How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century
By Kevin Fong
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594204708, 304pp.)
Publication Date: February 6, 2014
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Anesthesiologist, intensive care expert, and NASA adviser Kevin Fong explores how physical extremes push human limits and spawn incredible medical breakthroughs
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 extremis, 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 cuttingedge 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 senseand 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.
Kevin Fong holds degrees in medicine, astrophysics, and engineering and is an honorary senior lecturer in physiology at University College London. He has completed specialist training in anesthesia and intensive care medicine, has worked with NASA, and is the founder of the Centre for Altitude, Space, and Extreme Environment Medicine. Fong has created and starred in several documentaries for the BBC and Radio 4 in the UK. He writes for The Guardian and has a regular column in The Times (UK) Higher Educational magazine.
In his new book, Dr. Kevin Fong explores how humans survive extremes of heat, cold, outer space and deep sea. "We're still exploring the human body and what medicine can do in the same way that the great explorers of the 20th century and every age before them explored the world," he says. More at NPR.org
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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.”
“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."
"[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 Complications, Better, 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."
"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."
"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."