DESCENT: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss

Bradford Matsen, Author . Pantheon $25 (286p) ISBN 978-0-375-42258-4

A legendary naturalist and a wealthy engineering student come together in the name of science (and glory) in this highly readable look at the discoveries that made William Beebe and Otis Barton international celebrities of the Depression era. Journalist and nature-doc producer Matsen (Planet Ocean , etc.) shows how Barton, who'd long dreamed of undersea adventure, convinced the already-famous Beebe that his diving device will be the key to Beebe's success. Barton would pay for the bathysphere—a four-and-a-half-foot steel ball dangling from a wire rope and ventilated by its occupants waving a palm leaf fan—and thus go along for the ride. The men were personally incompatible, but they made an effective team; from 1929 to 1934, they made more than 20 dives off Bermuda and many improvements in their vehicle. Matsen devotes greater energy to Beebe, noting how his scientific credentials were often questioned—a bon vivant, he wrote for Ladies' Home Journal as well for Science . Matsen also pays tribute to the duo's support team (which Beebe often did not), including wildlife artist Else Bostelmann. From interpersonal conflict to the first radio broadcast from the ocean's depths and the intricate negotiations with National Geographic Society that enabled them to make their last dive in the depths of the Depression, Matsen's account is a thoroughly researched, fluently written addition to the history of science. Agent, Richard Abate . (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/21/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
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