Extremes: Life, Death And The Limits Of The Human Body – Kevin Fong

Published September 9, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Drawing on his own experiences in trauma surgery as an anaesthetist and intensive care expert, ‘Extremes’ is Kevin Fong’s account of the way cutting-edge medicine is pushing the envelope of human survival.

What did I think?:

Along with the mountain load of fiction I read, I love to throw a non-fiction book into the mix from time to time especially popular science as it relates to my day job (scientist by day, blogger by night!). Extremes looked particularly good when I spied it on the shelves in my local library, I was intrigued not only by the title but by the anticipated content. Dr Kevin Fong has a degree in astrophysics, a topic which has fascinated him from an early age but he also made it through medical school. He is based at University College Hospital, London as a consultant anaesthetist with a special interest in trauma therefore has a wealth of knowledge and experience under his belt for writing this book. He breaks it down into nine separate chapters entitled: ICE, FIRE, HEART, TRAUMA, INTENSIVE CARE, WATER, ORBIT, MARS and FINAL FRONTIERS and explains in each chapter how the human body reacts, copes and deals with extreme circumstances.

I really loved the way in which this book was presented. The author takes us back into history for example discussing the fate of poor explorer Robert Falcon Scott in 1910 who became severely hypothermic and died when faced with the adverse weather conditions of the South Pole. The author will then build on the historical information that we are given and describe the amazing frontier that we have reached nowadays. Think about a heart bypass operation where the body is cooled down and its processes taken over by a heart-lung machine so that surgeons can begin their repair of the heart without fear of the body becoming toxic or the irreparable effects of the lack of oxygen on the brain. It is down to an explosion in technology and improved knowledge of our physiology that the greatest scientists and doctors have been able to provide us with better care and indeed, prolong or save our lives in a critical situation.

One of my favourite bits of our history was reading about the renowned surgeon Archibald McIndoe who became a pioneer and probably invented the field of plastic surgery during World War II, after treating hundreds of young soldiers with horrific burn injuries. He would take a piece of skin from a normal part of the body i.e. not burned and graft it onto the burned site, such as the face. The only problem with this they found was that for the “new skin,” to develop its own blood supply correctly it initially had to be attached to the place where the skin was taken in the first place. If you’ve seen pictures of men with their noses attached to their arms, that’s what I’m alluding to but here’s a picture to make it clearer.


Image courtesy of http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/southern_counties/4274838.stm

Another thing that I loved about this book was Dr Fong’s own anecdotes like the time in 1999 when he was a newly qualified doctor and his surgical team were called to the site of a bombing in Soho. The way he describes seeing the carnage was almost heart-breaking and it emphasised the importance for him of three little letters – A (for Airway) B (for Breathing) and C (for Circulation) when dealing with a severe incident such as this. On a more light-hearted note, he also describes being lucky (or unlucky) enough to ride on the “vomit comet.” This is a special aeroplane which climbs to 35,000 feet before the plane free-falling through the air for twenty seconds or so. It is supposed to simulate weightlessness in the way that astronauts experience while in space. From his description though, I’m not sure he will be repeating the experience!

The author finishes Extremes with a couple of chapters about space and the race to get the first man on Mars. It wasn’t my favourite part of the book although I did find it interesting and it is obviously a great passion for the author, who has also had a placement at NASA. Overall, this is a terrific read. If you’re interested in the human body, particularly in how we struggle in severe situations, this is the book for you. You don’t have to have a scientific background to read it, it is explained very simply without ever once being patronising. Kevin Fong manages to mix historical evidence and personal experience with a sound knowledge and relaxed writing style to put his readers at ease and enthrall us. If he decides to write another, I’ll be sure to read it and then tell you all about it of course!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




One comment on “Extremes: Life, Death And The Limits Of The Human Body – Kevin Fong

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