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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 2

Book Review: Extreme Medicine

Books and recommendations from Scientific American


Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century
by Kevin Fong
Penguin Press, 2014

With degrees in medicine, astrophysics and engineering, Fong has dedicated as much of his life to discussing the health challenges of space travel as he has to treating trauma patients. In Extreme Medicine, he writes of those challenges as well as more terrestrial medical advancements that have pushed the boundaries of possibility. “While our medical pioneers weren't concerned with geographical conquest,” he writes, “they were very much in the business of exploration.” From the tale of a young woman revived after hours without a heartbeat in an icy Nordic river to stories of World War II soldiers who served as early guinea pigs for facial skin grafting, Fong interweaves historical accounts with engrossing stories of clinical doctors charting new territories to save their patients. In each case, their encounter with physical extremes powered rapid medical advances. The next frontier to push science forward, Fong writes, may be sending humans to Mars. The book shows how, “by probing the very limits of our biology, we may ultimately return with a better appreciation of precisely how our bodies work, what life is, and what it means to be human”.

This article was originally published with the title "Extreme Medicine."

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