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Book Review: Caverns Measureless To Man

Discussion in 'Apps, Book and Media Reviews' started by gcbryan, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. gcbryan

    gcbryan One Bad Hombre

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Seattle
    I just got around to reading Sheck Exley's classic "Caverns Measureless To Man".

    I'll keep the review short because I didn't really think it was all that interesting which surprised me. I'm posting mainly because I'd be interested in hearing other's viewpoints who obviously have found this to be a very interesting book.

    I guess the problem for me isn't Exley's abilities or accomplishments I just found the writing style to be boring. The very first part of the book was somewhat interesting but after that it was more like a long list of caves, depths, and penetrations.

    I'm sure it was interesting in the doing for him but I didn't find it particularly interesting to read about.

    The only thing I took away from it was that he was lucky to have survived long enough to become accomplished given his early dives.

    It was interesting to read about the different caves that he explored and not just about Florida and Mexico but that was about it for me.

    I'm not sure why this is considered a classic other than the fact that he wrote it. I found Cousteau's book "The Silent World" to be much more interesting.

    For any of you who have have read this book and found it to be a classic rather than a boring read I'd like to hear your viewpoints.
  2. Tortuga68

    Tortuga68 Divemaster

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Puerto Galera, Philippines
    I wouldn't say I found it boring, but as a writer he made a great diver. He really tried hard to make his writing interesting, and it showed

    I think the more interested in cave diving you are, the more interesting the book would be for you. Or, vice versa.

    Yeah I thought the exact same thing... if he had died early on people would have written him off as a dangerous lunatic. Instead he went on to become a legend
  3. tstormdiver

    tstormdiver Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Kentucky
    I read the book a few months ago. I'll agree with you on the overall reading of the book, beginning, as you said, about how Sheck was luky to have survived as he did, I'll also agree, the reading got somewhat teadious in later chapters. One of the more interesting things I took away from the book as a whole, was how the history & developement of techniques & equipment evolved based off the experiences of the diving pioneers of the day. Also the sheer planning & preparations it took to accomplish some of the more aggressive explorations that were done. Yes, although parts were quite dry & hard to get through (the statistics), I really appreciated one pioneer's view on the history of cave & technical diving. Just before I read that book, in Sept. I got the honor of meeting, in person, Jim Lockwood (who is mentioned a few times in the book) while going through one of my sessions of cave training. Listening to him talk about some of his dives,... was absolutely fascinating. I was able to listen to a piece of diving history right before my eyes. A humbling experience, to say the least.
  4. gcbryan

    gcbryan One Bad Hombre

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Seattle
    Yeah, what was his nickname..."killer" Jim or something like that due to the many dive buddies of his who died (through no fault of his).

    It's worth reading just because of who wrote it and the historical context and for the variety of caves mentioned in the book.

    If Sheck had been a great writer as well as a diver it certainly would have had the potential to be a much better book.

    He didn't sound like the most careful guy however. .. more like Evit Knevel than Neil Armstrong! I guess that's why Neil is still with us and Sheck is not.

    I'm not especially interested in cave diving so I'm sure that's a factor as well.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2010
  5. TSandM

    TSandM Missed and loved by many. Rest in Peace

    I found the book fascinating because it's about the history of a sport I'm obsessed with myself. Reading the early part, I was wide-eyed a lot of the time at how he managed to survive. The latter half of the book is just history. It's not spectacularly well written, but I found it readable enough.
  6. DA Aquamaster

    DA Aquamaster Directional Toast ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: NC
    As noted above, it gives great insight into the early to late portions of what was basically the golden era of cave diving. It also has more meaning once you start diving in some of those places and picture it the way it was when it was first done.

    For example, its hard to appreciate Sheck "digging" his way in at Freidman's Sink until you dive there now and realize it is not exactly a big entrance even when not filled with mud and tree branches. Similarly on a day with lots of flow it brings a new appreciation when you consider the original exploration of Manatee and not knowing how or if it all connected.

    In short the latter part of the book is far more interesting once you can place it in its proper context.

    As a psychologist and counselor, I am bothered by the book for different reasons - essentially the one expressed by the "closer to Evil Knievel than Neil Armstrong" comment. Many of the dives were driven by an obsession with going deeper or farther and doing it first. It is obvious that a desire for a frequent adrenaline high was part of it, especially when he was young and dumb, but one wonders if more recognition very early in his career by some of the "older" divers then would have tempered some of this behavior as he was fundamentally concerned with improving safety. Those two facets of his personality seem to be in opposition and knowing why would be very valuable, and understanding "why" would be difficult even if you had access to lots of people who knew him personally.

    Had he been just a bit more prudent, he would have contributed significantly more to cave diving over a much longer career, and in that regard alone, his death was a tragedy of massive proportion.
  7. gcbryan

    gcbryan One Bad Hombre

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Seattle
    Of course the interesting facet of his personality may be that if he was a bit more prudent he would have been like everyone else and wouldn't have accomplished anymore than anyone else.

    I didn't get the impression that he was especially gifted or a more special diver than the average person. He just kept diving.

    It's frequently the same way in business. You look around and see who the brightest most gifted people are and then look at who the most successful are. It's the least gifted and not especially bright (in many cases) who don't over think things and are just "doers". I think he was probably one of those....like Evil.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2010
  8. DanSledge

    DanSledge Garibaldi

    I just finished reading this book and loved every page of it! I am very much into cave diving and being able to read about the exact same caves that I am diving at today is just amazing to me. It was great to learn about what these caves were like over 40 years ago! Yeah the writing was not that great but Sheck is a diver and not a writer. I didn't pick the book up hoping for an extremely well written book with an amazing plot. I picked it up hoping to learn about caves and cave diving, which I did. Next I am going to read "The Taming of the Slough".
  9. <*)))><

    <*)))>< Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Here
    I really enjoyed the book and I'm not a cave diver. I thought it was one of the better dive books I've read. My .02
  10. wilderydude83

    wilderydude83 Barracuda

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: St. Pete, FL
    I loved it! I get bored with books easily but this one wasn't a problem. I really love scuba.

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