Roaring cascade of adventure and fact, as the writing team of Bangs and Kallen (Rivergods, Paths Less Travelled) describes five recent expeditions, including their own, down the roiling waters of one of the world's longest rivers. A hyperbolic introduction establishes the Yangtze as China's premier fiver (""it has divided north from south, it has defined empires and defied emperors, it has slaughtered millions and fed many more"") and retells the river exploits of early Western explorers (mostly clerics and wealthy adventurers). The authors then plunge into the history of various expeditions of the 1980's. A National Geographic team finds the river's source. A Sine-American group, led by 59-year-old Ken Warren, rafts downriver to disaster, battling heat, hailstones, and high altitude; one member dies of pulmonary edema before Warren abandons his team (""without a word of parting to the crew,"" the authors chide). A couple of Chinese expeditions are even less successful, with inexperience and poor equipment leading to multiple deaths. Finally, Bangs leads his own group--which includes the amazing Joel Fogel, an eccentric, self-promoting adventurer who likes to raft in a ""full-body Spiderman fluorescent wet suit""--on a bumpy but triumphant spin around the Great Bend, the Yangtze's dreaded hairpin turn of watery chaos. Much too long and tangled, with the infighting of the various expeditions recounted in extensive, boring detail. The historical passages are invaluable, however, and the actual man-versus-nature stuff does quicken the pulse.