About Extreme Fear

Fear is a mysterious force. It sabotages our ability to think clearly and can drive us to blind panic, yet it can also give us superhuman speed, strength, and powers of perception. Having baffled mankind for ages, fear is now yielding its secrets to scientific inquiry. The simple model of “fight or flight”–that people respond to danger either by fleeing in terror or staying to fight through it–has been replaced by a more complex understanding of the fear response.

Veteran science journalist Jeff Wise delves into the latest research to produce an astonishing portrait of the brain’s hidden fear pathways. Wise, who writes the “I’ll Try Anything” column for Popular Mechanics, favors a hands-on approach, volunteering to jump out of an airplane while wearing sensors and to endure a four-hour simulated missile attack on a Navy destroyer. He returns with a tale that combines lucid explanations of brain dynamics with gripping, true-life stories of mortal danger: we watch a woman defend herself against a mountain lion attack in a remote canyon; we witness a couple desperately fighting to beat back an encircling wildfire; we see a pilot struggle to maintain control of his plane as its wing begins to detach. By understanding how and why these people responded the way they did, Wise argues, we can better arm ourselves against our own everyday fears.

Full of amazing characters and cutting-edge science, Extreme Fear is an original and absorbing narrative that will force you to reconsider the limits of human potential.

Buy it from Amazon.

Extreme Fear is extremely good, extremely important, and extremely well-written. We get to experience what it’s like to be a 25-year-old woman facing a mountain lion; a stunned student in the midst of the Virginia Tech massacre; and a physician who has to remove his own appendix at the South Pole. The best part of Jeff Wise’s wonderful book is his demonstration that fear, like any other powerful force, can be turned to your advantage–IF you understand it.”

–Christopher McDougall, author of New York Times bestseller Born to Run

“Intelligent and textured. Jeff Wise smartly uncoils the science behind fear, and profoundly plumbs the obsession, the possession, and the struggle against the brevity of life.”

–Richard Bangs, author of Quest for the Kasbah and producer/host of the PBS series Adventures with Purpose


“This book is like an adrenaline rush–thrilling, and stimulating activity in many parts of your brain–and you will most likely find yourself occasionally pausing to set it down and take a deep breath. If you want to know exactly why this is a good thing to do, you should heed Jeff Wise, who–when it comes to deconstructing the mechanisms of fear–is scary smart.”

–Robert Sullivan, author of Rats


“Jeff Wise has a knack both for gripping first-hand accounts of real adventure and an impressive understanding of cutting-edge science.”

–Robert Young Pelton, author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places


“Jeff Wise dissects fear with an engaging mix of the latest science and stories of perseverance and survival under the most challenging conditions. Written in an accessible prose, this book is both enlightening and fascinating, no matter what your background or expertise, and is a must-read for anyone interested in human behavior.”

–Jason P. Kring, President of the Society for Human Performance in Extreme Environments