Book Reviews

Wild tales of adventure and a bit of inspiration is the subtitle of this book. Wild tales, indeed!
Author John Mattson may have started life on the lonely prairies of North Dakota, but boy oh boy did he ever pack a hundred years of adventures into one life. From page one to 252, I don’t think anyone could jam more sights, adventure, craziness and unharnessed will to live into one book. This was a fun one to read.

Starting out a college student who decides to try alpine skiing on a whim, then moving on to being a rodeo cowboy, a rock climber, a free spirited kayaker , a river explorer, and more, this is a story that made me think how I wish I could have done just one of these things! Full of old photographs and tall tales galore, Mattson easily and humbly describes his life enjoying the many natural splendors of our planet–and the dangers as humanity’s greed and evil lay bare the ecosystems that Mattson holds dear.

Although it is not a literary masterpiece–there are a few typos, and the oversized manuscript is a little unwieldy, the typeface choppy–I don’t doubt for a minute that Mattson ever intended for it to be a highbrow book. His wild storytelling feels like you’re sitting next to him at a bonfire, sipping coffee, swapping tales. His enthusiasm for life and extreme sports is never told with a haughty swagger, but almost with an innocent, slightly crazy daredevil’s smirk, in natural country boy I can’t believe I actually did that twang that makes you feel entirely at ease–even as you are stepping off an alpine cliff with him, ready to slalom to the bottom on homemade skis.

Dancing on the edge takes you from country to country , from the US to Belize, Nepal, Chile and more, as cars break down and are left roadside, as small groups of hardcore adventurers sleep in caves and under the stars, as avalanches and river rapids and danger-filled landscapes threaten them at every pass. I truly appreciated Mattson’s descriptive talents as he took the time to look for and tell the reader about natural wonders along the way: sunlight sparkling on river rapids, flocks of ewes on mountaintops, the simple but delicious foods he enjoyed. He speaks often of the friendships he made, and often cites near strangers by name, as if tipping a gloved hand to them for the warm memories they made together.

I found it fascinating that he also includes great mechanical and engineering detail about equipment used and locations visited (in between jumping off mountains and sliding down rivers, he earned an engineering degree and is a designer-builder). Because of this attention to minuscule details and embellishments, I really felt like I was there, too.
If you’ve ever wished that you could just lock up your house and take a wild trip around the world, with no luxurious hotels and a/c to distract you from enjoying the natural planet and its people, take a copy of this book and read away. You’ll be wiping sweat off your brow and steadying your heart rate in no time.

Review by Alicia Accardi
Closed the Cover

Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet is a paging turning compilation of short stories. It is incredible documentation and memories of adventure spanning decades forming a casual melody of inspiration for the reader. Following the journey’s of this classic ski/climbing bum and river rat through a era of first ascents, descents, and remote travel beckon the reader to search for adventure near and far. Unlike some other books of this sort, the author is incredibly humble of his accomplishments with most stories revolving around his comrades. Also the book is a great deal, it is over sized with many photographs. So curl up by the fire for this one, or better yet read it by a headlamp tent bound in a snow storm!

Jake M. Gaventa. Professor of recreation at Prescott College and avid adventurer.

Front Range Boulder interview                  

John has spent most of his life challenging himself and exploring the wild places on our planet. His love of the Earth, understanding of the rhythms of the outdoors, and his ability to tune into the people he meets along the way might act as guidance to others of us who seek to seize life by the horns and live it to the fullest. It is too easy to be swept  away from what is important by the powerful currents of our day-to-day lives. Reading John’s stories and anecdotes allows me to eddy out and regain my focus and clarity. My trips with John have been among the best adventures of my life, and I have regaled many around campfires with crazy and interesting stories that have been formed by those adventures. Enjoy this book, and be ready to take a great trip from the comfort of your armchair!

Scott Young;  World renowned kayaker, and founder of L’eau Vive Paddlesports.

Tip your cap to one of the great “everyman’s” adventurers that you’ve never heard of — until now. John Mattson’s life has been one grand, non-stop adventure. From his early, self-taught climbing exploits on rock, snow and ice to trying his hand at buckin’ bronco riding and downhill ski racing, to paddling plenty of broiling uncharted creeks and rivers across the globe, John has been Living the Dream. His understated, sitting-around-the-campfire storytelling demeanor lets us join in as if we were one of the gang–even though we would probably drown trying to keep up…John’s zeal and respect for our planet and its inhabitants pervades the tales and reassures us that low budget, easy on the environment, down-to-earth curiosity and exploration can fulfill us with so much life and enduring experiences.

Neal Beidleman;  World renowned Himalayan climber,
ultra-marathoner and extreme skier.

John started his education in a one room schoolhouse on the lonesome prairies of North Dakota, but  he has always believed in following his dreams.  These dreams have taken him on a wild range of extreme adventures, and his stories and photos take the reader on a very exciting, humorous, and inspirational journey. His new book is testament to the wonders of Outdoor Sport, and richness of life to be found in pursuing those opportunities and experiences as an essential thread of life.  His approach through this has always been wide-eyed and committed and it’s wonderful to comprehend the layering of experience this created for him and those lucky enough to share in his adventures.  John took good advantage of the time he was living in. Gas was cheap. The freewheeling 70s, 80s and 90s were the long echoes of the cultural shift that affected even his “farm boy” Dakota upbringing.  Under those open skies the opportunities for vagabonding coupled with the athletic joys to be found in fitness of his youth. Starting with skiing and rock climbing, then soon after taking to kayaking in places like the Grand Canyon, and expansively throughout the Western U S, West Virginia, and British Columbia.  Interspersed throughout, John did not hesitate to make multiple trips to South America and Nepal, building teams, and structuring his life around the get it done attitude that drove him also through Engineering School in his late 30’s.  John is a contemporary Explorer of the first class.  In another era he might have been a mountain man. These enthusiastic tales connect us to wonderful places and the activities that brought him there.

Landis Arnold; Olympic ski jumper,avid kayaking explorer,
and owner of Wildwasser Sport USA

“Dancing on the edge of an Endangered Planet ” is a dynamic collection of short stories. John brings his adventures to life with his playful mixture of words and incredible photography. I was magically transported to lands near and far, and able to become a part of the adventure. Be it kayaking remote canyons, skiing majestic mountains, trekking the Himalayas, or riding wild broncos, his lust for life’s adventures is inspiring.

Leah Hitchcock

John started his education in a one room schoolhouse on the lonesome prairies of North Dakota, but he has always believed in following his dreams.  These dreams have taken him on a wild range of extreme adventures, and his stories and photos take the reader on a very exciting, humorous, and inspirational journey.

Sven Gunderson

This book chronicles a person’s growing commitment to the outside world and the sports that celebrate the outdoors, as that person grows himself.  I take great pleasure reading of John’s adventures as he skis, climbs, and kayaks around the globe. I feel lucky to have been on some of his trips, and wish that I had been on more.

David Eckardt; co-author of Colorado Rivers and
and author of The Guide to Baja Sea Kayaking

If you ever thought of calling your boss, “I’m well today and I’m not coming to work.” Read this book to find out what would have happened. John Mattson has kayaked, skied or climbed in fifteen different countries over the last 30 years, and managed to earn an engineering degree and run a successful design-build construction business at the same time. Join him on his amazing adventures in this book , and get inspired.

Ken Ransford; Avid kayaker and member of American Whitewater board of directors.

Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet

  • John Mattson
  • Farm Boy Publishing Company,
  • 169 pages,
  • (ebook) $3.95,
  • ISBN: 9780964539983
  • (Reviewed: January, 2012)

In Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet, John Mattson spins a series of exciting tales about a lifetime spent adventuring in some of the worlds most beautiful and remote places.
Mattson has ridden rodeo broncs, been a downhill ski racer, trekked Amazon jungles, climbed peaks in Peru, kayaked hair-raising whitewater runs and scaled desert canyon pinnacles. Along the way, he also found time to become an engineer, a master carpenter, photographer, writer and publishing entrepreneur.
In Mattson’s breezy, humble, sitting-around-the-campfire voice, readers are introduced to a global cast of colorful characters that, through a blending of skill, willpower and courage, overcome the inner and outer limits of wilderness experience. Although the author emerges unscathed from these numerous adventures (and sometimes one wonders how), not every ending is happy: there are tributes to friends and acquaintances lost along the way. Mattson also patiently explains the technical aspects of some of the sports he loves, and footnotes add additional information.
From homespun snapshots of his early life on a North Dakota farm to amazing photographs taken from mountain summits and river canyons, Mattson’s photography adds immensely to the spirit of the book.
A few issues: Mattson changes the names in a series of stories about illegal climbs in Monument Valley “to protect the outlaws,” and a character named “Sven,” takes the forefront in some adventures. Is “Sven,” Mattson’s alternate ego, a figment of his imagination or a real person? In addition, some faces are blurred in photographs, also to protect identities. And while kayaking in Yellowstone, he refers to the park as “Jellystone.” All of these factors take away from the rich honesty of the narrative.
Overall, though, Dancing on the Edge of an Endangered Planet is a fascinating collection that will enthrall outdoor and armchair adventurers alike. Mattson’s is a life truly lived on the edge. Here, it is served up with a generous helping of love and respect for the places he visits, people he meets, cultures he experiences and planet on which he lives.


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