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Publisher's Summary

In this enthralling blend of adventure and science, veteran travel and outdoor sports writer Peter Stark (Outdoor magazine) reenacts the drama of what happens inside our bodies, our minds, and our souls in the precarious last moments of life 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 into mortal peril. Each death or brush with death is at once a suspense story, a cautionary tale, and a medical thriller. Will they survive, or will they succumb? Stark describes in unforgettable detail exactly what goes through the mind of a cross-country skier as his body temperature plummets - apathy at 91 degrees, stupor at 90. He puts us inside the body of a doomed kayaker tumbling helplessly underwater for two minutes, five minutes, 10 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. In this fascinating, informative audio, Stark reveals exactly what we're getting ourselves into when we choose to live - and die - at the extremes of endurance.

©2001 Peter Stark; (P)2001 Random House, Inc., Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, a Division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Stark packs enough historic and scientific information and page-turning suspense into each chapter to make them all fascinating and useful." (

What members say

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  • Overall

Marvelously well told physiological tales

As a long time biologist and lover of fine words this audiobook is a double pleasure! I share excerpts of these stories with my Anatomy & Physiology classes at appropriate times during my lectures. An added bonus is provided with the author's own voice doing a splendid job on the narration. Great job, Stark! You make me, and my students feel as if we were there with the 'victims' of your examples.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sara
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • 12-25-03

A Very Nice Surprise!

I haven't listened to audiobooks for awhile. Imagine my delight when I bought this wonderful book and found it to be a 5 star work. It is read by the author, something which most authors are not qualified to do. It is very refreshing, even though it is about death. It is very scientific but not dull or overly technical. A must-read for anybody who loves information about anything including mortality.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dennis
  • Salem, OR, USA
  • 03-23-05

Interesting concept.....

...but be warned -- only the research in this book is non-fiction. The tales themselves are all fictional accounts, which I found quite disappointing. It might have taken a bit more time to dig up real accounts, but it would have made for a much more gripping read.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Chana
  • Fair Lawn, NJ, USA
  • 12-05-04


I've been a member of Audible for over a year, and this is by far the most compelling book I've listened to yet. Stark goes into incredible detail in describing what happens on the edge of the death. His narration keeps you listening... I've listened to this book twice and made my friends listen to specific segments of it, and they also found it fascinating. Especially the first one on hypothermia.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jeff
  • Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
  • 03-19-09

Utterly fascinating

What a treat to have found this book. I was fascinated from start to finish. Stark does an outstanding job of weaving together the physiology and humanity of each case, so that you feel like you're the victim of the story, and yet get to understand what's going on from a third-person perspective. I highly recommend this book!

  • Overall

He lets a couple live

Excellent. Informative and interesting stories in which to frame the information. It is a bit morbid but I am a wilderness first responder and ski patroller and this worked as a good refresher to help me keep in mind what is going on. I have recomended sections of this to be used for intructional purposes.

  • Overall
  • Dwight
  • Oregon City, OR, USA
  • 11-23-07

Frank and fair. A must for adventurers

Educational. Entertaining. Thought Provoking.
As an Outdoor Emergency Care (National Ski Patrol) Instructor, I was intriqued by the details of the injuries and ultimate death from these adventure accidents. Hypothermia for me please. The Inuits would wonder off onto the ice when they felt no longer able to contribute to their families. I can understand the wisdom in this after reading the description of a rather pleasant way to pass on to the next life. This seems a grizzly topic, but every outdoor adventurer is intimately aware of the dangers and consequenses of his or her miscalculations, and Last Breath describes fairly what must go through our minds as this life leaves our earthly limbs.

  • Overall

Too much for too little

In this unconvincing mix of fact and fiction, Peter Stark has pulled off a pretty good trick: he has taken material that is inherently interesting and managed to make it almost boring. His primary problem is that he seems enamored of his own writing. As a result, he has a very poor sense of pacing. He often employs a paragraph when a sentence or two would do. His preface, for example, goes on and on, when the reader--or this reader, at least--just wants him to get on with it. Unfortunately, the hybrid tales that follow are equally inflated and end up being neither good fiction nor good journalism. The good stuff--facts on how people die--occupies such a small part of each story that it's hardly worth the effort. The reader goes through too much setup for too little payoff.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful