What Doesn’t Kill Us by SCOTT CARNEY
Scribe (2017) RRP $ 32.99 Hardcover
JOURNALIST Scott Carney has a compelling pitch in What Doesn’t Kill Us: has technology made us weak? Much of the world suffers from diseases of excess rather than deprivation. We’ve surrounded ourselves with comfort and security. Carney suggests this has cut us off from reserves of strength that are in-built but long forgotten.
The lynchpin of his research is a program run by Dutchman Wim Hof, where participants are exposed to extreme cold in order to control the body’s response to it.
In a mountain-man style retreat, guys (rarely women) pay good money to stay in a European cottage where they wake up and plunge into either freezing water or snow.
It sounds silly, but you can’t help but be a little bit taken in by Carney’s explanation of the science behind the amazing feats of tolerance participants train themselves to achieve after Hof’s “cold treatment”.
After the Dutch program the author crisscrosses the world in a kind of travelogue of body-hacking rituals – events designed to find what you’re really made of. He looks at the popularity of obstacle course races, where competitors put themselves through such punishing trials they sign a disclaimer acknowledging they might end up dead.
He also goes to Malibu, to the California compound of surfing legend Laird Hamilton, where he learns about extreme breath control. It’s a popular thing right now: Carney shares a lesson with actor Orlando Bloom.
What Doesn’t Kill Us makes an attractive argument for those of us living with tablets and air conditioned cars who regret being cut off from nature. This makes the book is an easy sell – you certainly want to believe it.
The science Carney includes seems to confirm what he’s telling you, but, in case you were in any doubt, he urges you to tread carefully. This stuff is not completely safe, and the introduction of the book itself comes with a large disclaimer.