9780345441508

Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance

Stark, Peter

ISBN 10: 0345441508 / 0-345-44150-8
ISBN 13: 9780345441508
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
Sudden, extreme deaths have always fascinated us-- and now more than ever as athletes and travelers rise to the challenges of high-risk sports and journeys on the edge. In this spellbinding book, veteran travel and outdoor sports writer Peter Stark reenacts the dramas of what happens inside our bodies, our minds, and our souls when we push ourselves to the absolute limits of human endurance.

Combining the adrenaline high of extreme sports with the startling facts of physiological reality, Stark narrates a series of outdoor adventure stories in which thrill can cross the line to mortal peril. Each death or brush with death is at once a suspense story, a cautionary tale, and a medical thriller. Stark describes in unforgettable detail exactly what goes through the mind of a cross-country skier as his body temperature plummets-- apathy at ninety-one degrees, stupor at ninety. He puts us inside the body of a doomed kayaker tumbling helplessly underwater for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. He conjures up the physiology of a snowboarder frantically trying not to panic as he consumes the tiny pocket of air trapped around his face under thousands of pounds of snow.

These are among the dire situations that Stark transforms into harrowing accounts of how our bodies react to trauma, how reflexes and instinct compel us to fight back, and how, why, and when we let go of our will to live.

In an increasingly tamed and homogenized world, risk is not only a means of escape but a path to spirituality. As Peter Stark writes, "You must try to understand death intimately and prepare yourself for death in order to live a full and satisfying life." In this fascinating, informative book, Stark reveals exactly what we’re getting ourselves into when we choose to live-- and die-- at the extremes of endurance.

Review:
Prepare to have some of your greatest fears laid bare in this collection of riveting, and often terrifying, "cautionary tales from the limits of human endurance." Based on interviews with accident survivors and the medical specialists who treat them, veteran outdoor writer Peter Stark offers mostly fictitious accounts (there is one based on a true historical incident) of people caught in life-threatening situations. In Last Breath, he thoroughly explores what happens to the human body and mind during drowning, a long fall, burial beneath an avalanche, hypothermia, dehydration, mountain sickness, the bends, malaria, scurvy, hyperthermia, and contact with a poisonous jellyfish. Stark packs enough historic and scientific information and page-turning suspense into each chapter to make them all fascinating and useful. And he answers some perplexing questions in the process, such as why those suffering from acute hypothermia often rip off their clothing in an effort to save themselves.

No, Stark does not have some unresolved death wish--he readily admits that he fears death. But he also understands that the fine line between life and death actually entices outdoor adventurers to risk everything for the chance to explore their own physical and mental limits. In fact, it is exactly this close proximity to death that makes the experience come alive for certain individuals with the overriding desire "to strip away the superfluous, to remove the protective boundaries between that thing you call a self and something larger." These are the stories of those who crossed the line. --Shawn Carkonen

Review

Review:
"Un-put-downable stories of outdoor catastrophe and death, carefully and vividly told; they make us, unexpectedly, happy to be alive."
--Ian Frazier

"Peter Stark tells us to 'step beyond the self.' But, not too far beyond, into oblivion. If you've ever wondered just where that edge might be, physically, read Last Breath. It's thick with specific information, and with vividly rendered, often hair-raising stories--both useful and entertaining, a compelling read for those interested in testing their limits, and a sport and pastime for those of us who sort of aren't."
--William Kittredge

"Death comes to us all. Last Breath introduces us to the people who tempt fate and experience their final expiration. We witness their intimate encounters with death from multiple angles. Stark's craft as a storyteller blends physiology, ecology, physics, psychology, and metaphysics into a compelling read. Last Breath is a page-turner!"
--Ira Byock, M.D.
Author of Dying Well

"Forget the edge of your seat. Last Breath takes you to the edge of your life, for a pulse-pounding glimpse into the Great Beyond. There are many ways to risk your life in the out-of-doors, and Stark has captured them in exquisite and harrowing detail."
--Jim Robbins
Author of A Symphony in the Brain:
The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback

From the Back Cover

Editorial reviews may belong to another edition of this title.
 

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