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

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

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375760983
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/24/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 37,359
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

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 website at www.robertkurson.com.


From the Hardcover edition.

Hometown:

Chicago, Illinois

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Education:

B.A. in Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1986; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1990

Read an Excerpt

Shadow Divers


By Robert Kurson

Random House

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

ISBN: 0739311999


Chapter One


THE BOOK OF NUMBERS

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.

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?

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Shadow Divers 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 265 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
raday More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
QKelly More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not finished the book yet. Am enjoying it so far and expect to finish shortly. First time with a electronic book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Combines history and the struggle of underwater expeditions. Well worth the read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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'
Stbalbach on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Wow I enjoyed this book, it's unusually good. The movie is coming out in 2013. A mystery drives the book forward, a mystery so difficult to crack but compelling it kills a few people who try to solve it. Along the way we learn tons of interesting things about wreck diving, diving culture, WWII submarines, Vietnam, historiography (the creation of history), modern U-boat culture, and much else. I was sorry when it ended but enjoyed the trip. One of my fav books of the year.
eleanor_eader on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book is principally the story of two American divers who risk their lives to explore and identify the wreck of a WWII U-Boat. Rich with adversity, adventure and war history, the author's enthusiasm for the tale (which in turn is lit by the dedication and determination of the divers themselves) lends the writing that elusive thrill of perfect retelling. The balance of back-story of the men who explored the wreck, the detail and technical information, the history, the suspense of the dives themselves and smattering of other, relevant wreck-diving tales is all melded into a chase story that enthrals as it informs. Despite the incredible depth (sorry!) and breadth of Kurson¿s research, the story is ultimately about the two men who proceed against the advice of friends, in the face of death, to prove to themselves who they are in the face of adversity, and to return the final story of the lost crew to their surviving relatives in Germany.
bacreads on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a riveting, well written story about divers who discovered a U-boat sunk off of the New Jersey coast and their quest to identify the U-boat. It reads like a novel but in this situation, real live is more exciting and dangerous. I knew vertually nothing about wreck diving or deep sea diving and this story educates without overdoing it for novices. It grabbed my attention from the beginning and at times I could not read fast enough. It also touches on the personal side of war as one of the main divers becomes obsessed with finding the familes of the men lost on the U-boat and the sadness of losing young men in what was a losing cause.
Cygnus555 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I first read "First Dive" by Bernie Chowdry and then my Dad gave me this one... I hesitated to read it because I loved Bernie's telling of the story so much. I knew the Rouses so well after that book that it seemed to me that this book was just a retelling of their fateful dive. I am very happy that I finally picked it up! It is not a re-telling... it is the story of John and Richie's quest to identify this sunken submarine. Chris and Chrissy's dive was a very small and tragic part of the story. Very well written, researched and crafted. You must read it.
alison on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Slow to start but interesting if you stick with it.
luv2read2 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A fantastic book! A very well told adventure!
whitreidtan on LibraryThing 5 months ago
My husband and I got certified to scuba dive this past spring and I absolutely love it but I have to say that I am incredibly grateful that I didn't read this book before we took our classes. Holy toledo! The bends are a magnitude of 100 times worse than I ever imagined. But being underwater is phenomenal. I don't know that I'd ever want to do deep wreck diving; I'm probably more than content to always be one of the thousands of recreational divers out there. I will never turn down the chance to read about the men and women who dive on the edge of the knife blade though, risking their very lives, especially if the account is as gripping as Kurson's non-fiction account of the discovery and eventual identification of the mystery German U-boat laying in 230 feet of water off the coast of New Jersey, where no U-boat should have been according to official war accounts. Kurson follows the two divers who were most instrumental in the identification of the U-boat, two men who initially disliked each other but came to respect the driving force behind their different desires to dive the wreck, put a name to it, and to honor the sailors who were forever trapped in their watery grave. Kurson weaves dramatic tension throughout his narrative, even ratcheting it up as he presents the terrible tragedies of first Steve Feldman's death and then Chris and Chrissy Rouse's. He never minimizes the risks taken by all of the divers although his main focus remains on Vietnam vet John Chatterton, who ultimately pulled the spare parts box that would identify the wreck and Richie Kohler, who felt such a responsibility to the long dead sailors that he traveled to Germany to meet with their families. Kurson does tend to neglect many of the other divers, especially those on the initial dives, mentioning their names briefly but without offering any suggestion of their impressions or contributions. However, his laser focus on Chatterton and Kohler makes for a tight and thrilling narrative that will keep readers, even those with zero knowledge of diving, on the edge of their seats. His descriptions of the dangers inherent in deep water diving, especially in the 90's, before nitrox mixes gained ascendency for such dives, are absolutely heart pounding. And he is spot on when detailing the swirling mess of sediment that contributes to zero visibility. Kurson does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the physical effects of the bends or from the vision of what a drowned body would look like after 5 months in the water and these descriptions will induce horror indeed but they reinforce the dangers and their potential results to which these wreck divers willingly and repeatedly expose themselves. The book is not all diving though; it is also an historical mystery and Kurson takes the reader along as, much to the dismay of Chatterton and Kohler, each credible theory about the identity of the U-boat falls apart. As the wreck continued to withhold its secrets, the divers had to do archival research and in the process discovered that history as it is written is not always accurate and true. And as they waded through both the factual and the murky, they learn quite a bit about U-boats themselves. At the end of the narrative, as the quest for the boat's identity is coming to its conclusion, Kurson also draws a very credible picture of life on this particular U-boat as well as the lives of the lost crew members. The writing is polished and the story exciting. I gulped the book down in a little over a day, pulled ever onward by the mystery and the persistence of these men. Dramatic and intense, this was a cracking good read. I just hope the image of what happens to your blood in extreme cases of the bends fades from my head before I have the chance to put a regulator in my mouth again.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book tells the story of several divers who explored the wreck of a German World War II submarine off the coast of New Jersey, and especially of two divers who worked to identify the U-boat. The author writes well, although I found it somewhat breathless, and the chapters on the German submariners (who all perished, save for one man left behind in Germany for medical reasons) turn a pointless waste of lives into a kind of brutally sentimental heroism. Although the American divers are presented sympathetically, most of them have demons of one kind or another - some are killed by their demons, others by horrible diving accidents. If you stop to think about it, you can see just how much skill the author has, to have arranged the story in a way that emphasizes heroism and presents the identification of the U-boat as a triumph. An equally valid but more bitter telling would emphasize the codes of masculinity that drove both the German sailors and the American divers to place themselves at such great risk, and ask whether identifying this submarine really did anything to redeem either set of losses. As one who is totally unfamiliar with the culture of deep sea diving, I was also struck by the tomb-robbing element of the dives -- the archeologists I know would be utterly disgusted at that kind of approach to artifacts on land, and I wondered what an aquatic archeologist would make of this book.
THEPRINCESS on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Off I went again...reading a book on a subject I have absolutely no interest in...recommended by a friend I trust. I am so glad I took her word for it. An absolutely enthralling book that hooked me right from the first chapter. The story about finding a submarine off the Jersey Shore and the struggle over years to identify it was definitely a page-turner. Its also a story about how this project brought two men who started out not really liking each other together with a common attachment to the project for different reasons. I enjoyed it so much I rented the NOVA presentation of "Hitler's Lost U-Boat" mentioned in the Epilogue) from the library just to see more of this great story.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is one of those rare books that, for me, was truly, un-put-down-able. The rest of life seemed a bit like filler until I got back to it. Luckily, it is a fairly quick read and I only lost two days of my life. But it was time well spent. This book is just awesome, gripping, educational and just downright interesting on many levels. It has been summarized many times, so I will not do that again. But I think what isn't said too much is how this is so much more than a story about some divers finding a U-boat. It touches on what exactly is history, how it gets recorded and whether it can even be trusted, how to think outside the box when all the fax lead you inside of it, what drives a man to extremes to solve life's mysteries and one of the themes that came up time and time again is how who we are is truly told in times of struggle. I loved the backgrounds and lives of the divers as well as the WWII/U-Boat history and mystery. There is also fascinating folklore about deep sea Altlantic wreck divers and the whole weird culture of it ~ where one small panic can easily cause death, but respect is earned for a lifetime. Kurson is a great writer for the subject matter and he really made every scene come alive. My Dad was not kidding when he said, "You will find yourself holding your breath at times." Highly recommended.
KidQuislet on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Gripping story and insight into the world of deep scuba diving and the pursuit of a great treasure: historical facts.
kenno82 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is an incredible book. An amazing story, well written - adventure, tragedy, history, likeable characters. The story will appeal to anyone. No need for an interest in diving or history.
jimmytomatoes on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I totally loved this book!
msf59 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a true adventure story about a group of deep wreck divers, who discover a sunken German U-boat sixty miles off the New Jersey coast, back in 1991. It becomes an amazing story, as two of the most prominent divers, try to unravel the mysteries of this lost sub, taking many years and costing several lives in their relentless quest. This author immerses the reader in deep diving culture, which is both thrilling and very deadly. Highly recommended!
LynnB on LibraryThing 5 months ago
What a fantastic read! This is the story of two deep wreck divers, John Chatterton and Ritchie Kohler who work together to identify a sunken U-boat off the coast of New Jersey.Mr. Kurson has written a great adventure/detectivie story. And more. His extensive research provides insight into the role of U-boats in WWII, and to conditions on those boats. He also explains deep sea diving technologies and risks.Mr. Kurson rounds out this excellent tale with sharing insights into the personal motivations and philosophies of the divers. He includes the stories of the crew who died on the U-boat. This comprehensive treatment had me totally enthralled. I found the epilogue is espeically moving.You don't have to be a history buff or a diver to enjoy this great story of courage, but more importantly, of commitment to your values as a person.