If you were to travel to the Amazon, say, or the source of the Nile, you would likely find the people there wearing corporate logo-branded T-shirts and listening to the latest pop hits on the radio. Using a GPS device or satellite photos, you can track your location just about anywhere on the face of the planet. Given globalism and the ease of travel to once-remote places, where is a would-be flag-planting adventurer to go these days?
The answer, writes Michael Ray Taylor in this intriguing book, is inward: inside the earth by way of the millions of caves that pierce its surface. Following an international team of fellow cavers--men and women in peak physical form and apparently without fear--his narrative takes us deep within the ice caves of Greenland; a vast underground labyrinth of rivers and chambers in Mexico's Yucatan; a cave on a cliff wall overlooking the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon, one that no human had ever before entered; and other great caverns of North America. High-quality (and sometimes astounding) full-color images accompany the text, offering views that usher us into a world of blind snakes, bats, strange geological formations, and uncanny sights that few surface-dwellers have been privileged to see.
Caving is not merely adventure for its own sake, Taylor notes. "Over the past decade," he observes, "scientists have been surprised to learn that in the deepest recesses of the Earth are repositories of exotic microbes ... far more varied in types of species and their individual strategies for survival than all the plants of an equatorial rain forest." Some of these microbes, he suggests, may deliver chemicals for fighting disease; they also deliver important evidence about the history of life on the planet.
But, all that said, caving offers plenty of thrills, and Taylor's book does a superb job of capturing both the science and the adventure of a journey to the center of the earth. --Gregory McNamee