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Learning To Breathe [Paperback]

Andy Cave
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Mar 2006

At the age of sixteen, Andy Cave followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps and became a miner - one of the last recruits into a dying world. Every day he would descend 3,000 feet into Grimethorpe pit.

But at weekends Andy escaped from the pithead to a very different world - testing his nerve on the cliffs and mountains around Britain, and forging endearing friendships with his new companions.

Enduring the 1984-5 miners' strike - the guilt, the broken friendships, the poverty - Andy continued to indulge his passion. In 1986, after much soul searching, he quit his job as a miner in order to devote himself to mountaineering. At the same time he decided to educate himself, acquiring almost from a standing start academic qualifications including a PhD in socio-linguistics. This extraordinary twin odyssey is graphically recalled in this remarkable book.

In the Himalaya in 1997 Andy achieved a courageous first ascent on one of the steepest and most difficult summits in the world - the North Face of Changabang. Seventeen days later, he and only two of his team-mates crawled into base camp, frostbitten, emaciated and traumatised. His account of this terrifying experience provides a dramatic climax to this compelling story.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (2 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009947266X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099472667
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 125,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hello there,

I hope you enjoy the books. After a bit of a rest from writing the cogs in my head are beginning to turn, so who knows there maybe a third book at some point...

I guess writing is a bit like mountaineering, you descend from the summit and after a while you forget all the difficult scary bits and remember the fun bits and think to yourself 'I fancy doing that again'.

There's a bit more about what I have been up to on my website...


Best wishes,


Product Description


"A tale of split lives fused into one extraordinary story of adventure, laughter, tears and joy" (Joe Simpson)

"A brilliant book, well-written, gripping, honest and very moving" (Chris Bonington)

"Andy Cave's compelling autobiography is, like Joe Simpson's Touching the Void, a gripping book on mountaineering that will appeal even to those who didn't know they were interested in climbing ... Fascinating" (Observer)

"Enthralling ... Cave's elegant writing draws on the congruence between mining and climbing, the black humour, the danger, the camaraderie ... Excellent" (Independent on Sunday)

"The story of Andy Cave's transition from Yorkshire coal miner into one of Britain's best climbers echoes the heroic tones of Don Whillans or Joe Brown ... Thoughtful and often gripping ... Cave explains what it actually feels like to climb the kind of exceptionally dangerous routes that the rest of us, climbers or not, find unimaginable. There are few other climbers with the writing skills to be able to pull this off. There are fewer still who have led such an interesting and varied life as Cave" (Scotland on Sunday)

Book Description

Joint Winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize 2005 and Winner of the Adventure Travel Award - Banff Festival 2005

The extraordinary autobiography of a brilliant young climber who began life as one of the last generation of British miners.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars breathtaking stuff 19 Jun 2005
Andy Cave has a good story to tell and he tells it really well. In a straightforward style, he doesn't mess with the essence of this gripping account of how he came up for air from the gritty life of a Yorkshire miner in the Thatcher era and found his purpose in rock climbing and later extreme alpinism at the top end of the sport. I couldn't imagine taking this book on a Himalayan expedition though - you'd want to finish it too quickly! The pictures he paints of how focussed, how skilled and how lucky you have to be to tackle climbs on Gasherbrum IV and Changabang and come back again make for a great read. Besides the climbing, his self effacing writing and his generosity towards the people who appear in his life, make this, for me at least, one of the best climbing autobiographies published in recent years.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Honest Account 28 Nov 2005
By Julie
Most of us will never venture into the high mountains nor into the pits. This beautifully written book gives a clear and honest picture of life in the collieries in the 1980s and Andy Cave's escape from it via climbing to the roof of the world. I found the description of his family sensitive and moving and I found myself revisiting my own memories of the coalstrike. I have to admit it made me feel uncomfortable but it helped me to understand things more clearly too.What I also liked very much about this book was Andy's honesty about his fears in the mountains as well as his passion for them. It rang familiar bells and made it much easier to feel with him the pain and anguish he must have felt at the death of Brendan Murphy.This is an important book and a great contribution to mountaineering literature. Andy's style is easy to read, often witty and always engaging. His descriptions of the mountains are often elegiac and I loved that.Read this book and listen to the message.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 25 Mar 2006
Having tried to read several mountaineering books, by experienced mountaineers, I have realised that there understanding of what makes a good read, is not the same as their undoubted mountaineering talent, there are sometimes, too many references which detract from the story.
Having read, and enjoyed all of Joe Simpsons excellent books, I spotted Andy Caves book. I was as much drawn to his background, as I live only 15 miles from where he was raised, as I was by his exploits. Andys writing talent is superb. I was unable to put the book down, and look forward in hope to reading more of his work, either fiction or non-fiction. Well recommended even if you have no interest in mountaineering or climbing.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up there with "Touching the Void" 17 Aug 2005
This is a stunning debut which ranks along with Joe Simpson. The development of Cave's climbing career is desribed in an engaging, self-effacing way until the reader is drawn into the climax of the ordeal on Changabang, which forms the last section of the book. This section grabs you and won't let go until you have finished.
The unexpected bonus is the author's description of his brief career as a miner in the early 1980s, which is told alongside the mountain adventures, and, far from detracting from the high-altitude horrors, these chapters are breathtaking, every bit as horrifying.
I have read all of the classics: Boardman, Tasker, Simpson, Harrer and more, and Andy Cave's name is a worthy addition to the list.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy addition to a mountaineering library 28 May 2009
By J. Carr
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is rare in the climbing genre, in that the description of the climbing largely takes second place to Caves growing up in Yorkshire, which is referred to frequently throughout the book. The book is split into two distinct halves, the first concerning his growing up and working in the mines, the second his climbing career. My father is from the same area as Cave, and I have therefore heard as many mining stories as I ever wish to, but the narrative is excellent and engaging. The growing up from a somewhat insecure teenager to young man is actually the best part of the book, and reads almost like a growing pains story at some times. This doesn't detract from how good the mining part of the book is though. You begin to feel true empathy for the plight of the miners, and Caves support of their strike is so deep running that he loses a friend over it, and can barely bring himself to speak to him years later.

The second half deals more with his mountaineering, as he leaves the pit and follows his increasing love of rock climbing into the World's mountain ranges. The climbing part is somewhat underwhelming and only covers 3 major expeditions, on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, Gasherbrum IV (which is essentially a chapter on the boredoms of sitting out bad weather at base camp) and Changabang. His climbing of the North Face of the Eiger merits a sentence (he was the youngest Brit to do it, which he doesn't even mention) and ascents of world-famous peaks such as Ama Dablam are totally overlooked.

In many ways the story would have been better split into two books. The mining part is so engaging and could have taken up a book alone, while he covers a tiny percentage of his ascents, and I feel he doesn't give himself enough credit as a climber.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 31 Dec 2005
By A Customer
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is definitely one of the best I've read in 2005. Andy has a very keen ear for dialogue and tells his stories extremely well. I hope that this is not the last book he writes.
I am slightly surprised that the book has not had a higher profile. Perhaps there is too much coal-mining for the mountaineers and too much mountaineering for those interested in coal mining?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read....from the depths of the mining pits to the summit of...
Excellent book, written in a no nonsense style that will appeal to adventurers everywhere. Andy's story has many facets to it that keep you interested from start to finish. Read more
Published 1 month ago by FRANK FINDLATER
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational
‘Learning To Breathe’ by Andy Cave is a must read, an absolute ‘page turner’. I was enthralled from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys an amazing true... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre to average read
Typical of many mountaineering books; an autobiographical story detailing the author's early life followed by their their career in mountaineering and climaxing in their survival... Read more
Published 4 months ago by ms deborah j w leftwich
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much whining and pandering about the pits
There is no way this mediocre book should have shared the Boardman Tasker prize with The Villain. The Villain is a superbly researched book about the most influential British... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read
Very good book and very interesting. Brought back memories of my childhood. Lots of good facts about the days of mining and climbing.
Published 6 months ago by Stuart Murtha
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Breathe.
I've read this book several times and I'll read the book again in the future. One of the best books written by an exceptional climber. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Graeme Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Breathe
Excellent book, well written, interesting and exciting.

Cave explains his life as a miner and and climber with inspiring detail that enables the reader to emerge... Read more
Published 17 months ago by MB
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Breathe
An excellent read with unavoidable comparisons with the (fictional) Billy Elliot story. Andy Cave writes with real style and humour and conveys the dedication and skill it takes to... Read more
Published 19 months ago by jayjay07973
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive
Having read many mountaineering books, my expectations were not especially high. This is a debut and it is difficult genre. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Greg
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't put this enthralling book down!
Wow, what a read. Being a casual mountain climber myself (non-technical I might add) i've summited the big three in the UK and Kilimanjaro-Africa; I wanted a book that describes a... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Lee Shaw
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