Ever wondered what it would be like to dive 30 stories down into the ocean without scuba gear? To swim alongside sperm whales, hold your breath for four minutes at a time, and plumb the black depths of the ocean in a makeshift submarine? James Nestor has, and in his wonderful book Deep he attempts to find the answers himself.
He explores free diving in all its slightly insane forms, from the international competitions where underwater blackouts are both regular and expected, to the more practical uses. The latter are extraordinary: meet the researchers who swim with whales the size of buses, and whose lungs shrink to the size of fists under conditions that would kill a scuba diver instantly. These people believe that investigating the sea from a scuba suit is like investigating jungle wildlife from within a land rover with the windows up and music on. And marine life seems to agree with them – animals are far friendlier to free divers. As Nestor shows, more has been learned about whales, sharks and echolocation from free diving than any other method, and what they have learned is fascinating.
But eventually the author’s curiosity goes deeper, beyond what any human can naturally withstand. He enlists the help of a dubious Honduran who has built a makeshift submarine that tends to fizz and buckle when deep. But go deep they do, down to black depths where the pressure for a human would be ‘like balancing the Eiffel Tower on your head.’ Here Nestor witnesses the ‘71% silent majority’ of life on Earth: the strange glowing, pulsing life of the deep ocean. It is hard to decide which part of Nestor’s adventure is the best, but it is a book you won’t want to end.
By Gabriel Smith, Bookseller at Jaffé & Neale.