Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Jon Krakauers Into Thin Air
and Sebastian Jungers 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 mens 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 Kursons 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 oceans 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.
"This superlative journalistic narrative tells of John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two deep-sea wreck divers who in 1991 dove to a mysterious wreck lying at the perilous depth of 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey. Both had a philosophy of excelling and pushing themselves to the limit; both needed all their philosophy and fitness to proceed once they had identified the wreck as a WWII U-boat. As Kurson, a writer for Esquire, narrates in this debut, the two divers next undertook a seven-year search for the U-boat's identity inside the wreck, in a multitude of archives and in a host of human memories. Along the way, Chatterton's diving cost him a marriage, and Kohler's love for his German heritage helped turn him into a serious U-boat scholar. The two lost three of their diving companions on the wreck and their mentor, Bill Nagle, to alcoholism. (Chowdhury's The Last Dive, from HarperPerennial in 2002, covers two of the divers' deaths.) The successful completion of their quest fills in a gap in WWII history the fate of the Type IX U-boat U-869. Chatterton and Kohler's success satisfied them and a diminishing handful of U-boat survivors. While Kurson doesn't stint on technical detail, lovers of any sort of adventure tale will certainly absorb the author's excellent characterizations, and particularly his balance in describing the combat arm of the Third Reich. Felicitous cooperation between author and subject rings through every page of this rare insightful action narrative. If the publishers are dreaming of another Perfect Storm, they may get their wish. Agent, Heather Schroder.7-city author tour; first serial to Esquire; rights sold in Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the U.K. (On sale June 29)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] well-paced tale of adventure on the high seas." Kirkus Reviews
"Shadow Divers is so culturally astute and terrifyingly suspenseful that it should reach the sort of audience John Berendt, Susan Orlean, Jon Krakauer and Laura Hillenbrand have recently earned.... his prose is, as always, plain gorgeous." James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street
"Shadow Divers surely ranks with Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air in the realm of nonfiction adventure." Chicago Sun-Times
"Kurston also exposes the fascinating, high-risk world of deep diving and the strong personalities attracted to it...one of the best adventure books published" Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Letting the drama speak for itself, Mr. Kurson vividly captures the hazardous world of diving (one scene of a father-son diving mishap is the stuff of nightmares) and the competition and camaraderie of the divers themselves." Wall Street Journal
"Kurson's terrific narrative skill in Shadow Divers...lifts this admirable book to the top shelf of the true-adventure genre." Oregonian
"A solid adventure story, painstakingly stitched together from countless hours of interviews and research.... I know I've finished a great book when I am propelled to learn even more about the subject." Chicago Tribune
In 1991, acting on a tip from a local fisherman, two recreational scuba divers discovered a sunken German U-boat 60 miles off the New Jersey coast. The wreck lay in 230 feet of ocean water, too deep and dangerous for all but the most accomplished scuba divers. The submarine's crew perhaps 60 men lay dead inside. No historian, expert or government had a clue as to which U-boat the divers had found. By all accounts, there simply could not be a sunken U-boat and crew at this location. Soon, the divers realized that if they did not pursue this mystery, it would remain forever unsolved.
Over the next six years, these men devoted their lives to identifying this sunken U-boat and its crew. They became expert and well-traveled researchers, taught themselves German, befriended U-boat aces, turned back fanatics and conspiracy theorists, hunted clues in Germany, corrected history books presumed to be gospel, and constructed original and ingenious theories. In between, they made some of the most daring and dangerous scuba dives ever attempted.
Over those six years, three of their colleagues died exploring the wreck, including a father and son team. As the challenge grew more deadly and the clues dried up, the two divers once bitter rivals became best friends. As the mystery choked their marriages and threatened to consume them, each realized that he was on more than a mission to identify a lost U-boat. Each of them, they realized, was on a mission to discover himself.
In 1997, when it looked as if the U-boat would never surrender her name, the two divers conceived a plan so daring, so risky, that each of them presumed it would end in death. The book concludes with this final dive one that literally came down to the final breath.
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. After working as a features reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago magazine, he moved to Esquire as as a contributing editor. His award-winning stories have also appeared in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He lives in the Chicago suburbs and can be reached via the Internet at www.robertkurson.com.