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Book Review: "Caverns Measureless to Man" by Sheck Exley

The Adventures of a Modern-Day Explorer

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


cave diving book
Photo of my copy of "Caverns Measureless to Man"

What makes a great adventure story? An intrepid, almost super-human hero? Life-threatening scenarios? Survival against all odds? "Cavern's Measureless to Man" has all of these aspects -- with a twist. This book is non-fiction.

Here is pioneer cave diver Sheck Exley's first-hand account of the early days of cave and deep diving in Florida, the Bahamas, and Mexico. Armed with the simplest of scuba gear (at one point he used a clorex bottle as a buoyancy control device) Sheck Exley set many of the world's diving records and made dives that most divers today would not dare to attempt.

A Diving Book for Divers and Non-Divers Alike

Most scuba diving books have a limited audience; divers find scuba stories fascinating while non-divers may quickly become bored. Although "Caverns Measureless to Man" is a book about cave diving, it approaches the topic in a way that both divers and non-divers can understand. For non-divers, "Caverns Measureless to Man" is a fascinating peek into the obsessive world of hard-core technical diving. For divers who use modern scuba gear and technology, Sheck's ability to push diving limits using the simple dive equipment of the past is all the more impressive. Sheck Exley's enthusiasm for his sport is contagious, and readers are drawn into his adventures as he strives to push limits and break records.

A Must Read for Cave Divers

I recommend that all my cave diving students read "Caverns Measureless to Man." Some cave divers do not realize that Sheck Exley was responsible for the development of many of the cave diving protocols that we follow today. "Caverns Measureless to Man" includes (often frightening) stories of how these rules were developed. Sheck Exley's close calls and mistakes, combined with his sharp analytical mind and an occasional serving of luck, led him to develop recommendations for navigational guidelines, multiple lights, and gas management. When divers understand the scenarios which led to the creation of modern cave diving protocols, they are much more likely to follow them.

A Peek Into Diving History

Many of the big names of diving make an appearance in "Caverns Measureless to Man". Sheck Exley's cave diving community was by no means large and most of the early cave divers knew each other. It is entertaining to read about many of the original cave divers from Sheck Exley's point of view, and to learn about the alliances, friendships, and rivalries that characterized the cave diving community in Sheck's time.

A Well-Written Diving Book!

Many of the scuba diving books I read are poorly written. After cringing my way through many diving memoirs, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that "Caverns Measureless to Man" is relatively well-written. I find Sheck Exley's clean, almost scientific style of story telling just descriptive enough, with the stories moving at a good pace. Each chapter is organized as a separate short story, and the book is great to read straight through or to pick up and put down as you wish. Sheck Exley has a strong voice, and after reading this book I felt that I had a chance to get to know the man (a little bit) as well as to learn about his adventures.

Overall Recommendation

"Caverns Measureless to Man" was out of print for a long period of time, but is now available through Amazon.com. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good adventure story -- divers, cave divers, and even non-divers. Sheck Exley's adventures are at once terrifying and awe-inspiring, and definitely make for a great read.

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