Talk to the author Excerpts Interview with the author

About the book

About the author

Reviews and blurbs


Buy the book

Like this book?
Hear about more



By far, the single most valuable book for me while researching Last Breath was the 1,500-plus page Wilderness Medicine: Management of Wilderness and Environmental Emergencies edited by Paul S. Auerbach, M.D. This includes chapters by specialists on virtually every imaginable medical emergency one is likely to encounter in the wilderness, from hypothermia to heatstroke, the bends to mountain sickness, reptile bites to poisonous mushrooms. Though written for medical professionals, a lay reader will understand enough to be exquisitely over-informed. For a more compact and hands-on volume that can be taken into the outdoors, try the Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine by Auerbach and co-editors Howard J. Donner and Eric Weiss. Two other handbooks I relied on are Wilderness Medicine: Beyond First Aid by William Forgey, M.D., and Medicine for Mountaineering and Other Wilderness Activities by James Wilkerson, M.D.

For general background on human physiology I read The Body Book by David Bodanis, a fascinating journey through the human body during the course of a day's activities; National Geographic's The Incredible Machine; and Atlas of the Human Body by Takeo Takahashi, a short, easy-to-follow volume of anatomical maps. Two books on sports medicine proved invaluable for understanding oxygen consumption, heart rates and other metabolic patterns during heavy exercise: Exercise Physiology by Roy J. Shepard, M.D. and Sports Medicine and Physiology edited by Richard H. Strauss, M.D.

Before I sat down to write this book, it was important for me to understand various perspectives on death and dying. For this I read Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life, by Ira Byock, M..D.; the classic On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; and Sherwin B. Nuland's How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter. A seminal book about our attitudes toward death in this part of the world is Philippe Ariés's Western Attitudes toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present. For some contrasting Eastern philosophy, I went to a fascinating volume called Japanese Death Poems edited by Yoel Hoffmann, as well as to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Key sources for the various chapters of Last Breath include:


The Avalanche Book by Betsy Armstrong and Knox Williams. Everything you ever wanted to know -- and then some -- about this awesome mountain phenomenon.

Symphony in the Brain: The Evolution of the New Brain Wave Biofeedback by Jim Robbins. A science writer and frequent contributor to The New York Times, Robbins explores how we can learn to train our own brain-wave activity, a technique that saves the snowboarder in the avalanche chapter of Last Breath.

The Bends

Diving Medicine edited by Alfred A. Bove, M.D. Written for doctors but reasonably accessible to the lay reader, this is a treasure trove of physiological detail on the strange ways the human body responds to the pressures of the deep.

Man and the Underwater World by Pierre Latil and Jean Rivoire. The French have been leading explorers of the subaquatic world, and these two bring Gallic flair to a history of underwater adventure.


Thirst: A Physiology of the Urge to Drink and Problems of Water Lack by A.V. Wolf. A fat volume that, though somewhat outdated (it was published in 1958), contains a wealth of empirical research and anecdotes.

Wind, Sand and Silence: Travels with Africa's Last Nomads by Victor Englebert. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of life in the Sahara, this book follows Englebert's travels with Taureg nomads.

The Persian Sufis by Cyprian Rice. A short, easy-to-follow description of a mystical branch of Islam that is largely unknown in the West.


Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. This classic 2,500-year-old collection of philosophy encoded in short verse-like chapters treats water as a divine substance that can teach many lessons.

The Pathophysiology and Treatment of Drowning and Near-Drowning by Jerome H. Modell, M.D. Now out of print, a definitive work by one of the world's leading experts in the field.


In the Zone: Epic Survival Stories from the Mountaineering World by Peter Potterfield. This volume includes Potterfield's vivid story of his own horrendous fall and subsequent rescue while climbing on a wilderness peak.

Why I Climb: Personal Insights of Top Climbers by Steve Gardiner. These remarks by climbers explaining what draws them to mountains are also applicable to other so-called "risk sports."


A Matter of Degree: Heat, Life and Death by Lucy Kavaler. A comprehensive book about heat for all readers.

Man and Animals in Hot Environments by D.L. Ingram and L.E. Mount. The title says it all; a book about how we are better (and less) adapted than other creatures to hot climates.


Basic Essentials: Hypothermia by William W. Forgey, M.D. A handbook for outdoorspeople by a man who has spent a numbing amount of time in the Arctic.

Freezing Point: Cold as a Matter of Life and Death by Lucy Kavaler. Another accessible book filled with revealing information for the general reader.

Jellyfish and Predators

Killer Animals by Edward R. Ricciuti. A riveting dossier of animals that pose a threat to humans in the wild.

Poisonous and Venomous Marine Animals of the World by Bruce W. Halstead, M.D. A huge,scientific volume about the stinging, biting creatures of the sea.

Venomous and Poisonous Marine Animals: A Medical and Biological Handbook edited by John A. Williamson, et. al. Another comprehensive volume, focusing more on medical treatment.


Malaria edited by Julius P. Kreier. This is a three-volume set for those who need to know everything about a disease that affects tens of millions of people worldwide.

Malaria: Publication of the Tropical Programme of the Wellcome Trust. The title notwithstanding, this is an interesting, illustrated guidebook to the complex mechanics of malaria transmission.

Mountain Sickness

Annapurna: A Woman's Place by Arlene Blum. A moving account of an all-women expedition that made it to the summit but was beset by tragedy when two members of the team died in a fall.

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog. A mountaineering classic detailing the world's first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak.

High Altitude Medicine by Herbert N. Hultgren, M.D. A wide-ranging compendium of the research that's been done on humans at high altitude.


Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742 by Georg Wilhelm Steller. A first-person account of Vitus Bering's disastrous sea voyage from Siberia to Alaska and back, during which the crew was nearly wiped out by scurvy.

Nutritional Biochemistry by Tom Brody. Details the complicated mechanics of how vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals work in the human body.

The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C by Kenneth J. Carpenter. One would never guess that the history of a disease and a vitamin could be so interesting. Full of historical anecdote.

Back to top


Home | About the book | About the author | Reviews and blurbs | Bibliography
Talk to the author | Excerpts | Interview with the author | Buy the book

Go to | Contact | Join the mailing list