ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 62 and 63

62. Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, by James M. Tabor. My best friend and I listened to this on CD while working on various projects. The topic it covers is fascinating -- supercaving and trying to find the deepest point on the planet. The perils of supercaving make climbing Mount Everest look like a vigorous weekend backpacking trip. At least from Mt. Everest, there is a chance of rescue if you get into trouble, within a reasonable amount of time. Where these cavers go, if you get hurt you are up a creek, to put it politely. The book covers two explorers, American Bill Stone and Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk. Stone and his expeditions through Cheve and Huautla comprise about 2/3 of the book; Klimchouk's ventures through Krubera almost seemed to get the short shrift.
The book does a good job in explaining the technique of caving for the layperson, without getting too technical. Tabor is also very good with detailing the many (many) things that can go wrong in a caving expedition, and the consequences of illness, injury or bad planning. When he is on a role, the author does a commendable job with creating tension and suspense.
There are problems with the book, though. Many problems. One, things seem out of order. There were good passages, but there should have been more if things would have been sequenced properly. Some things, especially in the beginning, felt out of order. Also, sometimes Tabor gets too repetitive. Yes, it is important to stress the dangers of caving --but every other chapter? (It felt like every other chapter, at any rate). The reader on the CD wasn't bad (I've heard far worse) but wasn't spectacular either. He was a bit monotone.
All in all, what saves the book is the topic in general and the story about Bill Stone, a very interesting and colorful person indeed. But the book needed a better editor.

63. Seen the Glory, by John Hough Jr. 2010 W.Y. Boyd Literary Award. This historical fiction story tells three tales in one. One thread covers Luke Chandler and his younger brother Thomas, as they enlist in the Union army during the Civil War and prepare to do battle, culminating at Gettysburg. One follows the lives of those they left back home, mainly their father and their black servant Rose, who is more like a family member. A third thread follows various individuals who live in Gettysburg (the connection to the main threads doesn't come up until the very end).
Hough deftly describes the living conditions of his characters, particularly the soldiers' hardships. War was a game of hurry up and wait, of not enough rations and constant illness. The author does a good job covering the spectrum of issues and beliefs surrounding the Civil War and slavery. There is no doubt that not all Northerners believed in freeing the slaves; most of the regiment mocks Luke and Thomas for their staunch Abolitionist stance. But I do like that even some of the secondary characters change and develop.
There's a lot to like -- the stories are well-told. But it's kind of slow. I think the book could have benefited with about 100 pages cut from it. The third story was nice because it gave you the perspective of the citizens, but I think it just weighed down the story. Also, while I'm a fan of backstory as a general rule, I think Seen the Glory goes a bit overboard and is repetitive. Also, the big mystery, about the revelation that splits the brothers right before the big battle? I saw what that would be a quarter of the way into the book.
Seen the Glory is good for history buffs. It strikes me as well-researched and Hough captures the era -- in all its gritty realism -- well. But it could have used some snipping.
Tags: historical fiction, non-fiction

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