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

There is something deeply fascinating yet profoundly unsettling about this book.

It is, among other things, a story of high adventure, obsession and the cold face of imminent death. Shadow Divers is the true story of a group of deep-sea wreck divers who challenge themselves on the thin edge of the survivable, diving more than 200 feet into the cold Atlantic, venturing into twisted wrecks like the Andrea Doria and others, hunting souvenirs, bragging rights and a shivering adrenaline high.

Shadow Divers focuses on John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, who, investigating a mysterious wreck off the New Jersey coast, discover lurking 230 feet below the surface, a ghost from World War II, a sunken German U-Boat lying where none should be. Driven by the challenge of uncovering and identifying the boat, Chatterton and Kohler undertake a seven-year odyssey, diving repeatedly into the chill depths of the sea and into the musty records of World War II to discover the secrets of the wreck.

Deep-sea wreck diving is among the world’s most deadly endeavors and the dives on the shadowy U-Boat are no exception. Kurson’s vivid prose pulls the reader into the situation and at points is so profoundly tense it is almost impossible to put down. It is, as the expression goes, like watching a train wreck about to happen…terrified fascination and sick amazement are at war in your stomach when you read this book.

Kurson’s narrative weaves the lore, dangers, technology and practices of deep-sea wreck diving, with the characters and practioners of the sport, pulling you into the excitement and the discovery…so when disaster strikes, although not unexpected, it is deeply unsettling, horrifying and vivid.

Similar to Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air which recounted the terrifying 1996 disaster on Mount Everest that cost five lives, Shadow Divers left me with a certain empty, morbid and questioning sense of “why?” and a mixed bag of both admiration and head-shaking irritation at the often pointless thrill-seeking.

Overall a definite first-rate book and one of the very best of the year.

Interested in learning more about U-boats? U-Boat.net is the place to go. Also check out the terrific Nova documentary and supporting website “Hitlers Lost Sub”, for a look at the Shadow Divers’ submarine, a virtual tour, maps of other sunken U-boat wrecks and an interactive feature on the chilling dangers of wreck diving.

Here’s the website for the Wreck of the Andrea Doria, described by Kurson as “Mount Everest” for wreck divers. If you are wise, you will just stick to reading about the wreck…

Here’s the Atocha, for the red-blooded, gold-hunting treasure-enthusiast in your family…

And some last thoughts…

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

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