A book of the year for the Evening Standard and The Times.
Our ancestors crossed deserts, mountains, and oceans without even a whisper of what anyone today might consider modern technology. Those feats of endurance now seem impossible in an age where we take comfort for granted. But what if we could regain some of our lost evolutionary strength by simulating the environmental conditions of our forebears?
Humans like to be comfortable. When it’s hot we switch on the air conditioning and when it’s cold we crank up the central heating. Yet thousands of us take part in challenges like Tough Mudder, Total Warrior and Survival of the Fittest, which take us well and truly out of our comfort zones.
Scott Carney spent his days sitting at a desk staring at a screen. Approaching his mid-30s, he told himself that it was normal for his stomach to sag and for his legs to ache from under-use. Then he came across a picture of a nearly naked man twenty years his senior sitting on a glacier: Dutch guru Wim Hof, whose remarkable ability to control his body temperature in extreme cold has sparked a whirlwind of scientific study. Carney signed up to Hof’s one-week course, not realising that it would be the start of a four-year journey to unlock his own evolutionary potential.
From hyperventilating in a dilapidated Polish farm house, to underwater weight-lifting with celebrities in California, What Doesn’t Kill Us sees Carney interview athletes, trainers and scientists about the astonishing and sometimes dangerous world of body transformation. He takes part in the UK’s original — and most difficult — obstacle course: Tough Guy, and completes a record-bending, 28-hour climb to the snowy peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and running shoes. Above all, he learns that getting a little less comfortable might actually be the key to living a healthier, happier life.
‘When it's cold outside, do you turn the heating up? Do you always put a coat on before going out? Do you think your comfortable life is good for you? If so, you have to read Scott Carney's What Doesn't Kill Us. Through some great stories — which often involve Carney in the snow without much on — and some serious research, he shows us how to escape the bland, shuffling gait of our centrally-heated, fleece-jacketed, molly-coddled lives by diving head first into the ice-cold, axe-sharp, scary experiences that made our ancestors' hearts beat faster every day. If we do that, we can awake from the dull slumber of modern life, and open our eyes to a better, healthier dawn of crisp air, better circulation, and the ability to truly mean it when we say: I'm alive. Buy this book, and you'll emerge a stronger, healthier, more human human.’
James Wallman, author of Stuffocation: Living More With Less
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‘Climbing a mountain in nothing but a pair of shorts seems idiotic to most, but for Wim Hof and his companions, it’s just another day. When investigative journalist and anthropologist Carney heard about Hof’s mind-boggling methods and claims that he could ‘hack’ the human body, he knew he had to venture to Poland to expose this fraud. But in just a few days, Hof changed Carney’s mind, and so began a friendship and a new adventure. Carney now chronicles his journey to push himself mentally and physically using Wim Hof’s method of cold exposure, breath-holding, and meditation to tap into our primal selves. Our ancestors survived harsh conditions without modern technology, while we live in comfortable bubbles with little to struggle against and wonder how they survived. The question is, ‘What happens when we push our bodies to the limit?’ Carney calls on evolutionary biology and other modern scientific disciplines to explore and explain Hof’s unconventional methods. Fresh and exciting, this book has wide appeal for readers interested in health, sports, self-improvement, and extreme challenges.’
‘As this engaging autoethnography relates, anthropologist and investigative journalist Carney was skeptical upon encountering a photo of a nearly naked Wim Hof sitting on a glacier in the Arctic Circle. Hof, a Dutch fitness guru who runs a training camp in Poland’s wilderness, claims he can control his body temperature and immune system solely with his mind; though Carney set out to prove Hof a charlatan, he was instead won over. Carney documents his interactions with Hof and the many others who have learned to control their bodies in seemingly impossible ways: he learned Hof’s breathing techniques for tricking the body into doing things it isn’t evolutionarily designed for, and underwent training to face extreme cold while barely clothed. It is this training that enables Hof and Carney to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro in 28 hours while wearing shorts. This is part guide and part popular science book; readers will learn about how Neanderthals used the body’s ‘brown fat’ to keep warm and how exposure nearly reverses the symptoms of diabetes. The accomplishments Carney documents are unbelievable and fascinating; this isn’t a how-to for those looking to perform extraordinary feats, but it is an entertaining account that will appeal to the adventurous.’
‘Scott Carney is so curious about getting to the truth of things that he is willing to endure great pain and suffering to get there. While investigating the controversial methods of Wim Hof and others operating on the scientific fringe, Carney entered a skeptic yet emerged a true believer. In What Doesn't Kill Us, readers get to follow him along on his transformational journey, and the insights are truly fascinating. Informative, fun, and with a healthy degree of danger, this is a book for the adventurer in all of us.’
Gabriel Reece, Co-founder of XPT (Extreme Performance Training)
‘The further we get from the harsh environmental conditions that once threatened our existence, the more we need them. I see this every weekend at a Spartan Race somewhere in the world. Millions of otherwise sane people line up to suffer and push themselves to their physical limits, and it feels good. What Doesn't Kill Us is a fascinating investigation into the innate urge that drives people like these, and reveals how some have managed to use environmental conditioning to accomplish truly extraordinary things.’
John DeSena, founder of Spartan Race
‘As a Navy SEAL, you live by the mantra ‘What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.’ We would hear this phrase and repeat it, but we never had any proof that it was factual. Yet through comprehensive study, Scott Carney has brilliantly documented how engaging in environmental conditioning, breathing, meditation, and other techniques can actually make us physically and mentally stronger. What Doesn’t Kill Us is a fascinating book that will captivate all who read it and that will be of immense value to those in the military, those who are active in sports, and those who seek an alternate means of developing greater mental and physical strength.’
Don D. Mann, Don D. Mann, New York Times bestselling author, Inside SEAL Team SIX
‘I always knew that jumping into freezing water makes you feel brilliant afterwards, but now I know why.’
William Leith, The Spectator