Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth

I really wanted to like this book. Caving is fascinating, and reading about it is utterly engrossing to me, perhaps more so than any other type of adventure writing. And, there aren't anywhere near enough caving books. Unfortunately, this particular caving book (by James Tabor) suffers from pervasive crappiness and fundamental errors which could easily have been avoided.

First, the style is needlessly sensationalistic and breathless. Did Tabor and his editors somehow think that a caving book would not sell if they didn't pump up an already complex and fascinating sport to the point of self-parody? It's a real bummer.

Second, the book contains numerous significant errors. For example:
  1. The book misuses the word sump. The correct definition is: a submerged passage. Tabor seems to use it to indicate any cave lake.
  2. All the photos in the color plates are listed as "copyright 2010". That is not how copyright works – a photo is copyrighted as of the date it was taken.
  3. The whole premise of the book is the search for the deepest cave that could possibly be. First off, that's a ridiculous premise; establishing a cave as the deepest possible rather than simply the deepest known would be extremely difficult and would certainly take years for the community to accept the claim. Second, the book itself claims both that this ultimate (i.e., unbreakable) record was reached ("they had made the last great terrestrial discovery", page 246; "October 18, 2004: Bottom of the world, 6,825 feet deep" on the last color plate) and also that it was broken ("In August 2006, ... pushed its ultimate depth to 7,188 feet"). How anyone can make such a blatant, fundamental error and call themselves a journalist is beyond me.
Bottom line, if you are desperate for any caving book you can get your hands on, like me, you will probably want to read this book. But it's not very good. And, if you are looking for someone to write a book about your adventures, find a different author.

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