Blind Descent by James M. Tabor

Agony. Ecstasy. Injury. Death. Betrayal. Brotherhood and sisterhood. Accidents. Triumphs. Unknown realms. Exploration and discovery. Overwhelming obstacles. Ingenious victories.

These are some of the reasons why I think Blind Descent would make good reading for high school students. Here are two great truths: Hockey games, reduced to their essences, are nothing more than two players racing towards the puck; everything else that happens is connecting tissue, secondary, quotidian. The same is true of life. Reduced to its essence, life is a series of critical moments linked by days, months, years, or decades of the stuff we do to pass time. Work. Play. Eat. Sleep. Drive. Party. Study, etc.

There are some people who are not content to wait for life to bring them critical moments. For a variety of reasons, they go out of their way to create such junctures, often placing themselves in harm’s way to do so. Who are these people? George Leigh Mallory, the great Everest pioneer, who gave his life to the quest. Navy Lt. Donald Walsh, who descended approximately 36,000 feet in the waters of the Pacific in 1961—a feat never repeated. Jacques Yves Cousteau, who courted death countless times to open the undersea world for the rest of us. Lindbergh. Magellan. Cortes. Messner. Armstrong et al.

Such people exist today, doing the same things such people have always done. I think of them as the human race’s great forerunners, going places and doing things that no one has ever done before, proving that the rest of us—somehow, some way—could go to those same places and do those same things.

Blind Descent is about two such men and the people they lead in their quest to discover and explore the deepest cave on earth. Their actions are on par with those of the great polar explorers, mountaineers, oceaneers. One can even make a credible case that their explorations were as dangerous and isolated as those of the Apollo astronauts.

What these people did required taking ultimate risks, (sometimes dying in the process), and undergoing physical, mental, and emotional ordeals that the rest of us can barely imagine, let alone endure. So Blind Descent captures people in the most critical moments imaginable. It explains how and why they got to those moments and how they dealt with them. Some reviewers compared my book to The Perfect Storm and Into Thin Air, which might seem odd at first glance. Storm was about the ocean; Air the mountains, after all; and Descent is about caves. But all of these books are really about people—people who, by choice rather than chance, find themselves in extremis. Come to think of it, in that regard they’re not unlike Oedipus, Lear, Henry Fleming, and Santiago—or, in the real world, Columbus, David Crockett, John Brown and . . . well, you get the idea.

Blind Descent is written as well as I could write it. It’s about people doing ultimate things as well as they can be done. Some die. Some live. None come back unchanged. This makes for a book worth reading.

 James M. Tabor