Against All Odds

Recommendation: Bit niche but very readable. But you should definitely watch the new Ron Howard movie

Where to read: On the couch, right before watching Thirteen Lives

Read with: Crack a cold one, go on

In brief: Talk about moral dilemmas and sheer courage in the face of a nightmarish situation – this is pitched as a book about the 2018 rescue of a Thai youth soccer team with some cave diving derring-do thrown in but to my mind, the true story is one of difficult moral and ethical choices.

I was bored and scrolling around Disney+ when I stumbled across a documentary film called The Rescue about the attempts to save the Thai soccer team stranded in a cave by rising flood waters. It was obviously a story I had been aware of at the time, given the non-stop news coverage and breathless speculation. It descended into something like farce when Elon Musk got involved (as tends to happen with him) floating various madcap ideas and suggesting one of the divers was a paedophile because he said Musk’s stupid plans were stupid. Despite the media circus, all of the boys were eventually rescued by an international crew of experienced cave divers which included two Australians, Craig Challen and Richard Harris. They were later named joint Australians of the Year for their efforts and, obviously, ended up with a book deal.

Part biography and part adventure narrative, Harris and Challen take turns talking through their early experiences cave diving, their early involvement in the planning and the eventual rescue. Harris’ account is particularly fascinating, dealing as it does with the moral and ethical difficulties of deciding to sedate the boys to get them out of the cave and his attempts to work out a way of doing it. Given how well it turned out, it is difficult to imagine just how low the odds of success actually were and how concerned the British and Australian governments were about the safety of the divers at the time. There is also something deeply alarming about the idea of performing a medical procedure based on not much more than an anecdotal story about walruses.

As you might expect, the tone is very chatty and completely without pretension. Both have quite a self-effacing manner and a direct way of speaking and this translates into their written chapters. The only downside is that you can get basically the same experience reading the book as you would watching them speak (which you should also do).

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