This book pissed off a few freedivers and scuba divers so I decided to read the book myself and see what all the huff was about.
Thanks to Chris Schlenner who reached out to me and recommended the book. He enjoyed it and so did I.
So here is my Deep book review
James Nestor began the Deep book project with no exposure to freediving and for me this is one of the books greatest appeals. Throughout the book you travel vicariously along with an inquisitive journalist who learns all about the ocean, the human body and many of the ways humans have studied, lived and interacted with the ocean since records began. He travels places and learns things that I would love to do myself such as going deep in a submarine, observing (successful) scientific experiments with marine mammal communication, meeting and learning from highly experienced freedivers and living underwater in a research station.
At the beginning, Outside Magazine send James to report on a deep freediving world championship in Greece. In this, his first encounter with freediving, he see’s many freedivers arrive back at the surface in various states of hypoxia. Some freedivers arrive back at the surface with bloodless, oxygen deprived faces and others in worse condition with blood running from their noses, bloated necks, convulsive seizures and even some with the appearance (and heart rate) indicating death. As you can imagine this would be a rough way to be introduced to freediving.
After his experience and for the remainder of the book he takes on a fairly critical attitude towards competitive freediving but thankfully he meets some divers who do it for other reasons. Throughout the book he speaks about his struggles and obstacles learning to freedive. Basics such as equalizing and taking a skype session with Ted Harty kept me engaged. Then getting past his blackout fears (that stemmed from watching the Greek world championship) pulled me further in. James’s own story accompanies the books trajectory well. One of my favorite sections is a neat commentary on what is happening to the human body as it descends deeper.
Here are just a few of the interesting things in the book
Aquarius – underwater research station in 19m of water in the Florida Keys. ‘Aquanauts’ spend periods (usually 10 days) down in the environment studying marine life. The decompression process is a 17 hour affair.
Frederique Buyle on reunion working to preserve the local bull shark population after several attacks.
The ‘Ama’. Diving and talking with the Japanese women who continue hunting in a shrinking clan of all female freedivers.
Caisson disease aka the bends
Science behind freediving explained well. Blood shift, mammalian dive reflex, the ‘Master Switch’. James takes readers on the physiological journey down to 300 feet. The journey gives an overview of the changes the body experiences as it descends.
Pulling up a Lilly from 1000 feet down. Discovering that they have remained unchanged for millennia
The Bathysphere by Beebe and Barton. The first men to lay eyes on the deep blue world of the Mesopelagic, reaching below 800 feet.
Magneto-reception in animals. Discussing sharks following invisible magnetic lines 100’s of feet beneath the surface.
Dolphins X-ray vision. Complex echo location and identifying themselves with signature clicks. One lip for clicks, one for whistles.
LSD experimentation on dolphins and heightened intelligence in Sperm Whales.
While generally the book has a kind of serious feel to it, at times Nestor’s writing voice is hilarious and I enjoyed his style. For example; Nestor on Reunions (French colony) beer.
“The local beer, called Dodo after the extinct bird that was (wrongly) thought to have inhabited Reunion, tastes vaguely of soap.”
Stuff like this made me laugh and it fit in well with the flow of the book.
He also shares quotes he found funny like this one.
“Scuba diving is like driving a four-by-four through the woods with your windows up, air conditioning on, music blasting.”
I can see why some scuba divers started filling the water column with even more bubbles when I read this. This off-hand quote reminded me that I was once also sold on the scuba diving instructor dream as a naivete 18 year old. I enjoyed scuba diving for many years but once I started freediving, scuba always seemed so cumbersome and unnecessary. It beats not going in the water at all though but it comes in at a distant second place to freediving (IMHO;).
Who Should Read Deep?
This book is for people interested in learning more about the marine environment and like a fresh perspective. While written for a lay audience, there are a diverse range of stories, research and facts to keep any ocean loving person engaged. Don’t be put off by the critics as readers who enjoy extending their knowledge will find no shortage of interesting facts, current research and stories to digest.
I learned a hell of a lot from this book and enjoyed the read. If you have read Authors like Jon Krakaeur you wont be alarmed at the constant switches between narrative story-line and background research and reporting. I found Nestor’s style informative and entertaining as the multi-faceted approach gives you the scaffolding you need to understand the basic concepts that are being discussed.
Thanks for reading my Deep book review, be sure to check out the links below and tell me what you think about the book!
Free! thanks to Audible, Noob Spearo listeners and readers can listen to this book ‘Deep, Freediving, Renegade Science and what the ocean tells us about ourselves‘ free with a free 30 day membership here