I love reading about diving. It adds to my enjoyment of the sport, and gives me an insight into some of the more demanding and dangerous diving that I don’t tend to do myself. To be honest, there aren’t a great number of really good books out there, but here are five that are pretty well must-reads.
Shadow Divers: Robert Kurson
I reckon almost every diver on the planet has read this. The essential diving book, it relates the discovery of a U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey, at a depth at the very limit of what was diveable at that time. The book relates in gripping detail how two competing groups of divers attempted to find something that would allow them to identify the u-boat, with a number of deaths along the way. It is as exciting as any novel, and an insight into what were then advanced technical diving techniques used by people essentially developing methods as they went.
Kurson tried to recreate the magic with another book about diving, Pirate Hunters, but sadly that one is rubbish so don’t bother.
The Last Dive: Bernie Chowdhury
This is a good follow on to Shadow Divers, as it looks in greater detail at the deaths of father-son team Chris Rouse Sr and Chris Rouse Jr while diving on the u-boat. Although there is some overlap in material, Chowdhury’s book looks at the history of the Rouses’ diving, in particular on the Andrea Doria, another deep wreck that has claimed a significant number of lives. More widely, he looks at the conflict between different diving philosophies and talks about the development of technical diving and the characters involved. As a serious diver himself, and one who knew the Rouses, Chowdhury is well-placed to write this fascinating and sensitive account of tragic events.
Deep Descent: Kevin F Murray
Again overlapping to an extent with the books above, this tells the story of the Andrea Doria, an Italian liner that sunk in 1956 and the wreck of which is often considered the ‘Everest of diving’. Again there is a lot of history of technical diving and more about the rivalry between some of the big personalities involved. I was less interested in reading about how each character got involved in diving, which became a bit tedious, but was fascinated by the obsession with artifact-gathering and how often that ‘china-fever’ led to tragedy.
Lost wife, saw Barracuda: John Kean
If the first three books in this list are all about very serious technical diving with often tragic outcomes, this is a more down-to-earth and funny book about the sort of everyday resort diving most of us can relate to. A ‘tell-all’ by a scuba instructor, it’s an often funny but also highly informative insight into the world of recreational diving. It also talks a bit about life in Egypt, and the authors obvious fondness for the place. It might even inspire the reader to visit Sharm el Sheikh, though it’s a little sobering to think how much the place must have changed since this book was published.
Raising the Dead: Philip Finch
Ok, I’m sorry, we’re back to tragic stories about technical divers dying while doing what to most of us seem like incredibly dangerous dives. But, well, these are the stories I find interesting, just as I love Into Thin Air or Touching the Void. In some ways this book has a lot in common with them, although the reality of most diving accidents, perhaps unlike mountaineering, is that often things go from absolutely fine to fatal in a matter of minutes, as was ultimately the case here. What Philip Finch does do very effectively, however, is trace the background and characters involved, and explain the decisions, good and bad, that ultimately led to the tragic events described in the book. As with other books he talks a lot about the physiology of diving, explaining why such deep dives are difficult and dangerous, but even though much of this was familiar to me it wasn’t boring. He got across better than perhaps anyone else the fascinating but ultimately futile challenge of creating a perfect gas mix from oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, with all their different pros and cons at different depths, and also focuses a lot on the nuts and bolts (literally in some cases) of closed-circuit rebreather technology.
What are your favourite diving books? Let me know any good ones I’ve missed!