Into the Planet

Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

If you’re looking for the ultimate real-life adventure memoir, look no further. A pioneer in the field of cave diving, Heinerth has helped explore the longest underwater cave system in the Yucatan, and dived all over Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and most notably, inside an Antarctic iceberg. Her passion and joy in the challenge and discovery of cave diving is clear, but also the discomfort, the arduous preparation with bulky, heavy diving gear, and the loneliness of being a woman in the early days of cave diving. In this deeply personal account, Heinerth shares how the stresses led to the failure of her first marriage to a fellow cave diver. While some of her dives are apparently stunningly gorgeous (my digital review copy had only two of the photos that will appear in the finished book), other dives are arduous with tight spaces, low visibility, and moments of sheer terror. Heinerth also struggles with ever present grief over the friends she has lost to the perils of cave diving, and now focuses on diving for environmental and other scientific goals. The chapters on traveling to and diving in the Antarctic are thrilling and inspiring.

Brenda

Into the Storm

Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival by Tristram Korten

This is the gripping story of how two cargo ships encountered Hurricane Joaquin in September, 2015. National Hurricane Center meteorologists began tracking a tropical depression that unexpectedly gained in strength and followed a very different path than usual for Atlantic storms. As the Coast Guard prepared, including helicopter crews stationed in the southern Bahamas, two ships tried, unsuccessfully, to stay away from the storm. Delays in getting current weather reports and a lack of the most up-to-date safety features proved disastrous for one older ship, while dramatic rescue attempts by a highly trained helicopter rescue crew showed the resilience of another ship’s crew, making for compelling reading. This is a good readalike for The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.

Brenda

 

The Shipwreck Hunter

The Shipwreck Hunter by David Mearns

A fascinating real life adventure, sure to appeal to fans of The Pirate Hunters. Mearns describes the research, fundraising, and dramatic searches needed to find historical shipwrecks. His teams have searched for a 15th century ship connected to Vasco de Gama, an Australian World War II hospital ship, and the freighter Lucona, which sank in the Indian Ocean in 1977 after an explosion in the cargo hold. This book is quite the page turner; I wanted to see if his team could find yet another long missing ship, and possibly discover why it sank. Equipment failures, conflicting eyewitness accounts, and rough weather make searches even more challenging.

Brenda

Rocket Men

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

A compelling, engaging read of the amazing challenge NASA accepted in the summer of 1968 to send astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders to orbit the Moon in late December on Apollo 8. While the stories of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are well known, the less familiar story of Apollo 8 makes for fascinating reading. Even though I knew that Apollo 8 was successful, Kurson still makes the mission suspenseful. The author met and interviewed Borman, Lovell, Anders and their families for this book, and his portrayal of the men and their wives turn them from remote historical figures into real, approachable people. Readers learn how and why the men became astronauts, and how their families coped with their dangerous jobs as test pilots and astronauts. Until NASA learned that the Soviet Union planned a flyby of the moon in 1968, they weren’t planning to send astronauts to the moon until Apollo 9 in 1969. In four months, they planned their boldest mission, which was vital in preparing for the moon landing of Apollo 11 and best remembered for photographs of the Earth and the live television broadcast on Christmas Eve. After a very turbulent and violent year, Borman, Lovell, and Anders helped end 1968 on a hopeful, triumphant note. Apollo 8, by Jeffrey Kruger is another recent book about the mission. For more from Robert Kurson, read Shadow Divers, Crashing Through, or Pirate Hunters, which will be discussed here on July 17.

Brenda

 

Walking the Americas

Walking the Americas by Levison Wood

Levison Woods, former British Army paratrooper, takes readers on another adventure, this time with Mexican photographer Alberto Caceres. They hike from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Cortes landed in 1519 all the way through Central America to the Colombian border in South America. Eight countries, 1800 miles, in just over four months, including the dangerous jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap, visited by Balboa in 1513. The sense of adventure and occasional danger is a little artificial when I know that Wood has a support team and is filming a documentary mini-series, but the accomplishment is still impressive. Each country makes a different impression on Wood, from the people and culture to the landscape and food. While spider bites and river crossings are a real danger, along with quicksand and snakes, walking along sections of the highway for part of their journey seems the greatest hazard. There are funny parts, some awesome scenery, and the occasional silly mistake. Wood has previously hiked the Himalayas and walked along the Nile River, and his latest hike has been circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula.
Wood’s adventures make very entertaining armchair travel reading, especially as Wood hikes through parts of Central America rarely seen by tourists.

Brenda

Hero of the Empire

hero empire jacketHero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

A welcome new book from the author of Destiny of the Republic. Ambitious young aristocrat Winston Churchill, 24, was an journalist covering the 2nd Boer War in South Africa. He would risk anything to get to the action, gave military advice as a civilian, and defended an armored train after an ambush. As a prisoner of war, he wrote letters demanding his release and helped plan a daring escape. Bright, brave, outspoken and reckless, he became a heroic figure, just as he’d hoped. I learned more about the Boer Wars than I wanted to, but Churchill and military history fans will find this to be a fascinating, thrilling, and often past-paced read.

Brenda

 

Walking the Nile

nile jacketWalking the Nile by Levison Wood

Levison Wood, who was a major in a British parachute regiment, likes a challenge. So why not hike along the banks of the entire Nile River, over 4000 miles? So off he goes, with a guide, occasionally a police escort, and even pack camels in the desert, to find his path through swamps, lakes, villages, cities, and desert. He is very discouraged at times, especially after extremely high temperatures leads to tragedy. Sometimes he can’t remember why he’s making such a challenging journey, such as when dealing with bureaucratic red tape or civil unrest. But the extremely warm welcomes he finds in small villages, and numerous wildlife encounters, including rescuing a baby monkey whose habitat has been burned, enliven the book. Wood doesn’t mention until the acknowledgements at the end that a small film crew shared parts of the journey with him, a curious oversight. I earlier reviewed his second book, Walking the Himalayas, which was more enjoyable for the reader (and probably the explorer), although less suspenseful.

Brenda