33 Men: Inside The Miraculous Survival And Dramatic Rescue Of The Chilean Miners

Book by Jonathan Franklin

33 Men: Inside The Miraculous Survival And Dramatic Rescue Of The Chilean MinersIf you avoid quickie books about major news events, consider an exception for Franklin’s hour-by-hour account of the Chilean mine disaster, which may go down as both the rough draft and final word on this slice of history. 33 Men is the product of solid research and privileged access, as Franklin, who covered the story for the Guardian and Washington Post, was among a handful of reporters granted an up-close look at the international rescue effort at the San José mine. All of the trapped workers gave him interviews. A few told their stories in magnificent detail.

So the prurient questions are addressed: yes, the miners had thoughts of cannibalism during their 17 days without food; some tried joking about it, but as a group, they never discussed it. And no, the miners did not engage in homosexual activity (though rescue teams supplied them with porn). More fascinating is the eventual deterioration of relations between the above-ground teams and those stuck below in the fetid, 40° C death trap. Enraged by officials who censored their mail and inspected their care packages, the miners effectively overthrew the psychologist charged with maintaining their mental health. A less fastidious subordinate took over and a stream of amphetamines and pot began finding its way down supply shafts.

Franklin also has a few chestnuts for the annals of media manipulation. In the midst of the rescue, with only 16 miners above ground, another rock collapse severed a video link to the depths of the mine, which was broadcasting live on Chilean TV. Fearful of public panic, communications specialists subbed the feed with a previously taped loop until crews could re-establish contact with the miners. No harm, no foul, one supposes. But worth remembering next time history unfolds via satellite.