Book Review: Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure Of Two Americans Who Risked Everything To Solve One Of The Last Mysteries Of World War II, by Robert Kurson

I was loaned this book by a friend of mine at church who loans me books from time to time, seeking my opinion on them [1]. In this particular case, the reader told me that after reading the book, he wanted to see it made into a movie. Upon reading it, I agreed. At 340 pages of core reading material, this is a substantial book, definitely a serious book about an aspect of diving culture that is not familiar to most people. A great deal of pages are taken to uncovering the technical aspects of diving two hundred feet or more beneath the surface, where one’s life is at risk and where death and insanity are constant threats. This book does not in any way sugarcoat the dangers faced by divers who look for historical treasures lost to time, where the chance to fill in the gaps of history can be overcome.

This book manages to do that in a way that exposes some of the weaknesses of the historical record. A series of chance events leads to a drunken pioneer of adventure diving to lead an elite group of people to a good fishing spot, where a submarine is found. Over many dives and six years of efforts, during which the boat captain dies of alcoholism, the first marriages of the two main divers fail, and three people (including a father and son team) die because of the treacherous conditions, the submarine is finally positively identified and one of the divers makes the effort to provide the definitive news to surviving relatives in Germany. Admittedly, the presence of a single U-boat off the coast of New Jersey that perished with all hands lost because its own torpedo circled back to itself is a small matter in the face of World War II, but it is a situation that reveals the slipshod ways that submarine incidents were classified in the immediate postwar period, with unlikely tales of sinking being upgraded to tie up loose ends, rather than encourage further exploration and admit where there were unknown matters.

Indeed, this approach is what carries throughout the entire book. The drive to explore, to definitely tie up loose ends, to go as far as is humanly possible into the depths to uncover the mysteries on the ocean floor, is what drives the men (and they are nearly all men, except for the one woman on ship or the wives and girlfriends back on the shore waiting anxiously) to explore at absolutely crazy depths in insane conditions where one must be still and avoid being panicky, because panic burns oxygen, leads to foolish decisions, and usually gets one killed. This book is a fine look, and an extremely detailed look, at the combination of intelligence and insanity, of brotherhood and isolation, of myth and truth, that leads people to dive down into the dark ocean in search of loot and history. Most tragically, efforts to uncover the past are full of rivalry between divers in their internecine squabbles, and between divers as a whole and researchers, as well as the divides that often result in families when someone becomes too intense about dangerous dives. It is a worthy book to be made into a movie, but the shadows run deep, even to the hearts of landlubbers like me.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: Shadow Divers

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