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Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger (MacSci) 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0230614390
ISBN-10: 0230614396
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Editorial Reviews


“Wise is a good writer and his anecdotes are arresting…His message is hopeful: fear can be tamed.” ―New Scientist

Extreme Fear is a correlate of extreme risk – either that, or you just don't understand the situation. Wise provides a fascinating account of how, with luck, it can be conquered by experience and self-discipline.” ―BBC Focus Magazine

“Extreme Fear' is extremely good, extremely important, and extremely well-written. It's a perfect example of what the human brain is best at: slowing time and motion to a crawl so we can find the 'structure of chaos,' as author Jeff Wise so aptly puts it. Wise zeroes in on that most mysterious of human emotions ― panic ― and makes us a witness to our own brains, beautifully deconstructing what happens when logic shuts down and instinct takes over. Through Wise, we get to experience what it’s like to be a 25-year-old woman facing a cougar; a stunned student in the midst of the Virginia Tech massacre; a physician who has to remove his own appendix at the South Pole; and a police officer who’s suddenly plunged into insanity after an argument with a stripper in the Club Kalua. But the best part of Wise’s wonderful book is his demonstration that fear, like any other powerful force, can be turned to your advantage ― IF you understand it.” ―Christopher McDougall, author of the New York Times bestselling Born to Run: The Rise of Ultra-running and the Super-athlete Tribe

“This book is like an adrenaline rush--thrilling, and stimulating activity in many parts of your brain--and you will most likely find yourself occasionally pausing to set it down and take a deep breath. If you want to know exactly why this is probably a good thing to do, you can do no better than to heed Jeff Wise, who, when it comes to deconstructing the mechanisms of fear, is scary smart.” ―Robert Sullivan, author of Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

“Intelligent and textured. Jeff Wise smartly uncoils the science behind fear, and profoundly plumbs the obsession, the possession, and the struggle against the brevity of life.” ―Richard Bangs, author of Quest for the Kasbah, and producer/ host of the PBS series, Adventures with Purpose.

“Jeff Wise has a knack both for gripping accounts of real adventure and an impressive understanding of cutting-edge science.” ―Robert Young Pelton, author of The World's Most Dangerous Places

“In Extreme Fear, Wise dissects this most basic emotion with an engaging mix of the latest science and stories of perseverance and survival under the most challenging conditions. Written in an accessible prose, this book is both enlightening and fascinating, no matter what your background or expertise, and is a must-read for anyone interested in human behavior.” ―Jason P. Kring Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Human Factors and Systems, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and President of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments

About the Author

Jeff Wise is a science writer, outdoor adventurer and pilot of airplanes and gliders. He is a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics, Travel + Leisure, Outside's GO, and Fortune Small Business. He has also written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Details, Popular Science, National Geographic Adventure, and many others. In the course of his journalism career he has surfed in Alaska, scuba dived the South China Sea, piloted a WWII fighter plane, and mushed a dog team in Montana. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Series: MacSci
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230614396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230614390
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Victor A. Vyssotsky on December 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book does an excellent job of describing the brain mechanisms involved in extreme fear, provides numerous anecdotes about occasions on which someone experienced it, and provides a good deal of military lore and experimental evidence about how fear works and what it does and how it can be limited. But I find myself wondering whether it will offer insight or assistance to anyone who may be suddenly confronted with a fear-inducing situation.

There are more variations in human reaction to extreme fear than the author acknowledges. Although I'm not an expert on the topic, I have experienced extreme fear on a few occasions, and have watched others experience it on many more occasions. My personal belief is that aside from the most basic brain-body mechanisms, well described in this book, a person's reaction to an obviously life-threatening situation (or one that seems life-threatening) is largely determined by the whole accumulation of experiences and situations to which the person has been exposed from childhood on. If this is so, it's more than a little difficult to reshape an individual's reactions to such situations, although quite possible to reshape reactions to such specific fears as fear of combat. I have known people who seemed almost immune to fear (although of course they really weren't) and I have known others who yield to fear so readily that one cannot count on them to perform in any dangerous situation. For example, when somebody quite unexpectedly receives a serious electrical shock (1000 to a few thousand volts at high amperage), which I have seen happen perhaps a dozen times, their reactions vary dramatically, from near-complete psychological collapse at one extreme to a few minutes of shaking and cursing, followed by acceptance of treatment and/or return to work.
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Format: Hardcover
Everyone feels fear. It is inherent to the human condition.

For some, fear is a stimulant driving them to extraordinary feats. For others, fear is paralyzing.

Humankind has struggled with fear since the dawn of time, trying to overcome or at least control it. Fear has been the subject of philosophers, priests, aristocrats, generals and psychologists, all trying to understand it. And now scientists have entered the picture and fear is giving up its secrets.

In this fascinating and engrossing book, fear gets the pop-science treatment from Jeff Wise, who brings a varied background as "science writer, outdoor adventurer and pilot of airplanes and gliders" to the task. Actually, his accomplishments seem pretty thin for the task, but he is no less qualified than other pop-science writers like Malcolm Gladwell.

In fact, Wise does, in my opinion, a better job than Gladwell.

He successfully merges contemporary scientific investigations into the nature of fear with medial analysis and real life stories of people both trapped and motivated by fear. Wise writes well and he has structured his book to be fast-moving, even though it is packed with information including more than a few scientific terms the reader is likely to be unfamiliar with. His examples are particularly well chosen to illustrate his points. For example, he describes scuba diving in underwater caves and how divers are faced with situations where fear and panic appear to be = and in fact are - the only "rational" responses, such as being lost and alone in an underwater cave.
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Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed this book. The pages flew by and I got through it very quickly, a testament to the literacy and skill of the author. Wise has taken on an interesting subject and explicated it clearly, convincingly, and in an entertaining way. The anecdotes (many scrapes with death) were often thrilling. The portions on physiology and psychology, particularly those on brain chemistry, could have been a bore in the hands of a lesser writer, but the author presents them in an easy-to-understand and lucid way. The section on stage fright was worth the price of the book for me; I'm a former professional actor and champion public speaker who now gets a case of nerves speaking in front of others. It was fascinating to know how and why this happens, and that I'm not alone (Laurence Olivier suddenly got terrible stage fright in the middle of his career!) Finally, the author had some suggestions for overcoming fear which may be of value to you. In all, this was a compelling read, both entertaining and informative.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simply one of the best written books I've come across in a long time. The author's ability to take you to a first-hand experience across a variety of dramatic events is thrilling. Even better, he ties these anecdotes cleanly to the science that underpins the core distinctions of humans in fear. The result is like a good mnemonic where the science is easy to recall because the story it represents makes sense. For example, story: a Russian Physician escapes certain death by operating on himself; result: the force of human will power involving control of the reflexive system to override the self-preservation instinct of our reflective system.

Where this work tries to take us in the last 3 chapters failed to satiate my interest: application. The lessons are glazed over and could themselves be a sequel to this book that I would eagerly read and apply. Further, it left open some questions like to what extent do we fear for our physical lives compared to made-up circumstances like failure to perform. Most people are more likely to have a debilitating Laurence Olivier-style case of the nerves than be tested to land a commercial jet liner on the Hudson River without a single fatality.
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