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Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century Hardcover – February 6, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1594204708 ISBN-10: 1594204705

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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


The Washington Post:
“Every chapter combines personal stories, dramatic medical history and clear, vivid science writing…Fong’s book presents daring moments in medicine along with lucid explanations of human physiology and of how medical professionals manage to keep people alive or pull them back from the brink. It should appeal to would-be astronauts, outdoor-lovers, mountain climbers, free-divers, armchair explorers, science enthusiasts, those working in the health professions or wondering about such a career—indeed, just about anyone with a heartbeat and a dash of curiosity.”

The Wall Street Journal:
“In Extreme Medicine, physician Kevin Fong reminds us that virtually everything we take for granted in lifesaving medical intervention was once unthinkable… Dr. Fong's engaging and fast-paced narrative is liberally sprinkled with his own harrowing experiences as a specialist in anesthesia and intensive-care.”

“[Fong] weaves first hand, nail-biting ER experiences with gripping historical narrative as he recounts 100 years of breakthroughs...[Fong] looks forward as well: He offers tantalizing ideas about surviving long-term space travel and other possibilities that await us in our relentless quest to explore.”

Mother Jones:
“With clear, evocative prose, he takes readers to ocean depths and mountaintops, and also deep within our bodies, in this entertaining exploration of human limits.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred): 
"A medical thriller of the first order."

Publishers Weekly:
"[An] eloquent history of how 20th-century science and medicine moved us toward 'improved survival'--and with it a better understanding of life and death...these are thrilling stories that describe the limits of human psychology." 

Atul Gawande, surgeon and author of ComplicationsBetter, and The Checklist Manifesto:
"In Extreme Medicine, the ever-intrepid Kevin Fong reveals the fascinating link between geographical exploration and medical innovation, with stories that are as strange and intriguing as they are illuminating."  
Professor Brian Cox, author of The Quantum Universe: "It would be hard to find anyone better qualified to write a book on the limits of human physiology than Dr Kevin Fong. His experiences in human spaceflight at NASA, in frontline medicine, and his deep scientific knowledge, shine through. If you want to know what the human body can take, and why we must continue to push ourselves beyond the limit in the name of exploration, then read this book."

The Observer (UK):
"Anatomy and physiology are elegantly explained, not as abstract theory, but as counterpoint to gripping stories about survival against the odds. Real stories of life and near-death form the compelling backbone of the book. The book could easily have ended up as a series of Boy's Own tales of derring-do, but Fong elegantly balances heroism with rationalism, courage with compassion, shock with humility and humor."
Guardian (UK):
"From the outset Ice and Fire is a gripping read. It's the kind of book you want to read peeking through cracks in your fingers; you want to look away, but not as much as you want to know what happens… I held my breath, I shed a tear, I laughed out loud, and I struggled to keep my lunch down at various points through this book, and that can only be a good thing."
Times Higher Education (UK):
"Fong weaves together seemingly unconnected events in this world and beyond in a series of breathless vignettes… an appealing mix of academic eloquence and matey talk: … In many ways, Ice and Fire is the story of the 20th century…We explore because we must, and if you have a sense of adventure and the miracle of life within you, then this book is for you."

Daily Mail:
"Fong has dramatic first-person accounts to give, and many more… he also proves himself to be a genuinely talented author… Fong has come up with an often fascinating and actually rather inspiring account of western medicine’s ever-increasing expertise."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (February 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204708
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Read the book and then give them the copy to read.
Beth DeRoos
The stories are interesting, but equally interesting is the biology, which the Dr. Fong explains very well, and in a fun style.
Alison K. Rempel
Very enjoyable book with a high probability of teaching the reader at least one new and interesting tidbit/factoid.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Barbara VINE VOICE on December 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When you read a blurb, 'How exploration transformed medicine in the twentieth century," you expect the book to be about "how exploration transformed medicine in the twentieth century!"

This book started out in that vein...talking about the death of Robert Falcon Scott in Antarctica...but that was the last time exploration came into this book! I expected to learn about how folks were going into the jungles of the Amazon, looking for plants that could cure horrible diseases, or diving in oceans looking for kelp or the toxin of some dangerous fish that could actually help mankind...but it was not to be.

It was more a reminiscence of Fong's time as an internist, and recounting of various modern day medical stories.

So to begin with I was pretty annoyed that I wasn't getting what I had expected, but to be honest the book as it is, *is* pretty interesting. We do learn a great deal about medicine - told in terms a layperson can understand - and about advances in medical care and how the determination of a patient can tip the scales for the better...

So I do recommend this book for anyone who is interested in healthcare and medicine and how doctors are helping patients through hypothermia, burn victims...all the way through to what astronauts will have to face on the way to Mars due to the health deterioration caused by weightlessness (as a matter of fact, what astronauts today have gone through - those that have lived on the space station for months at a time.)

If you're looking for how exotic plants or animals might help improve medical care, this is not the book for you. If you're looking ot learn how doctors have helped people who have suffered extreme health issues due to accident, check it out.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By mikemac9 on December 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoyed reading this book and felt I learned about how some areas of medicine have advanced and about the pioneers in the field. The book includes stories about the advent of the ICU in the rush to save polio victims, how horrific war injuries led to advances in plastic surgery, and more. At the same time I felt there were chapters that felt "thin". For example the chapter on aging introduces a remarkable WWI veteran, yet seemed thin to me on explaining what is going on in the aging process. Or, for that matter, once we became interested in the chap, in explaining what happened to him. Overall I'd say its a good book but could have used few chapters in more depth.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Laurie A. Brown VINE VOICE on July 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book is a little misleading; while the medicine described is (or was when it was first developed) extreme, very little of it was actually brought about by exploration. The first chapter, ‘Ice’ starts with the exploration of Antarctica, which did teach us a lot about dealing with extreme cold and hypothermia, which eventually led to the use of hypothermia during radical surgeries and other treatments. ‘Fire’, which tells about the beginnings of plastic surgery and skin grafts, is based in WW 1 and how many pilots were burned beyond recognition when their planes burnt around them in battle. ‘Trauma’ shows us the first ambulance use in the Napoleonic Wars and how the trauma protocol was invented by a doctor who crashed the small plane he was flying with his family as passengers. Polio led to life support machines and ICU style care- supporting vital systems to give the body time to heal itself. Still, even though the title isn’t accurate, it’s an interesting book. The author jumps around a lot; it’s not a smooth narrative. Sometimes he gives a historical account, sometimes he writes about his own experiences (and he has had a lot of experiences; he got a degree in physics before he turned to medicine and has worked with NASA), sometimes he tells us about what happens to the body in these extreme situations. Those were the parts I found most fascinating, especially in the ‘Ice’ chapter, when he recounts how a skier went hypothermic to the point that her heart stopped, but because she was so cold, brain damage did not occur even though she went three hours without a heartbeat. An interesting book but it wanders a bit.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Courtland J. Carpenter VINE VOICE on January 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I seem to get some deja vu when reading this perhaps because I've read similar books or have seen specials on the same themes. This book basically entails how medical breakthroughs have occurred by necessity due to extremes in temperature, such as the exploration of the South Pole. Much of that from the diary of a dying man stranded and freezing to death with no hope of escape. Then there are the extremes of fire, mostly burn victims and of war, which triggers many extremes, all the way out to the exploration of space and the challenges there.

The basic theme is that as man explores and ultimately conquers his limits, medical science moves on. As technology has led to vast new frontiers to explore in the last two centuries, and explosion of medical knowledge has arrived along with it. It has some interesting stories how this came about, but nothing I've not seen before, so unfortunately for me it was an interesting read, but not an eye opening exploration as I had hoped for. Commercially, I think the book will fare better if it is given some significant illustrations. May have been better had author focused on one of the extremes and got some depth to his insights. Mildly recommended for medical history buffs, but probably too dry for most casual readers.
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