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Book Review – Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon

Michael Gighlieri and Thomas Myers are coauthors of Over the Edge: Death In Grand Canyon, which is one heck of an interesting read. It is an encyclopedic rendition of all of the fatal accidents known (at the time of the writing) to have occurred in the Grand Canyon. The over-arching observation, made by the authors and almost certainly by the readers, is that the vast majority of these deaths were avoidable. Failure to recognize risk, or frank disregard for hazards, led to tragic loss of human lives. For every person who died, countless more suffered.

Early in the book and at intervals thereafter, the authors apologize for the graphic descriptions and for articulating the opinion that the fatalities were avoidable. They are apologizing for accurately observing that people can be uninformed, or informed and foolish. There is, of course, an element of risk inherent in many outdoor recreational activities, but the authors present an entirely different spin on risk – namely, unambiguously unnecessary risk. They are correct – too many people have paid the price, in the theme of this book, with loss of life and great emotional suffering (presumably) to family and friends.

There is a bit of adventure in the telling of tales, but this is not an adventure book. It is, rather, a series of accountings, some written in great detail and some more superficially. There is nothing boring about this book, but it is easily put down after a section is completed.

From the back cover: “Two veterans of decades of adventuring in Grand Canyon chronicle the first complete and comprehensive history of Grand Canyon misadventures. These episodes span the entire era of visitation from the time of the first river exploration by John Wesley Powell and his crew of 1869 to that of tourists falling off its rims today. These accounts of the nearly 600 people who have met untimely deaths in the Canyon set a new high water mark for offering the most astounding array of adventures, misadventures, and lifesaving lessons published between two covers. Over the Edge promises to be the most intense yet informative book on Grand Canyon ever written.”

The major and minor sections represent the categories of accidents: falls from the rims, falls within the canyon, heat illness (and dehydration), flash floods, river accidents (including crossings and drownings), air accidents, rockfall, envenomations, freak accidents, suicide, and murders.

The book is replete with lessons learned and safety advice – all of it useful for educators, adventurers, explorers, search and rescue personnel, and casual visitors. The book truly serves a purpose, which is to articulate history in such a way that the reader can learn from it, and hopefully, avoid the catastrophes that befell the unfortunate victims portrayed in these tales. Other interesting books co-authored by Dr. Myers are Fateful Journey – Injury and Death on Colorado River Trips in Grand Canyon and Grand Obsession – Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon.

This post, Book Review – Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, was originally published on Healthine.com by Paul Auerbach, M.D..


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