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Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives (John Volanthen)
“Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives: The Thai Cave Rescue” by John Volanthen (with Matt Allen)
Published by Aurum (Quarto Publishing) 2021
HB 304 pages. Size 155 mm x 235 mm. ISBN 978-0-7112-6611-7 £20
Before we start (and in the interests of full disclosure): I know the author very well – as evidenced by a name check on pages 31 and 210, as it was to the index to which I turned to on first receiving a free copy through the post. I’ll try not to let either of these facts influence my critique despite John being a mate and I didn’t pay for his book…
Actually having an index is always a good sign – not only for vain readers with a connection to the author. There’s also a glossary and footnotes to explain terms unfamiliar to the reader. The only photos are those on the dust cover - obligatory author shot, picture of the kids in the cave and a silhouette of a “cave diver” (wearing back mounted cylinder(s) on the front). In addition, there is a schematic map of Tham Luang Cave reproduced from the mission control whiteboard on the inside of the front and back covers. The absence of illustrations doesn’t detract from the text as John’s writing style paints a clear visual picture of all the situations that he describes.
There have already been plenty of books on the Thai cave rescue. Few good, most bad. As one would expect, John gets the facts right so this would appear to be the go-to reference for anyone who wants to know what happened. Except it is more than this – in fact it is a self-help book that uses the events of the rescue, as well as tricky situations that the author has experienced both elsewhere in his cave diving career and also outside of this activity (even something as mundane as securing a mortgage on a house purchase for someone who is self-employed gets a mention) to illustrate “13 lessons” that can help readers with problem solving. It is an interesting concept…
Using the timeline of rescue starting from the initial decision to get involved and ending at its successful outcome and aftermath, John delivers a series of motivational pep talks to the reader. These are reinforced with (frequently hair raising) anecdotes of close shaves in caves at home and in Europe which are enough to make the reader think that every one of John’s cave dives are an epic. (I know this not to be true: a series of stories along the lines of “went into cave, did the dive, came out again and nothing went wrong” would however be a bit tedious with little to learn from.) The sporadic stepping back from the narrative of the rescue into exploits elsewhere, or other aspects of John’s life, could come across as a bit disjointed but I found them useful in providing a break from the intense, high octane, activities in Thailand.
The concepts that John puts across are certainly very valuable. I read the book over several days, but my wife did it in one sitting. My only criticism of it might be to describe it as a bit “preachy” in the sense that it sticks to the formula of telling you what you’re going to learn, teaching you and then summarising it. In some respects, I guess the author was preaching to the choir as many of the concepts should be in the toolkit of anyone partaking in such activities. Even so, I was still surprised to find myself welling up a bit at the conclusion to the book.
In brief, this is more than a simple history of events in Thailand during June-July 2018. It explains the fundamental approaches taken by those involved and how these methods can be employed elsewhere. I’m sure cavers and divers will buy this book, but I’d recommend its contents to a wider audience. The author delivers a masterclass in dealing with life – or thirteen lives to be precise…
The start certainly hooked me :coffee:
I hope this works "telling you what your going to learn, teaching you and then summarising it" I might remember some of the lessons ;D ;D
My copy has literally just arrived. I've already read the "free sample" on Amazon and am looking forward to finishing the book.
I too did a one hit wonder with the book, at times I found it a bit hard going and on some occasions had to re read some bits.
But having attend the HE lecture and the Lecture at keswick film festival had a good insight into the many events of the rescue already.
I would like to have seen a few more photos and or sketches, and maybe a little bit more detail as to some of the rescue and the frustrations with the local authority.
I agree with Duncan it was in places like a teacher, teaching but the lessons in themselves are all very valuable lessons to deal with most things in life.
now to wait for Ricks book :)
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