Monday, October 26, 2020

Shadow Divers - Robert Kurson

Summary: 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 hulks of sunken 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 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 sense of 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 and emotionally complex, and it is written with a vivid sense of what divers actually experience when they meet the dangers of the ocean’s underworld. The story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, two hundred thirty feet down, in the deep blue sea.
  (Summary from - Image from

My Review: I am—straight up—a rabbit-hole type of person. I see something on TV or read a tidbit something interesting and all of a sudden I’m like a mad woman obsessed. In this case, my husband and I were binge-watching “The Curse of Oak Island” on Hulu and the History Channel, and the seekers employed some divers to dive down to see if they could see some treasure. Long story short, they went through lots of divers before they could find one who could actually A) agree to it and B) do it. That diver was John Chatterton, and I could tell he was seriously legit just by the way he talked and discussed the dive and all of a sudden I was like a woman obsessed. I listened to several podcasts where he was interviewed, read his blog, tried to find a place where I could watch his old History Channel show “Deep Sea Detectives” (I wasn’t successful), and finally read this book Shadow Divers. Friends, I wasn’t disappointed.

It is at this point that I have to say that I listened to the audiobook, which is not something I normally do. I am a devoted podcast listener, and I have tons of podcasts that I listen to, so I don’t always want to use my listening time for audiobooks. However, I put this book on hold at my library and it was taking forever (still haven’t gotten it) and I just couldn’t wait any longer. My obsession was gnawing at my soul. It was read by Michael Prichard, and his old timey radio-style voice really added to the ambience of this WWII U-boat mystery book. It was a long book, in my short experience of audiobooks (15 hours), and yet I finished it in less than a week. Like I said #womanobsessed.

There are so many things I loved about this book. First off, it is really well written. It is gripping, fast-paced, and super interesting. I knew nothing about diving, and I really don’t have any interest in learning to dive (not even in a beautiful tropical place, which is very different from what these divers do). However, learning about the technology and the bravery and intricacies of deep sea wreck diving was fascinating. It was a whole new world and I just can’t believe how exciting it was. Kurson also does a great job of introducing and connecting us with each of the divers. Their backgrounds were fascinating as well, and getting to know them and their experiences was a highlight of the book. Another thing I loved is that the U-boat mystery was fascinating. I guess I just had no idea how difficult it is to find shipwrecks and identify them, let alone search through them and find artifacts. Following along with Chatterton and Kohler as they dove and tried to find out about this ship was so exciting. It was treacherous and intense and there were many times when I could feel the intensity of the situation, even though I was just listening to it.

If you are in to true adventure stories, especially ones with dangerous and treacherous circumstances (like climbing Everest or any number of dangerous outdoor endeavors), I highly recommend this book. I very much enjoyed it. It’s an older book, and yet it has impeccable ratings on Goodreads (which is hard to maintain when so many people have read it and rated it). I’m hoping that since it’s older it’s something that isn’t necessarily on your radar. I really enjoyed it, and I will be reading everything else that they have written as well.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is quite a bit of language and some bawdy sea-faring humor. There is also a man who is a serious alcoholic and this could be triggering for some readers. 

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