Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

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In the tradition of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery -- and make history themselves.

For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield,...

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Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

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In the tradition of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery -- and make history themselves.

For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield, they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, brushing against death more than once in the rusting hulls of ships. But in the fall of 1991, not even these courageous divers were prepared for what they found 230 feet below the surface, in the frigid Atlantic waters sixty miles off the coast of new Jersey: a World War II German U-boat, its ruined interior a macabre wasteland of twisted metal, tangled wires, and human bones -- all buried under decades of accumulated sediment.

No identifying marks were visible on the submarine or the few artifacts that Chatterton and Kohler brought to the surface. No historian, expert, or government had a clue as to which U-boat the men had found. In fact, the official records all agreed that there simply could not be a sunken U-boat and crew at that location.

Over the next six years an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them would not live to see its end. Chatterton and Kohler, at first bitter rivals, would be drawn into a friendship that deepened to an almost mystical brotherhood, with each other and with the drowned U-boat sailors -- former enemies of their country. As the men's marriages frayed under the pressure of a shared obsession, their dives grew more daring, and each realized that he was hunting more than the identities of a lost U-boat and its nameless crew.

Author Robert Kurson's account of this quest is at once thrilling, emotionally complex, and written with a vivid sense of what divers actually experience when they encounter the dangers of the ocean's underworld. The story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, 230 feet down, in the deep blue sea.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Even the most thoroughly landlocked reader will feel drenched (in sweat!) encountering Kurson's heart-pounding debut. For in Shadow Divers, Kurson descends to the depths of the ocean to tell the story of two courageous divers who made a stunning discovery. Six years in the making, the book unravels so much more than just a diving experience, for in exploring this historical moment, the author reveals the high-seas rivalries, the bitter feuds, and the cost of "membership in an obsessed culture of immensely brave men."

When shipwreck divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler first told their story to Kurson, he thought it was too good to be true: "two ordinary men who confronted an extraordinarily dangerous world and solved a historical mystery that even governments had not been able to budge." To say the least, it "raised intriguing possibilities." But in Kurson's capable hands, their discovery of a mysterious German U-boat, over 200 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, explodes off the page with spellbinding suspense.

The remarkable journey to the shipwreck is recounted with palpable tension, a reminder that "on a deep-wreck dive, no one is ever truly safe until he is back on the deck of the dive boat." When Chatterton first spied the shipwreck, he couldn't believe his eyes. When readers crack open Shadow Divers, they won't believe theirs. Kurson is that talented a storyteller. (Fall 2004 Selection)

Deirdre Donahue
Without being didactic, Kurson does an excellent job making the technology of diving comprehensible to those who will never strap on a tank.
USA Today
Mark Bowen
Exploring deep-sea shipwrecks is not for the fainthearted. Kurson lays it out in an early chapter entitled ''Zero Viz,'' a masterpiece of explication. It familiarizes you with the tools and methods of the sport and manages to evoke both the dangers and the thrills. It is artfully written -- objects at the sea bottom are ''sweatered in sea anemones,'' and when a man is trapped in a shipwreck, ''his brain starts to think in declaratives, not ideas. I'm gonna die! Get out! Get out!'' These passages set the scene for the intense drama to come, and at the same time help you understand how much is at stake when men like Chatterton and Kohler return again and again to test their skills and their judgment, quite literally, under pressure.
New York Times Sunday Book Review
Janet Maslin
The story told in Robert Kurson's new book features undersea thrills, a gripping mystery, incredible discoveries, true-blue friendship, life-or-death crises and history unfolding before the reader's eyes. In terms of finding the right material, writers of adventure nonfiction just don't get any luckier than this. Shadow Divers would work on those ingredients alone. But it also happens to be written with great you-are-there intensity and dynamic verve.
The New York Times
The New Yorker
Deep-wreck divers are used to operating with almost no headroom and in zero visibility, navigating by touch alone; it is a compliment to be told “When you die, no one will ever find your body.” Despite the dangers, wreck divers are typically weekend warriors, men who leave families and jobs behind to test themselves at two hundred feet down. Kurson’s exciting account centers on two divers, John Chatterton and Robert Kohler, who in 1991 found an unidentified U-boat embedded in the ocean floor off the coast of New Jersey. The task of identifying it leads them to Germany, Washington, D.C., and the darkest corners of the submarine itself. Some of the most haunting moments occur on land, as when the divers research the lives of the doomed German sailors whose bones they swim among. Once underwater, Kurson’s adrenalized prose sweeps you along in a tale of average-guy adventure.
Publishers Weekly
Kurson's chronicle of an extraordinary deep-sea discovery makes for a captivating audio experience. In 1991, divers John Chatterton and Rich Kohler came across the buried remains of a German submarine just off the coast of New Jersey. Unable to identify the ship and mystified as to its origins, the two men became obsessed with learning where the U-boat came from and what brought it to the bottom of the sea. Although the story's set-up, which comprises most of the first disc, drags, the pace picks up when the partners begin traveling the world, digging up clues. Reader Scott uses character voices but keeps them subdued, even when dealing with the salty language of the seamen. This is a wise move, since there's plenty of drama inherent in the text; lengthy and detailed passages describing deep-water dives, and the horrible things that can go wrong with them, evoke mental pictures that are atmospheric and downright claustrophobic at times. A segment featuring interviews with Chatterton and Kohler rounds out this satisfying audio edition. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 29). (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Bigger than huge," insists the publicist: efforts by two divers to raise a U-boat from deep waters off the New Jersey coast-where historians insisted no U-boat could be. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Written with the assistance of the two wreck divers who played major roles in identifying a sunken German U-boat, Kurson paints a dynamic, page-turning picture of determination and compulsion to solve a mystery. Wreck divers risk their lives to find and examine shipwrecks, sometimes retrieving artifacts, but often coming away with just a glimpse of once-majestic ships. So it was with the attempt to determine if unexpectedly large catches of fish off the New Jersey coast reflected the existence of a shipwreck. Teens will be fascinated with the process of locating and identifying the wreck and even making contact with relatives of the original sailors. The wreck was of a vessel that did not appear in any U.S. records of the antisubmarine war. The search of those records provided not only exciting military history, but also valuable information on the evolution of diving. Kurson vividly shows how small groups of determined individuals can extend their reach and achieve goals that many thought impossible. Black-and-white photographs of the original German sailors contrast with color pictures of the search and retrieval of their U-boat and effectively unite the participants yet again.-Ted Woodcock, George Mason University, Arlington, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Deep-shipwreck diving is among the world's most dangerous sports." So promises this well-paced tale of adventure on the high seas, which goes on to demonstrate the thesis in gruesome detail. The "sport" of deep-shipwreck diving also promises riches to those fortunate enough to find doubloon-laden galleons or ingot-weighted steamers on the ocean floor, which adds to the competition and all-around sense of urgency. When a salvager named John Chatterton heard the tale, told to another boozy salvager by a boozy sailor, of an unidentified craft that lay in water less than 300 feet deep some 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey, he likely assumed that plenty of adventurers would be bearing down on the spot, especially when it turned out that the craft was a WWII-era German submarine: "A virgin sub-especially if it were a U-boat-would attract the attention of rival divers everywhere." But, Chicago-based journalist and Esquire writer Kurson tells us, Chatterton and his crew managed to keep the location secret, having dispatched a singularly indiscreet and bibulous mate to say that they had discovered a U-boat one day, a merchantman the next, a warship the next, "until no one believed any bit of it." Getting down to the ship was one thing, involving much dangerous work that took the life of an experienced diver-whereupon, Kurson writes, divers from all over requested a spot on the team-and fueled plenty of tensions. Discovering the identity of the craft was quite another, and Kurson's account of how the divers determined which U-boat it was-until they did, they were calling it the U-Who-and why it ended up not far from the New York docks adds sizzle for those readers who are less interested inthe minutiae of ocean-floor exploration than in good old Eye of the Needle/Hunt for Red October-style tales of derring-do. Still, buffs of either category of adventure will find this a pleasure. First serial to Esquire; author tour. Agent: Heather Schroder/ICM
From the Publisher
“An engrossing saga of the suspenseful, intriguing, and dangerous underwater investigation of a Mystery U-boat.”

“Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers, about the divers exploring a sunken shipwreck off the New Jersey coast, is a gripping account of real-life adventurers and a real-life mystery. In addition to being compellingly readable on every page, the book offers a unique window on the deep, almost reckless nature of the human quest to know.”
–SCOTT TUROW, author of Reversible Errors

“A tremendously suspenseful story of discovery that comes as close as any book could to providing the reader with approximate sensations of deep sea diving and of life on a submarine at war, and that leaves us with a hell of an impression of the grit, guts, and compassion of a U-boat crew and the two American divers who risked everything to solve the mystery of their last mission.”
–JOHN MCCAIN, author of Faith of My Fathers and Why Courage Matters

“Robert Kurson’s status as an undiscovered pleasure among Chicago readers is about to change, I suspect, in a hurry. Shadow Divers is so culturally astute and terrifyingly suspenseful that it should reach the sort of audience John Berendt, Susan Orlean, Jon Krakauer and Laura Hillenbrand have recently earned. Kurson’s new focus is the larger historical world—a world of U-Boats, forensics and lung-crushing pressure—and his prose is, as always, plain gorgeous.”
–JAMES MCMANUS, author of Positively Fifth Street

“A winning tale exceedingly well told, Shadow Divers takes us on a dangerous and seemingly quixotic descent into the murk–and then, in a fog of nitrogen narcosis, brings us back to the surface with a richer, fuller fathoming of a history we only thought we knew.”
–HAMPTON SIDES, author of Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission

Library Journal
While Mitchell Zuckoff finely balances his attention between the modern and historical stories, the bulk of Frozen in Time is focused on the downed men and their rescue. Readers left with the desire to learn more about modern-day excavations might want to turn to this highly narrative account of the discovery of a sunken U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. Like Zuckoff, Kurson offers a fast-paced and gripping tale of exploration, giving readers an intimate view of the obsession that builds around such quests. The wreck was shrouded in mystery—no one really knew what they had found—and it took years of investigation, tragic loss, and astounding dedication to solve the puzzle. In a narrative that is detailed, richly characterized, and emotionally complex, Kurson offers readers plenty of adventure and angst as well as satisfying amounts of reflection and history.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375508585
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/29/2004
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.93 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Kurson

ROBERT KURSON earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, then a law degree from Harvard Law School. After working as a features reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago magazine, he moved to Esquire as as a contributing editor. His award-winning stories have also appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He lives in the Chicago suburbs and can be reached via the Internet at


Robert Kurson earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, then a law degree from Harvard Law School. His award-winning stories have appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, and Esquire, where he is a contributing editor. Crashing Through is based on Kurson's 2006 National Magazine Award-winning profile in Esquire. He is the author of Shadow Divers, and he lives in Chicago. Visit the author's web site at

Author biography courtesy of Random House.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Kurson:

"For about a year after I quit law to pursue a career in writing, I hung drapes and installed window blinds to make a living. It gave me lots of solitary quiet time (other than the sound of my drill) to think about storytelling and story structure and the elements of a good tale well told."

"Some of my other jobs before becoming a writer:

  • Hot dog vendor at Wrigley Field
  • Shoe salesman
  • Flower delivery man
  • Traveling salesman for my dad's motorcycle paints and lubricants business
  • Options trader at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE)."

    "I was inspired to write, I think, by having two parents who were exceptional storytellers and who both had exquisite sensitivities to the world and the people in it. My mom and dad saw things in situations and in human beings that very few others saw, and they talked about it to their children. Both of them instinctively knew how to tell a fantastic story -- they had built-in, DNA-level instincts for character, drama, tension, and story arc. Listening to them talk about their lives, the people they'd known, and the things they saw in the world was more interesting and moving than any film I could imagine. My dad died several years ago. My mom remains the best storyteller I know in the world. She just gets better and better. She could tell you a story about walking down the hall in her condo and would have you riveted, all without ever trying too hard."

    "Here's a strange fact about me: I cannot read -- books, magazines, or anything else -- while I'm writing my own books or stories. If I do, I start to vaguely sound like the writers I'm reading. So I just go cold turkey on my own reading while I'm writing -- that way (for better or worse) I sound strictly like myself."

    "Here are some things I've loved since boyhood that I can't seem to stop loving as a 44-year-old man:

  • Magic tricks
  • Model rockets
  • Watching small airplanes take off and land at the local airport
  • The Universal Studios classic monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, et al.)
  • The Beatles
  • Taking batting practice at coin-operated pitching machines
  • Amusement parks."

    Perhaps the single thing I like best in the world is taking long drives along the country's blue highways, those two-lane roads that wind through America. I took many of these drives as a young boy (often for weeks at a time) with my father as I accompanied him on his many business trips, telling stories along the way. The rhythm of the road and the solitary company I find in it speaks to my soul like nothing else. I'm starting to take my own son on these trips and find it to be just about the happiest experience I've ever had in life. Along the way, I think about my writing, and it is during these rides that I often find my best inspiration."

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      1. Hometown:
        Chicago, Illinois
      1. Education:
        B.A. in Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1986; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1990
      2. Website:

    Read an Excerpt

    Shadow Divers

    By Robert Kurson

    Random House

    Copyright (C) 2004 by Robert Kurson
    All right reserved.

    ISBN: 0739311999

    Chapter One


    Brielle, New Jersey, September 1991

    Bill Nagle's life changed the day a fisherman sat beside him in a ramshackle bar and told him about a mystery he had found lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Against his better judgment, that fisherman promised to tell Nagle how to find it. The men agreed to meet the next day on the rickety wooden pier that led to Nagle's boat, the Seeker, a vessel Nagle had built to chase possibility. But when the appointed time came, the fisherman was not there. Nagle paced back and forth, careful not to plunge through the pier where its wooden planks had rotted away. He had lived much of his life on the Atlantic, and he knew when worlds were about to shift. Usually, that happened before a storm or when a man's boat broke. Today, however, he knew it was going to happen when the fisherman handed him a scrap of paper, a hand-scrawled set of numbers that would lead to the sunken mystery. Nagle looked into the distance for the fisherman. He saw no one. The salt air blew against the small seashore town of Brielle, tilting the dockside boats and spraying the Atlantic into Nagle's eyes. When the mist died down he looked again. This time, he saw the fisherman approaching, a small square of paper crumpled in his hands. The fisherman looked worried. Like Nagle, he had lived on the ocean, and he also knew when a man's life was about to change.

    In the whispers of approaching autumn, Brielle's rouge is blown away and what remains is the real Brielle, the locals' Brielle. This small seashore town on the central New Jersey coast is the place where the boat captains and fishermen live, where convenience store owners stay open to serve neighbors, where fifth graders can repair scallop dredges. This is where the hangers-on and wannabes and also-rans and once-greats keep believing in the sea. In Brielle, when the customers leave, the town's lines show, and they are the kind grooved by the thin difference between making a living on the water and washing out.

    The Seeker towers above the other boats tied to this Brielle dock, and it's not just the vessel's sixty-five-foot length that grabs one's attention, it's the feeling-from her battered wooden hull and nicked propellers-that she's been places. Conceived in Nagle's imagination, the Seeker was built for a single purpose: to take scuba divers to the most dangerous shipwrecks in the Atlantic Ocean.

    Nagle was forty years old then, a thin, deeply tanned former Snap-On Tools Salesman of the Year. To see him here, waiting for this fisherman in his tattered T-shirt and thrift-shop sandals, the Jim Beam he kept as best friend slurring his motions, no one would guess that he had been an artist, that in his day Nagle had been great.

    In his twenties, Nagle was already legend in shipwreck diving, a boy wonder in a sport that regularly kills its young. In those days, deep-wreck diving was still the province of the adventurer. Countless shipwrecks, even famous ones, lay undiscovered at the bottom of the Atlantic, and the hunt for those wrecks-with their bent metal and arrested history-was the motion that primed Nagle's imagination.

    Treasure never figured into the equation for Atlantic shipwreck divers in the Northeast. Spanish galleons overflowing with gold doubloons and silver pieces of eight did not sink in this part of the ocean, and even if they had, Nagle wouldn't have been interested. His neighborhood was the New York and New Jersey shipping lanes, waters that conducted freighters, ocean liners, passenger vessels, and warships about the business and survival of America. These wrecks occasionally surrendered a rare piece of china or jewelry, but Nagle and his kind were looking for something different. They saw stories in the Modiglianied faces of broken ships, frozen moments in a nation's hopes or a captain's dying instinct or a child's potential, and they experienced these scenes unbuffered by curators or commentators or historians, shoulder to shoulder with life as it existed at the moment it had most mattered.

    And they did it to explore. Many of the deep wrecks hadn't been seen since their victims last looked at them, and would remain lost while nature pawed at them until they simply didn't exist anymore. In a world where even the moon had been traveled, the floor of the Atlantic remained uncharted wilderness, its shipwrecks beacons for men compelled to look.

    You had to have steel balls to do what Nagle did in his heyday. In the 1970s and 1980s, scuba equipment was still rudimentary, not much advanced past 1943, when Jacques Cousteau helped invent the system of tanks and regulators that allowed men to breathe underwater. Even at 130 feet, the recreational limit suggested by most scuba training organizations, a minor equipment failure could kill the most skilled practitioner. In searching for the most interesting wrecks, Nagle and the sport's other kings might descend to 200 feet or deeper, virtually begging the forces of nature to flick them into the afterlife, practically demanding their biology to abandon them. Men died-often-diving the shipwrecks that called to Nagle.

    Even if Nagle's equipment and body could survive the deep Atlantic, he faced a smorgasbord of other perils, each capable of killing him à la carte. For starters, the sport was still new; there was no ancient wisdom to be passed from father to son, the kind of collective experience that routinely keeps today's divers alive. The sport's cautionary tales, those lifelines learned over beers with buddies and by reading magazines and attending classes, were beaten into Nagle underwater at antihuman depths. If Nagle found himself in some crazy, terrible circumstance-and there were countless of them on these deep wrecks-odds were that he would be the one who would tell the first tale. When he and his ilk survived, the magazines wrote articles about them.

    Nagle pushed deeper. Diving below 200 feet, he began doing things scientists didn't fully understand, going places recreational divers had never been. When he penetrated a shipwreck at these depths, he was often among the first to see the vessel since it had gone down, the first to open the purser's safe since it had been closed, the first to look at these men since they had been lost at sea. But this also meant that Nagle was on his own. He had no maps drawn by earlier divers. Had someone visited these wrecks before, he might have told Nagle, "Don't brush against that outboard beam in the galley-the thing moved when I swam by, and the whole room might cave in and bury you if you do." Nagle had to discover all this by himself. It is one thing, wreck divers will tell you, to slither in near-total darkness through a shipwreck's twisted, broken mazes, each room a potential trap of swirling silt and collapsing structure. It is another to do so without knowing that someone did it before you and lived.

    The Atlantic floor was still a wilderness in Nagle's prime, and it demanded of its explorers the same grit that the American West did of its pioneers. A single bad experience on a shipwreck could reroute all but the hardiest souls to more sensible pursuits. Early divers like Nagle had bad experiences every day. The sport eagerly shook out its dabblers and sightseers; those who remained seemed of a different species. They were physical in their world orientation and sudden in their appetites. They thought nothing of whipping out a sledgehammer and beating a porthole from the side of a ship, even as their heavy breath hastened nitrogen narcosis, the potentially deadly buildup of that otherwise benign gas in their brains. Underwater, rules of possession bent with the light; some divers cut prizes from the mesh goody bags of other divers, following the motto "He who floats it owns it." Fistfights-aboard boats and even underwater-often settled disputes. Artifacts recovered from wrecks were guarded like firstborn children, occasionally at knifepoint. In this way, early deep-wreck divers had a measure of pirate in their blood.

    But not Nagle. In the sport's brawniest era, he was a man of the mind. He devoured academic texts, reference works, novels, blueprints, any material he could uncover on historical ships, until he could have stood in the dockyards of a dozen eras and built the boats alongside the workers. He was a connoisseur of the parts, and he reveled in the life force a boat took on from the interlocking of its pieces. This insight gave Nagle two-way vision; as much as he understood the birth of a ship, he also understood its death. Ordinary divers would come upon a shipwreck and see the mélange of bent steel and broken wood, the shock of pipe and wire as a cacophony of crap, an impediment that might be hiding a compass or some other prize. They would plant their noses in a random spot and dig like puppies, hoping to find a morsel. Viewing the same scene, Nagle repaired the broken parts in his mind and saw the ship in its glory. One of his greatest finds was a four-foot-tall brass whistle from the paddle wheeler Champion, a proud voice that had been mounted on the ship's mast and powered by a steam line. The whistle was majestic, but the most beautiful part of the discovery was that underwater it looked like a worthless pipe. Floating amid the wreckage, Nagle used his mind's eye to watch the ship break and sink. He knew the ship's anatomy, and as he imagined it coming apart he could see the whistle settle, right where that seemingly worthless piece of pipe lay. After Nagle recovered two helms from the British tanker Coimbra in a single day (finding one helm once in a career was rare enough), his photograph was hung-alongside that of Lloyd Bridges-in the wheelhouse of the Sea Hunter, a leading dive charter boat of the time. He was twenty-five.

    To Nagle, the value in artifacts like the brass steam whistle lay not in their aesthetics or their monetary worth but in their symbolism. It is an odd sight to see grown men covet teacups and saucers, and build noble display cases to these dainty relics. But to divers like Nagle these trinkets represented exploration, going off the charts. A telegraph on display in a diver's living room, therefore, is much more than a shiny object; it is an announcement. It says, If someone had been to this ship's wheelhouse before me, he would not have left this telegraph behind.

    It was only time before Nagle's instinct delivered him to the Andrea Doria, the Mount Everest of shipwrecks. The grand Italian passenger liner had collided with the Stockholm, a Swedish liner, in dense fog off Nantucket Island in 1956. Fifty-one people died; 1,659 were rescued before the liner sank and settled on her side at a depth of 250 feet. The Doria was not a typical target for Nagle. Her location was widely known, and she had been explored by divers since the day after her sinking. But the Doria made siren calls to great wreck divers. She was brimming with artifacts even after all these years: serving sets made of fine Italian china and painted with the ship's legendary Italia logo, silver utensils, luggage, ceramic tiles by famed artists, pewter sherbet dishes, jewelry, signs. In Nagle's day, and even today, a diver could explore the Doria and worry only about having enough stamina to lug home the prizes he recovered.

    Had the Doria only her riches to offer, she could not have romanced Nagle so hopelessly. The ship's real challenge lay in exploration. The wreck rested on its side, making navigation dangerous and deceptive. A diver had to conceive the world sideways to make sense of doors on the floor and ceilings to the right. And she was deep-180 feet at her shallowest and 250 feet where she crushed the ocean floor. Men sometimes got disoriented or ran out of air or lost their minds from narcosis and died on the Doria. The wreck was so deep, dark, and dangerous that decades after her sinking, entire decks remained unexplored. Those decks were Nagle's destinations.

    Over time, Nagle penetrated the wreck in places long relegated to the impossible. His mantel at home became a miniature Doria museum. Soon, he set his sights on the bell. A ship's bell is her crown, her voice. For a diver, there is no greater prize, and many of the greats go a career without coming close to recovering one. Nagle decided to own the Doria's bell. People thought he was nuts-scores of divers had searched for thirty years for the Doria's bell. No one believed it was there.

    Nagle went to work. He studied deck plans, books of photographs, crew diaries. Then he did what few other divers did: he formulated a plan. He would need days, maybe even a week to pull it off. No charter boat, however, was going to take a diver to the Doria for a week. So Nagle, who had saved a good bit of money from his Snap-on Tools days, decided to buy a dive boat himself, a vessel constructed from his imagination for a single purpose: to salvage the Doria's bell.

    That boat was the original Seeker, a thirty-five-foot Maine Coaster built in New Jersey by Henrique. In 1985, Nagle recruited five top divers, men who shared his passion for exploration, and he made this arrangement: He would take the group to the Doria at his expense. The trip would be a dedicated one, meaning the divers went with just one objective-to recover the bell.

    For the first few days on the wreck, the divers stuck to Nagle's plan. They found nothing. The bell just wasn't there. At that point, even the hardiest divers would have turned back. A single day on the open Atlantic in a sixty-five-foot boat will turn intestines inside out; Nagle and his cohorts had been out for four days in a thirty-five-foot glorified bathtub. But a man is not so inclined to give up when he sees in panoramas. Nagle abandoned the bow of the Doria, where he and his team had been searching, and rerouted to the stern. They would now be flying by the seat of their pants, an improvisation on the deadliest wreck in the Atlantic. No one had ever been to the stern. Yet by conceiving the Doria as a single, breathing organism rather than as detached, twenty-foot chunks of wood and steel, Nagle and the others allowed themselves to look in unlikely places.

    On the fifth day they hit pay dirt-there was the Andrea Doria's bell. The men rigged it, beat out the bell's pin with a sledgehammer, and sent up the prize on a heavy-duty lift bag. Shock waves rippled through the diving community. According to their agreement, Nagle owned half the bell, and the other five men owned half; the last man living among them would own it outright. Nagle placed the 150-pound bell into the back of his wife's station wagon and asked her to drive it home.

    From the Hardcover edition.

    Excerpted from Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. Is there something you would risk everything — your family, sanity, and life - to discover?

    2. Was it proper for Chatterton and Kohler to risk their lives, and the lives of others, by insisting that all divers allow the remains of the fallen U-boat sailors to remain undisturbed?

    3. Chatterton and Kohler lost their marriages to their quest to identify the U-Who. Was it worth it?

    4. Why weren’t Chatterton and Kohler bothered more by the German sailors’ mission — namely, to sink Allied ships and kill American sailors?

    5. Do you think the U-Who’s crewmen would have appreciated the efforts of Chatterton and Kohler to identify their submarine and explain their story?

    6. The German government told Chatterton that all requests by scuba divers to explore sunken German war graves had been denied. Chatterton politely explained his intentions, then dove the wreck of the U-Who anyway. Was this morally acceptable?

    7. Gisela Engelmann dearly loved her fianc?, U-869 torpedoman Franz Nedel, despite Nedel’s fervent commitment to Hitler and Nazi ideals - and despite the fact that the Nazis had imprisoned both his father and Engelmann’s father. Could you love someone whose political beliefs were abhorrent to you?

    8. Despite claustrophobic conditions, many Germans preferred submarine service to army ground service, where they might find themselves dug into trenches and dodging enemy bullets. Which would you opt for?

    9. Given the grave danger of Chatterton’s final plan to dive the wreck of the U-Who, should Kohler have stuck to his first instinct and refused to accompany Chatterton?

    10. Chatterton did not attend the funeral of his dear friend, Bill Nagle. He never completely explains the decision. Why do you think he didn’t attend Nagle’s funeral?

    11. Divers continue to debate the ethics of removing artifacts from shipwrecks. When is it proper to take artifacts from wrecks? Are there circumstances under which artifacts should never be disturbed? Does your answer change if there are human remains onboard?

    12. Chatterton seemed emotionally ready for the Rouses to identify the U-Who. But he seemed incapable of accepting the possibility of a “greenhorn” diver doing the same. Why?

    13. Kohler gave up diving for two years in an effort to keep his family together. Can a person ever surrender his true passion and hope to live a happy and fulfilled life?

    14. Did the discovery of the U-Who hasten Bill Nagle’s demise?

    15. Given the intentions of the crewmen aboard U-869 — to attack and kill Allied ships — do you think the book treated them too kindly?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
    ( 245 )
    Rating Distribution

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 247 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 22, 2007

      A reviewer

      Summary: For someone who doesn¿t read that often, I found this nonfiction book quite interesting. It had a plot line that I would never have typically been interested in, especially because I¿m more of a fiction reader. The story is based on two men, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, who thought of diving as more than just a sport. However, in the fall of 1991, not even these two courageous divers were prepared for what they found 230 feet below the surface of the water. In the depths of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey, the two men found what they identified as a World War II German U-boat. Over the next six years, an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them sadly, would not live to see its end. Likes/Dislikes: The overall story line was amazing! It kept you interested and kept you reading. However, it did have a tendency of repeating a lot of the information already stated, but in a different form, therefore the chapter seemed to drag longer than necessary. Themes/Messages: This book was all about travel and adventure. Both men risked everything they had, just for a shot at making a new discovery. They also found a discovery of friendship. When the novel started, both men couldn¿t stand one another. So a test of friendship came along with an amazing adventure that they shared.

      8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted November 2, 2006

      Quite a journey.

      I don't care for non-fiction. I get bored easily with an oversupply of facts. I don't care for technical dissertations. Minutae puts me to sleep. This book has tons of facts, lots of technical tidbits, and was one of the most compelling books I have read in years. The facts and details that I normally deplore gave this work depth, substance, and meaning. And the end, touched with elements of humanity, was a perfect conclusion. What a heroic quest the protagonists pursued. What a fantastic job of recording it. A great read all around.

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 31, 2009

      Excellent Book for WWII history buffs and Diving fans

      This book is outstanding for the WWII history of U-Boats and for the history and intracies of diving. As one who does not dive, but would love to, this book brings the reader into the "hunt" for the truth and "hunt" for the artifacts to prove it.
      Read it and go to the bottom of the Sea.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted February 28, 2009

      Excellent, gripping book

      This book was excellent - I couldn't put it down. It was for my book club, and certainly given the subject matter and the cover, something I wouldn't have picked up on my own. I'm so glad I did because I would recommend it to anyone (already have in a couple cases, actually)

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 7, 2009

      An amazing read!

      I picked this book up on a whim while working as a grip on a film set, that required little movement of gear... There was a book store that we were shooting in and S.D. happened to catch my eye. I read it from cover to cover in about 2 maybe 3 days and was completely immersed in the world that Kurson provides. His intellect and childlike (as in, a son looking up to his father) admiration of the men that completed this adventure make it a truly fabulous story. I couldn't possibly say enough good things about this book. If you want to loss yourself in a literary playground for a few hours a day this is a good choice.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted February 21, 2006


      I am a scuba diver myself and would never try the things these guys did to solve this mystery. I've met the author and both divers and must say they are three of the funniest, and most endearing gentlemen you would ever want to meet. This is an excellent book and I recommend it to divers and non-divers alike. It is sad, exciting and dramatic, and even funny. A very good book that was well-written and researched. I read and even re-read it.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 7, 2013


      This was very good book so i rate 4 and a half stars just for the cussing

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted January 31, 2012

      more from this reviewer

      Dive Into Another World

      I’m thirty-two years old, and I love history. Old history, that is. More-recent history, such as WWII, WWI, Vietnam and so on, doesn’t have the same allure for me as the Civil War, Roman history, British history, Egyptian history, etc. do.

      Well, heck. That has changed because of one book, “Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson. Did you know that during WWII, German U-boats snuck up in American waters and some got so close to the shore that the crew could smell U.S. trees, listen to U.S. radio? Many of these U-boats were sunk in waters around the United States coast and are still there. I’d had no idea. Ignorant me had this misconception of WWII being fought way over there, there being Germany, Japan, England, wherever. Hawaii was attacked, yeah, but Hawaii isn’t mainland U.S.

      When I saw the U-boats fact mentioned in the book’s blurb, I knew I HAD to get this book. And it’s a treat. It’s a must-read for anyone. It has mystery, suspense, intrigue, honorable men, rapscallion men, the bad boys with hearts of gold and the women who love them, and death. Lots of death but an uplifting ending. It’s nonfiction but is better-paced and more suspenseful than most fiction I have read.

      Kurson basically follows a group of divers as they discover a sunken U-boat and the group’s struggle over several years to identify which boat it is. The divers end up changing recorded history. Kurson provides a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking look into diving culture.

      I have no quibbles with this book, but I did wonder about some of the divers. They did what is an honorable thing, at least on first glance. They found bodies in the wreckage, lots of bodies. Well, not bodies. Skeletons and bones are more accurate. The divers refused to ransack the bones in order to identify the U-boat. Respect for the dead, respect for their families. The divers didn’t want to have to tell the families that they had to paw through their loved ones’ pockets to find a tag to identify the U-boat.

      That’s great. All well and good.

      Except what happens? The divers can’t find ID elsewhere. Several years go on. Still they refuse to riffle through the bodies/clothes on the bodies. I dunno. It seems presumptuous of them to assume what the families would have wanted. If I had lost a loved one at sea, I’d like to know where he was, even if that meant someone had to go through his pockets for a tag. The divers had a pretty good idea which U-boat this was, so why didn’t they just ask the families what they preferred instead of assuming for them?

      Anyway, that was a bit maddening but is no reflection on the author. This book gets five stars out of five. Once you start reading, be prepared to be immersed in claustrophobic and thrilling situations for hours.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 26, 2012

      Recommended by a friend for non-fiction story

      I have not finished the book yet. Am enjoying it so far and expect to finish shortly.
      First time with a electronic book.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 27, 2011

      Great book !

      Combines history and the struggle of underwater expeditions. Well worth the read!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 20, 2006

      Kurson pulled me in

      Kurson's writing invaded my dreams. I sometimes woke up feeling like I'd needed to decompress before opening my eyes. I'm not a diver, but I believe this book took me as close as I'll ever get to a deep sea submarine. While reading this in public, I had to check to make sure that my mouth hadn't dropped open (often my chin was dangling) or pull the book up higher so strangers in the coffee shop couldn't see my tears. Deep sea divers truly are the 'astronauts of the deep sea'. They can be lured into the murky depths of the unknown while most of us hold our breath and await the outcome. I'm grateful to them for sharing the adventure. This isn't a treasure hunt-it's a tale of trust, bravery, and faith in the human spirit. Chrissy K. McVay author of 'Souls of the North Wind'

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 18, 2014

      Absolutely riveting and astoundingly good book. It reads like t

      Absolutely riveting and astoundingly good book. It reads like the best novel, but the research and understanding that went into it shine clearly through. The story is one I didn't know, and am very glad I have learned. I am a diver myself - never a wreck diver; I'm one of those "tourists" that Bill Nagle so decried. But what diving I have done gives me even more of an understanding and heartfelt appreciation for the work, research and dedication that John Chatterton and Richie Kohler did, and Robert Kurson so eloquently brought to light. This book meets the standards of real history that David McCullough has set. Read it!

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 26, 2014

      shadow divers

      if you are interested in diving, this IS the book to read.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted December 4, 2013


      "Ok." He said purring.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 4, 2013


      "Seriously, though. I'm really sorry." He mews.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 4, 2013

      To to grey

      None of your concern

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 3, 2013

      Dawnfut to patchfur

      "I need to talk to you."

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 3, 2013


      "Every time I fall it reminds me, a dumb elder, what I can't do now."

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 3, 2013

      Chippeh to iceh

      Whos deputy? Me or darkpelt? Im confuzzled.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 2, 2013


      Eddie is locked out and is at next result. Ur welcome Edie!

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 247 Customer Reviews

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