08 March 2015

Deep Down Dark - A Book Review

I don't often read books on my Kindle unless I'm traveling.  I have lots of old-fashioned paper books waiting to be read.  But, sometimes there's a book I hear about that I want to read and I find it available through my local library as an e-book so I put my name on the waiting list.  When I get the notification, I download it and then put aside whatever else I was reading.

I recently received notification that Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free  by Hector Tobar was available so I downloaded it...and then didn't exactly get around to reading it right away.

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When I got the 3-days-till-your-loan-expires email from the library I tried to renew it but since there's a waiting list I was not able to do so.  That left me with only one option...to spend 3 days (good thing it was a weekend and brutally cold out) staying inside reading this book!  It's been a long time since I dedicated so much time to reading a book.  I realized how much I miss long stretches of getting lost in a story.

I remember when this tragedy took place and thinking, as the days and weeks passed, that there was no way they were going to rescue these men.  Spoiler Alert: the men are rescued after 69 days trapped miles underground with almost-no food and only marginally-drinkable water.

I found Deep Down Dark to be well-written and I had no trouble reading it for hours on end.  The individual stories of them men were interesting enough and were presented from before the accident to their 69-day ordeal through to their lives after being rescued (not surprisingly, many suffered long-term effects of the trauma they endured). I couldn't help but imagine how I would have dealt with such circumstances and whether or not I would have made it out alive or sane. 

However, what I found most intriguing were the incredible feats of engineering (Engineering...not a miracle) that went into getting the men out of their subterranean tomb.  That and the dedication of the drilling teams that pushed beyond hope and plausibility to reach the open space where the men were clinging to life. Necessity truly is the mother of invention and engineering marvels never-before-seen  took place on the side of that mountain.  As an engineer, it was fascinating to read about that aspect of the rescue operation.

I don't root for tragedy but I do not-so-secretly enjoy it when mother nature reminds us all that there's only so much she's willing to take. When Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, the Icelandic volcano that erupted a few years ago, grounded European air traffic, I cheered.  I loved the fact that there wasn't a damn thing humans could do when faced with the power of nature.  They could do nothing but sit and whine about how inconvenient it all was.

Mining is an inherently very unsafe occupation. There's no excuse for mining companies cutting corners to save money and, thereby, making it even more dangerous than it already is.  However, to think that raping and pillaging the Earth (via mining, drilling, fracking, etc.) for minerals and metals and natural resources, regardless of how safely it is done, can go on indefinitely is to invite the wrath of the very being we depend on for life.  We are at the mercy of this planet and just when we think we're in control, we're reminded that we most definitely are not. 

Sadly, had these 33 men not been rescued it wouldn't have had much of an impact on anything beyond the loss their families would have suffered.  Mining practices would not have changed (I'm sure they still haven't).  No lessons would have been learned.  I was honestly somewhat surprised that so much effort and money went into getting these men out.  Of course, most of the cost of the rescue was not borne by the negligent mining company. Do a Google search for "33 dead" and the number of different incidents where just that specific number were involved is eye-opening ("VA Tech shooting", "plane crash on Namibia-Angola border", "were killed by a knife-wielding attacker", "northeast Nigeria bomb attack", "clashes in Yemen"...).  33 men in a mining accident is a pretty small number yet, for some reason, a nation and far beyond rallied to overcome seemingly-insurmountable odds to make sure this "33" was not followed by "dead." 

I'm not sure what the Earth has to do to convince humankind that it needs to show respect to this living, breathing being that, so far, is allowing our species to inhabit it.  At some point I feel like we're going to be tossed off or snuffed out when the Earth decides it has had enough of our disrespectful shenanigans.  And we'll deserve whatever fate we're dealt.

Have you read Deep Down Dark?  DO you think you would have survived? Do you have thoughts about how we go about extracting what we want/think we need from the planet?