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Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill Us

Today, Dave shares a book review of What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. This book review follows on from Dave’s previous book review The Wim Hof Method. Also the blog post 90 Days Experience of The Wim Hof Method.

Book Cover Notes

Is getting a little less comfortable the key to living a happier, healthier life?

When journalist Scott Carney came across a picture of a man in his fifties sitting on a glacier in just his underwear, he assumed it must be a hoax. Dutch guru Wim Hof claimed he could control his body temperature using his mind and teach others to do the same. Sceptical, 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 Polish farmhouse to underwater weight training in California, and eventually climbing Mt Kilimanjaro wearing just shorts and running shoes, Carney travelled the world testing out unorthodox methods of body transformation and discovering the science behind them.

In What Doesn’t Kill Us he explains how getting a little less comfortable can help us to unlock our lost evolutionary strength.

book review What Doesn't Kill us by Scott Carney

Dave’s Thoughts

Investigative journalist Scott Carney had debunked several “snake oil” sellers in the Wellness industry. When an eccentric Dutchman named Wim Hof “the Iceman” started gaining publicity for his “method” and promising that it cured all manner of ill’s from Arthritis to mental health, he saw another scalp for the taking.

Carney enrolled on Wim’s week-long retreat in Poland with scepticism, but returned a total convert and inspired to learn more. This book documents his 4 year journey using The Wim Hof Method. He interviews people;

  • claiming miraculous health improvements
  • talks to athletes
  • to doctors and other health gurus.

Carney then tracks his own progress. This culminates with a record breaking ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro with Wim Hof, wearing nothing more than boots and shorts.

The book begins with some useful context setting. Throughout the evolution of man we lived and operated in all weathers. From hot sun to snow, with little more protection than a loincloth or animal skin. But, in the last 100 years we have wrapped ourselves in technical clothing and live in climate controlled cars and houses.

As a result, our bodies have lost the ability to adapt. This is having consequences to our:

  • cardiovascular system
  • hormone production
  • metabolism and
  • leads to an increase in inflammation – the root of many modern illnesses.

The Iceman

This book is an excellent accompaniment if you have read (or are planning to read) “Becoming the IceMan” – Wim Hof. Wim’s book focuses on the mechanics, theology and medical research behind the Method as well as his life story. That’s the book you need if you want to know how to do it. Scott’s book looks at how he went from sceptic to convert and onto explore and develop his own limits.

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) has three pillars; cold exposure, breath work and mind control, working together to restore some of those evolutionary gains. You can find out more in my book review of The Wim Hof Method.

First hand experience

So, back to Scott Carney. In 2013 Scott flies out to Poland to experience the Wim Hof Method with the intention of debunking it. What he found in just a few days was, that it was working. He could do more press ups after breath work, and within a few days of gradual cold exposure he could keep his body warm in snow, wearing nothing but shorts.

After a couple of years, Scott decides to really put the method to the test and see if it really does change his physiology. He hooks up with a Sports Physiologist to get baseline measures of his fitness. He then tried to keep all of his other limited “diet & fitness” regimens constant, while he focussed on the WHM.

Experiences and interviews

As part of his investigation Scott seeks out some real advocates of the Method. It’s these stories that give the book and the Method some real gravitas. The stand out has to be a guy crippled by Arthritis, who is now free of most of his symptoms. He has since climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with Hof and now has hundreds in his town that have followed his lead and do daily cold dips in the river.

Carney meets Laird Hamilton a legendary surfer, who is training “A-list” celebrities in his pool on the benefits of breath holds.

He interviews the man behind the massive HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) He’s now using the Hof method to ramp up those gains even further.

He talks to a Military Scientist looking at how to enable soldiers to survive and perform better in the cold and at altitude. The scientist, based on his stats and experience with soldiers, believes 60-75% of Carney’s Kilimanjaro group will fall victim to Acute Mountain Sickness and won’t make it. There are also informative chats with the founders of extreme Obstacle Course Racing, such as Tough Guy and Tough Mudder which Carney also endures.

These experiences build to the books conclusion, which is Carney’s real world test as to whether the method actually works – the infamous ascent up Mt Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but shorts and boots. I’m not giving away secrets when I say that they did it in record time. But the book tells of a less than slick ascent. The challenges they faced such as weather issues, disagreements with Hof and the guides, and fragmentations in the group. This is a really interesting perspective and contrasts with the impression you get from Wim Hof’s book – not that this event is covered in great detail there. Carney is also re-tested by the Sports Physiologist too, with some very positive results.


I really enjoyed this book. It engages both in terms of the science, which is very digestible, and the journey that Scott goes on. The findings within the book are favourable to the Wim Hof Method, but explore it a different way.

Both books advocate, with strong evidence, that there are considerable physical and mental benefits to seeking some discomfort in the cold, breath work and the power of the mind body connection.

Certainly the more I read, the more convinced I am to practice this daily. These books have opened my mind and I am now more curious and open. I used to think “breathwork” was all nonsense, but I can attest now to the physical changes that a few differentn breath patterns can make.

In the last 100 years we have become more comfortable, too comfortable perhaps. We’re stressed with increasingly common ailments that were rare or unheard of in days gone by. Thankfully, books like this are bringing lifestyle and diet back into our consciousness. We just have to be open & willing to act on it.

Where to Buy

Amazon UK

About the Author

Author photo - book review What doesn't kill us

Investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney has worked in some of the most dangerous corners of the world. His work blends narrative non-fiction with ethnography. His books include the New York Times best seller “What Doesn’t Kill Us,” “The Wedge, “The Red Market” and “The Enlightenment Trap.”

Carney was a contributing editor at Wired for five years. His writing also appears in Mother Jones, Men’s Journal, Playboy, Foreign Policy, Discover, Outside and Fast Company. His work has been the subject of a variety of radio and television programs. Including on NPR and National Geographic TV. In 2010, he won the Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for his story “Meet the Parents,” which tracked an international kidnapping-to-adoption ring. Carney has spent extensive time in South Asia and speaks Hindi.

Where to find Scott online

Website | Twitter

Further Book Info:
  • Published Date: 10th Jan 2019
  • Publisher: Scribe UK
  • Page Count: 272

We hope you’ve found this book review of What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney informative and useful.

Would you like to read more non fiction book reviews like this one? Let us know in the comments below what you think or if you have a suggestion for Dave’s next book.

Miche & Dave xxx

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