A Real Life Adventure by Real Human Beings
Reviewer: firstname.lastname@example.org from Indianapolis, IN
This book arrived on a Friday and I could not put it down until I finished it. It's a truly amazing story of determination, obsession and political intrigue.
One piece of helpful background information is that the Cave Research Foundation has had a monopoly on exploration within Mammoth Cave National Park for nearly fifty years. The CKKC held a virtual monopoly on the exploration of Roppel Cave. As these two large cave systems grew toward each other, it was inevitable that there would be a conflict of interests between the two organizations. While some reviewers have been disturbed by certain events in the book, the authors have been very up front about having done some things that they were not proud of later in the course of this intense competition.
The Caves Beyond and The Longest Cave tell the story of the explorations that took place between 1950 and 1972. The cave itself is the central player in these books. Beyond Mammoth Cave looks more deeply into the minds of the cavers involved and - for the first time - shows them warts and all. This made them more rather than less human and was a side effect of the drive and determination to the point of obsession needed to explore this great cave system. I highly recommend this book as a chronicle of real people involved in a real life adventure with both genuine heroics and significant missteps along the way.
Hungry Soul, Weak Body, December 8, 2000
The book is a well-written page turner written in an informal and approachable style. The two authors, who experienced much of the story first-hand, achieve an exciting dynamic by alternating chapters back and forth; each chapter dealing with similar events and topics but from the distinct perspectives of the two authors.
Some may criticize the opinionated tone, but I think few will disagree that it is poignant and clear. The book is important because it will have general appeal and edification to the caver populace, most of whom are recreational-cavers not involved in project-surveying. Hopefully it will create empathy and understanding of the project caver experience among the general caver community. Moreover the book may, as much as is tenable, make caving vicariously comprehensible to non-cavers.
The authors have accurately portrayed the ingloriousness of caving and avoided romanticizing caving to noncavers. The book honestly portrays the frequently unbalanced mixture of hardships, and joys that go into long-term project caving: the personal conflicts, the bouts of frustration, the physical exhaustion, the incredible ego-inflation, the tedious agonizing work of surveying, the costs to other aspects of the caver's life, work, and relationships, and the occasional elation of an accomplishment.
The book strikes a balance between humility and open-mindedness. There is recognition that project-caving, in the grand scheme of human-experience, is irrational and insignificant. At the same time, the book does not short-change the power of the personal experience of obsession with project-surveying, and the potential significance of this liminal experience as a study in the best and worst in human nature.
IT'S HERE!! IT'S HERE!!, December 1, 2000
The long awaited, and much anticipated book Beyond Mammoth Cave has arrived. This is a sequel to the book The Longest Cave. As a big fan of the first book I was leery that the authors would meet my expectations for this one, but rest assured they have. This is a great read--non-stop exploration, action, and excitement on every page. It follows the exploration of Roppel Cave from its discovery to it growing into a world class cave, and its final connection to Mammoth Cave.
It takes strong wills to explore big cave and as expected conflicts do arise. As the cave gets bigger, so do the egos and the trouble it causes. The authors have told an honest story, and for some, honesty does and can hurt.
Written by cavers, this book is a personal glimpse into the places and the people who spend their time exploring what is surely the last frontier on this planet. Don't wait another second to buy this book!
No holds Barred
This book that describes the events in the exploration of Mammoth Cave from 1972 to 1983 is a worthy sequel to The Longest Cave. Whereas in the Longest Cave the cave was the central character, in Beyond Mammoth Cave the central characters are the explorers pursing their passions in the world's longest cave. This makes for quite a different book; Beyond Mammoth Cave is a brutally honest account of how individuals that are involved in activities of great passion interact with each other. Indeed the cave has existed for millenia, but it was the passions of its explorers who dictated how the discoveries would unfurl and the two caves would ultimately proven to be one. Passionate people may do unkind things to each other, yet the bond that they forge is strong; both are described well in this book.
Most of the story is developed by Borden, describing the activities that led to the discovery of Roppel Cave and its meteoric rise into the ranks of the world's great caves. The reader experiences every foot after brutal foot of cave hard won. Brucker, co-author of the Longest Cave, provides an effective bridge back to the earlier days of exploration in Mammoth Cave describing the efforts there. Brucker's compelling story telling completes the process begun by Borden of drawing the reader deep into the passions that all these explorers experienced. The contrasting styles of the two authors makes for an exciting read.
Sometimes the honesty is shocking, but the reader will certainly come away with a true sense of what these people were really like. You may not like all of them as individuals, but will definitely come away with a better understanding of what it is really like to cave and how it feels to be exploring the world's longest cave.
With The Caves Beyond and The Longest Cave, Beyond Mammoth Cave completes a strong trilogy documenting the exploration of this exciting cave system. I recommend this book highly.
Too much Borden, Not enough Brucker
Having been a casual follower of the progress in the Flint Ridge/Mammoth Cave system since the late 70s, I was very eager to read this book. Not nearly enough information makes its way into mainstream publications to keep me happy. I am pleased to say that this book describes much of the work that has occurred since the big connection in 72. There is adventure and intrigue and the old Flint Ridge con on almost every page.
One thing that is lacking, however, is the sense of history that was so evident in The Longest Cave. Other than a few references, the great cavers of the 50s and 60s are pretty much ignored, as are their efforts. You are left with the impression, however accurate or inaccurate, that the CKKC cavers are much more interested in their own accomplishments and bravado. At times it appears that this personal grandeur is achieved at the expense of the cave system and caving in general.
As notable as the lack of historical perspective is the overabundance of James Borden. Although Borden and Brucker share authorship, the majority of the story reflects Borden and his ideas regarding caving. This is not such a bad thing from at least one perspective, as Borden can be a remarkable caver and storyteller. Unfortunately, we also get to witness his questionable personal behavior and caving ethics. Conspiracy and secrecy have always been a part of Kentucky caving, and no one should be surprised that these things continue. However, having to read over and again the manner in which Borden deceives, hurts, and steals from his "friends" and "heroes" makes one wonder why anyone still wants to go underground with this man.
Despite the weakness briefly presented above, I can recommend this book to all readers interested in Mammoth Cave. For the reader who is somewhat a novice to caving, I would add these comments: