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Diving into Darkness: A True Story of Death and Survival

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  689 ratings  ·  64 reviews
On New Year's Day, 2005, David Shaw traveled halfway around the world on a journey that took him to a steep crater in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, a site known as Bushman's Hole. His destination was nearly 900 feet below the surface.
On January 8th he descended into the water. About fifteen feet below the surface was a fissure in the bottom of the basin, barely
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2008)
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Diane in Australia
A real page-turner. A true life drama that made my heart go out to everyone involved. Two friends, cave diving enthusiasts, set out to retrieve the body of a diver who disappeared a decade ago, at Bushman's Hole, in the Kalahari Desert. The story that unfolds kept me riveted.

4 Stars = Outstanding. It definitely held my interest.
Scot Parker
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scuba
This is an essential read for any technical diver. It's a case study of normalization of deviance and the dangers inherent in going "zero to hero" too quickly without gaining experience along the way. Although Finch praises Shaw's diving and his abilities, he died with less than 340 dives under his belt while attempting to do physical labor at a record depth on a rebreather. I can't adequately express just how little experience this represents for the kind of dive Shaw was doing. Most divers sho ...more
Paul Brown
Mar 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Underwater in complete darkness and confined spaces is my idea of hell on earth so I was weary about reading this and yet morbidly curious at the same time. While the big dive itself is both riveting and terrifying I think overall the author has let his source material down.
Unlike other readers I have no problem with the bios (these are real people after all) or the technical jargon (the most interesting bit seen as cave diving is also about maths and timing not just derring-do) I just didn't c
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the very last thing in this entire universe that I’d want to do is go cave diving in a black pit of desolation. First of all, just NO: it sounds like the stuff of nightmares. (There is no “second of all.”) I have no interest in charting new territory, in exploring the (cold, dark, wet) unknown, in superseding the limits of mere mortals...

I’ll just stay home and read about it.

Look, it’s not that I don’t like challenges. I hiked the W! I trail run! I read War and Peace! I just don’t want
Candice Landau
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to find a book that can hold you captive when the outcome is not just known from the start, but depressing. Diving into Darkness does just this. Through masterful investigative journalism and storytelling, Phillip Finch takes readers on an epic journey through time and into another world; a deadly world of caves, great depths, and complex diving procedures.

If you want a very real feel of the relatively young sport of extreme cave diving and the people who do it, this book is for you.
Apr 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Before anything, I only read this book because I picked it up at a secondhand bookstore. This book will interest three kinds of people: spelunkers, divers or lovers of extreme sports. I read it because I like thrillers in which people place themselves into dire and dangerous situations with severe consequences.

Phillip Finch’s Diving Into Darkness, gives us the tale of two friends (Dave Shaw and Don Shirley) who are deep cave divers. These men approach deep sea diving into underwater caves. Thei
Kevin Frost
Solid piece of writing. Didn't soar. Was a bit too nice and respectful. But a good read if a bit longish when it came to some of the biography and family type material. Nice and orderly in it's recreation of the dives and it's painless explanation of the science of deep diving. ...more
Judy Cadena
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: cave divers
Shelves: non-fiction
First off, you're going to find that there's a lot of technical diving jargon about decompression, oxygen mixes, types of equipment, why every little thing is so vital, etc. I found myself losing focus and having to reread some of these areas. It felt like the kind of information only a diver could truly appreciate knowing.

But as the story progressed I realized that the 2nd half of the book probably wouldn't have been as compelling without knowing just how much thought and preparation goes into
Isabella Zink
Oct 02, 2020 rated it liked it
This is the second cave diving book I’ve read, after Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver which I really liked. By comparison, this book was a bit tedious to get through. It wasn’t until about 70 pages before the end that I realized it felt too unfocused. Sure, I learned some more about diving (something I have no intention whatsoever of doing) but unlike the book mentioned above I had trouble connecting with the stories of the people discussed and I’m not sure why. I think because I knew ...more
Julian Walker
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A poignant story about the passions and perils of extreme diving.

Following the true story on one man from novice to master diver, and his journey from sport to cave diving, this book really draws you into its world and leaves you gasping for breath at the end.

The tragic, but at the same time heroic tale of an understated passion for a way of life about which many people have no clue, this book provides a powerful and engaging insight into lives less ordinary.
Laura Campbell
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after being asked to by my boyfriend, who loves it. He told me that he cries every time, so even though an unhappy ending is hinted at, I knew it was coming! Although a very well written account, giving the reader a background to the technicalities involved, I found it hard to bear. If you like tragic true stories then this is for you.
I cried at the end. A lot.
Josh Richards
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally rereading this more than a decade after I first found it. Still have serious questions about Dave Shaw's motivations, but zero doubt it's exceptionally written & one of the greatest books on the psychology & risks of +200m diving ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The feats of these cave divers had me dizzy. For them, 50 meters (over 150ft) is a warm up dive and they routinely descend beyond 150m. Truly dizzying.

Kaz Curtis
Fascinating read
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I already knew the ending of the story, and I was expecting a sort of clinical treatment of the events. I was pleasantly surprised at how gripping this account was! A must-read for divers.
Sheila Garry
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend for lovers of nonfiction adventures.
Jacob Butler
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Finch is able to capture the imagination of the dramatic tale in a manner congruent with the way being underwater captures the imagination of the human’s adventurous spirit.
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great read on a fascinating subject and something I've long been interested in (cave diving), but would never try... A well written investigation of a tragedy that probably could have been avoided. The only nitpicking is a handful of glaring typos in the latter parts of the book.
Recommend reading for sure.
Naomi Stebler-stock
Aug 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
A true story of death and survival in the world's most dangerous sport, cave diving. Two friends plunge 900 ft deep into the water of the Komali Springs in South Africa, to raise the body of a diver who had perished there a decade before. Only one returns. Unquenchable heroism and complex human relationships amid the perils of extreme sport. On New Year's Day, 2005, David Shaw travelled halfway around the world on a journey that took him to a steep crater in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, ...more
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
In 2004, Dave Shaw, a professional commercial pilot and sometime deep cave diver, found the body of Deon Dreyer - a young man who had been dead for nearly 10 years; the discovery was made at a depth of roughly 300 meters, at the bottom of a huge cavern known as "Bushman's Hole" in South Africa. The parameters of Shaw's dive plan didn't allow enough time for him to bring the body to the surface, but he was determined to assemble, and return with, a recovery team, a commitment that would ultimatel ...more
Apr 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Most scuba divers dive around sixty feet to 115 feet. In Phillip Finch’s Diving into Darkness, these two guys dive at 900 feet. This book is a true story of death and survival.

This book is about two scuba diving friends, David Shaw and Don Shirley, who dive 900 feet into water in South Africa. This water was called Bushman’s Hole. David Shaw is a flight captain for Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong. Don Shirley is one of the best scuba instructors in Africa. They both have a family with kids. Last ti
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The world of cave and extended range deep divers is a fascinating one. They dive to depths unheard of, often alone, often in darkness.

I am a recreational scuba diver but comparing to what they are doing, I am sitting in the paddling pool while they are on the high boards, jumping down with glee.

The story of Dave Shaw and Don Shirley who wanted to retrieve the body of Deon Dreyer in Boesmansgat, at a depth of 270m, made headlines here in South Africa. And what a tragedy it was when Shaw died and
Jonathan Day
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good book

One must remember that narratives are stories, telling the essentials but necessarily padding it to turn it from a mere collection of monographs into something of depth and vitality, something you want to read.

I'm familiar with such books, they are extremely valuable at conveying enough of the brutal realities of a technical subject that any non-expert can understand all that can be understood without being there.

I'd consider this to be one of the best books of that ilk. Sure, there are
Iowa City Public Library
I’m not sure what it is about humans that makes us want to read about people being in dangerous situations and meeting unfortunate ends. That being said, I do read books like that from time to time, an example being Phillip Finch’s Diving Into Darkness, which fits the bill for both of those elements. It tells the tale of two men–Dave Shaw and Don Shirley–who are deep cave divers. Mind you, this is way different from regular ol’ scuba, and I’m not even sure these are the pretty kinds of caves tha ...more
William Graney
Dec 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is an incredible story. I didn't know people could dive as deep as the divers in this story were going. The dangers at those depths (in excess of 800 feet) are extreme and it's hard to understand why they would want to push those limits. I guess it's one of those things that if you have to ask why you won't understand. As a diver I tend to get a little nervous when getting down around 100 feet so reading about support crews on short dives hovering at 300-400 feet to aid on decompression sto ...more
An interesting read, but had a few flaws... the persons involved were the focus of the story, of course, but they didn't really resonate. We're given some key details but they never seemed "real"... I think this is more the fault of the author than of the people being described. I also didn't like the unnecessary tidbits scattered in that made the people seem shallow or catty... if it served a purpose, maybe, but there is an unpleasant ending and maybe mentioning that the dive was done more "for ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a nice book that I’d neither recommend nor advise someone not to read (unless it’s their first deep diving book, see caveat below). The main problem is that it doesn’t have any of those white knuckle, gasp-for-breath moments that are the staple of good diving books. As much as I hate it when an author oversells the material I have to take a star away because he was too dispassionate here.

The writing is fine, the epilogue is very good (but only a couple of pages long) and the technical de
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I don't think I have it in me to ever even consider a hobby such as cave diving - not even casually. Finch takes the reader deep (really deep) into the dark underwater world of breathing regulators, drysuits, gas mixtures and guidelines to tell the story to two men, Dan and Dave, who have planned an ambitious dive deep into the belly of Africa to rescue the remains of a fellow diver lost years before. From the outset the reader knows that someone dies and someone will be caught up in an epic str ...more
A true story of someone pushing the boundaries of human capabilities in a feat of endurance gone wrong, and a man's remarkable struggle to survive. As a diver myself, I'm awed and ever so slightly horrified by the gnarly undertakings described in the book. This is the extreme of technical diving, but it isn't necessary to have diving experience or an understanding of the theory behind the sport to appreciate the achievements described.

The writer has a good, solid style and explains the endeavour
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very gripping read. I'm just a recreational diver, but it is very interesting to read about this extreme form of the sport.

In the first part of the book I really enjoyed the background of the sport and the more technical explanations about technical diving. The second part, the description of the unfortunately fatal dive, is really well done. I could not put the book down. Of course there are flaws, but if you are not looking for a roman, have some interest in a more technical description of a
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“extreme divers are exacting and disciplined when they are in the water. They share the paranoiac’s conviction that the worst will always try to happen, at the worst possible time.” 1 likes
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