the vanguard of science could answer. Doctors, scientists, and explorers all share a defining trait: they push on in the face of grim odds. Because of their extreme exploration we not only understand our physiology better; we have also made enormous strides in the science of healing. Drawing on his own experience as an anesthesiologist, intensive care expert, and NASA adviser, Dr. Kevin Fong examines how cutting-edge medicine pushes the envelope of human survival by studying the human body's response when tested by physical extremes. Extreme Medicine explores different limits of endurance and the lens each offers on one of the systems of the body. The challenges of Arctic exploration created opportunities for breakthroughs in open heart surgery; battlefield doctors pioneered techniques for skin grafts, heart surgery, and trauma care; underwater and outer space exploration have revolutionized our understanding of breathing, gravity, and much more. Avant-garde medicine is fundamentally changing our ideas about the nature of life and death. Through astonishing accounts of extraordinary events and pioneering medicine, Fong illustrates the sheer audacity of medical practice at extreme limits, where human life is balanced on a knife's edge. Extreme Medicine is a gripping debut about the science of healing, but also about exploration in its broadest sense-and about how, by probing the very limits of our biology, we may ultimately return with a better appreciation of how our bodies work, of what life is, and what it means to be human.
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Kevin Fong, MD, is co-director of the Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine. A fellow of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, he is an honorary lecturer in physiology at University College London.
Jonathan Cowley is a British actor living in Los Angeles who has received AudioFile Earphones Awards for his narrations of The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen and The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart.
Inner space, outer space, and regions in between—this is the sprawling subject matter of a book that celebrates the challenges of discovery. Fong, a physician with a background in astrophysics, engineering, and aerospace medicine, ably identifies the correlations and convergence of exploring extreme environments and predicaments and the human body. For example, he tethers an expedition to the South Pole with forthcoming medical applications of hypothermia. He links the disfiguring burns suffered by WWII aircraft pilots with the development of reconstructive plastic surgery. Fong focuses on the fragility of human physiology and efforts to protect it with advanced life-support systems. Along the way, readers learn about the rise of intensive-care units, human spaceflight, iron lungs and polio, a complete face transplant, and SARS. Exploration of any kind is risky business and at times seems irrational. It requires curiosity, innovation, and resiliency, and it pushes the limits of knowledge, territory, and biology. Fong makes the point that human survival has been and will continue to be closely connected to our compulsion to explore. --Tony Miksanek
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