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Man at High Altitude

Man at High Altitude. Donald Heath and David Reid Williams. Churchill Livingstone, New York and London, Second edition, 1981. 347 pages, many illustrations. $65.

Man at High Altitude is a second, extensively revised edition of a major book, probably the single most authoritative book on high altitude today. It is well written and put together, extensively illustrated with photographs, charts, and diagrams which for the most part are easy to understand. It covers the entire field of high-altitude lack of oxygen thoroughly as the title promises, but does not deal with cold, heat, cosmic radiation, or illness and trauma. If one wishes a single volume about lack of oxygen at altitude, this is the one, even though the price is almost double that of the 1979 first edition. It has two shortcomings, unfortunately. First, the extensive bibliography contains no references later than 1979, which means that the information in these articles dates back to 1978 because of the long lag between submission and publication. With knowledge advancing so precipitately, this is a serious flaw. Secondly, the authors being pathologists, it is understandable that their emphasis should be on that discipline, and the book is weak, and in places wrong, about clinical aspects. (One small but important example is their statement that climbers who have had retinal hemorrhages should be advised not to go above 10,000 feet again! Such a patently unjustified statement might encourage destructive litigation and absurd bureaucratic regulation.) Thirdly, their discussion of safe rates of ascent has been out-dated by the demonstration by many world-class climbers that ascending 1000 feet a day is too fast for some but much too slow for others. But these are trivial faults in a first-class book. If you want an encyclopedic medically oriented text about altitude, get this one.