Amanda's Reviews > Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
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's review
Sep 09, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: makes-you-think, true-story
Read in August, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Amanda's Informal Notes:

I really liked the whole first half of this book. I'm usually not big on non-fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy Shadow Divers was to get into (probably because for the most part, it reads like fiction). Kurson paints the ocean as this great, undiscovered frontier, with wreck divers as space explorers, grasping for the unknown and giving it meaning.

The whole philosophy of deep diving was fascinating to me, especially because I initially knew so little about it. When I've seen videos of people swimming through shipwrecks in the past, I thought the divers were crazy just because it's so dark and claustrophobic in there. And probably more than a little because it's so creepy to see "human" places empty and still, reclaimed by nature, with only artifacts remaining. Very eerie and unnatural.

But I had never heard of narcosis, which is one of the most serious dangers of deep diving. In layman's terms, your own brain basically goes wonky on you when your body is subjected to the pressures of very deep waters. Narcosis narrows your vision, slows your physical reactions, and heightens your emotions until you can't even rely on your own gut instincts to keep you alive. The way Kurson describes it, deep wreck diving requires you to deny the most basic human instincts, to breathe air and to flee danger, while narcosis allows the most trivial problem to send a diver into a spiraling panic that can cost him his life. And it does for many.

I had no idea how dangerous wreck diving is. Shadow Divers is a true story, and three people died diving this single wreck alone. I'm not sure why, but the structural instability of a decades old ship had never occurred to me. Everything about navigating a ship wreck, from exposed wire to collapsed structure, conspires to entangle, entrap, and confuse the diver. And I never thought about how easy it would be to lose your way when disturbed silt lowers visibility to zero. Truly fascinating, and definitely something I NEVER want to do.

All that said, the author got really bogged down with the details of the divers' research to identify the U-Boat in the second half of the book. I lost interest a little when he stopped going into the details and philosophy of diving. By that point, it was mostly just a list of what the divers found, what documents they reviewed, and what people they contacted regarding a hundred different leads. I realize that that was what actually happened, but by the end, I just wanted them to hurry up and identity the boat already.

Overall, a really interesting read- probably the best non-fiction I've read- that I would recommend to others. I just probably wouldn't read it again myself. Or maybe just the first half. :)

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