Review by Bill Mixon

Before the recent International Congress of Speleology in Kerrville, Texas, I was urging cavers who wanted to reduce the high cost of registration to forgo the published proceedings, but to opt for the "guidebook," for which I had great hopes, considering the editors. I hope they took my advice. This is a wonderful compilation. It is dense with information, and, as the editors note, it might be better for browsing or reference than for extensive ordinary reading, but I've read almost all of it, in half-hour bites. (As proof, I'll note rare editing glitches on pages 229 and 364.) It was nice to be reminded of and updated on many caves and cave areas I had heard about in the past and to be introduced to new ones.
The book is, of course, not really a guidebook in the traditional sense, but then neither are any of the NSS convention guidebooks in the last twenty years. It is rather a review of the caves and karst of its target area. The book could have been titled "Caves and Karst of North America and the Caribbean." The material is organized by the major physical divisions of the United States, followed by a chapter on nearby countries. Each chapter is divided into smaller areas, sometimes states, sometimes parts of states, and sometimes areas, such as TAG, that straddle state boundaries, depending on geology and speleological interest. For each area, there is a geological overview, followed by descriptions of specific karst or pseudokarst regions and some representative or significant caves within them. The information is almost all geological, with scattered mentions of other fields like biology or spelean history. A reader, even just a browser, without a good layman's knowledge of geology would do well to first read the Palmers' excellent introduction to geology in Chapter 1. There is a separate short chapter on cave biology. (Troglobites seem to have turned into troglobionts when I wasn't looking.) Included is cave microbiology, which seems to be a hot topic lately, partly, I suspect, because caves are a sexy-sounding place to study microbes that are no different from those elsewhere.
The book obviously received much more and much better editorial effort and control than one finds in most books that are compilations of material provided by numerous authors, in this case 116 of them, listed with mailing, but not e-mail, addresses. While the editors claim they have tried to preserve the writers' individual styles, much of the book is in fact so similar in content and tone that it is easy to forget, except for the attributions at the top of each part, how many different people were involved. Maps and charts have been redrawn to a consistent style and color scheme. The drawings and photographs, virtually all in color, add up to two or more on every page, but the emphasis is nevertheless on the text, and illustrations are small, but clear and nicely printed. Cave maps are skeletal, intended only to convey the overall pattern of the caves, sometimes superimposed on topographic maps.
The biology chapter is limited to the U.S., so a whole class of critters known only from caves, remipedes, which occur in the Caribbean and Mexico, is not mentioned. I would have liked to see more about the underwater caves of the Bahamas, which are both more extensive and more interesting than the air-filled ones, and at least a mention of the longest lava tubes in the Americas, which are in Mexico. But the stuff that is included in "Caves and Karst of the USA" is overwhelming enough. Enjoy.

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