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model of “fight or flight”–that people respond to danger either by fleeing in terror or staying to fight through it–has been replaced by a more complex understanding of the fear response.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

9 thoughts on “About Extreme Fear

  1. First of all, these are just my thoughts on the whole topic. I’m no psychologist or anything; I don’t even have a degree in anything. I’m just very interested in psychology.
    Maybe the reason we think “time slows down” in extremely fearful situations has to do with the same reason as children time seems to go by slowly. We know that we remember the most emotional times in our lives the best. As kids, we get so distracted by everything and all details because we’re still learning about the world. Also, time goes by slower because we less experiences to compare the ones we’re having now to. In the same sense, we have less amount extreme experiences that relate to the one we just had. Therefore, with any emotional/new experience time seemed like it went by faster. I’m guessing this is also a result of evolution, learning from our mistakes or close calls. It is very useful to remember all details of these experiences to prevent a similar situation.
    I hope it all made sense and I hope to hear a reply on your thoughts. Thanks!

  2. Glad to find your blog. I’m very interested in “fear” and how we humans “scare ourselves” in our everyday lives. I look forward to following your study and sharing what you’re learning about extreme fear.

    Tom Hunting ton

  3. Just bought your book off Amazon, looking forward to reading it.. having survived a few close calls with the thing we call death I know the taste of fear.. coppery, like an old penny that’s been held in an old man’s hand for a year in a coal mine..

    I’ll read and/or do anything to keep me on this side of the dirt for one more day.. but don’t let that fool you, when you live on the edge and it’s part of the price you pay to play.

    Scared of flying, take a few flying lessons.. once I soloed that was all it took.. fear conquered.. now if I can just get the money to get my ‘ticket’ I’ll be very happy indeed.

    Enjoy life Jeff, keep up the great work!


  4. I thought it was understood that time seems to slow down in high adrenaline situations because your brain is, by way of your senses, consuming enormous amounts of information at a clip far quicker than normal. It seems implausible when people say their lives flashed before their eyes at this or that moment until you imagine a wider current of perception opening at that moment. Like normally your mind is like the old analog TV signals, just minimal bandwidth, then under high stress it goes digital and stretches to accommodate substantially more.

  5. I was sexually abused by my brother when I was 14 He was 19 .I am now 55. I was in a 16 foot sailboat on Naragansett Bay, Rhode Island, a few years ago.( Barges travel there, so you know the water is deep). It was raining and windy, we almost went over and I was holding on thinking I was going to be drowning in the water. Next thing I knew , I saw my brother’s face in front of me and I was crying for my mother. I snapped out of it. Thank God I was still hanging onto the boat. My boyfriend immediately got us back to shore. I had experienced a flashback. I never knew how terrified I was of my brother.

  6. I found your comments on Piers Morgan tonight (3/13) to be intriguing and I look forward reading your book “Extreme Fear”.

  7. Living most of my life in a land where it was normal to check for booby traps before getting into your car and all the other precautions one becomes normalised to what would terrify. But I have also witnessed fear. After analyses of the why someone would choose to use aggression it is normally associated with defence. When you ask then why an attacker of you does so is this also not aggression driven by fear . The question then would be what is that fear. So ultimately you have an attacker and a defender both motivated by fear
    The fear of the defendant will be obvious but that of the attacker will not be. Attack The Fear and the attacker has no motive. It takes a while to get this through as we are always perceived to be the other side with alternative motives.
    The lion spoke about earlier had a fear. One might only guess. Was the woman seen as a threat based on past experiences. Was the woman the next meal that the lion might survive. Maybe a bit difficult to persuade the lion do not eat me as my mate will likely shoot you tomorrow.
    Above all, Fear the LORD.
    Kind regards, Robert

  8. I can not affort to buy this amazing book Extreme Fear by Jeff Wise. I request Goodread, Amazon or anyone gentleperson to help me get full access to this book.Could anybody help me? Please Reply me with your help on: rahulgupta0112@gmail.com Thanking you and Goodreads

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.