cover image The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

Brad Fox. Astra House, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-66260-190-3

In this mesmerizing history, novelist Fox (To Remain Nameless) draws on research notes from a trio of pioneering deep-sea explorers to offer a lyrical meditation on the mysteries of the ocean. In the late 1920s, engineer Otis Barton and “protoecologist” William Beebe developed the bathysphere, a “four-and-a-half foot steel ball... fitted with two three-inch quartz windows” that could carry them thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean. In a series of dives off the coast of Bermuda, they partnered with scientist Gloria Hollister, who recorded their observations via telephone line. (Hollister also made her own record-setting dives in the bathysphere.) Among other insights, Beebe took note of how the sunlight receded the further he dove, until the bathysphere was surrounded by “the deepest black-blue imaginable,” and described bizarre, bioluminescent creatures, including siphonophores, which appear “to be a single organism” but are in reality “a colony of smaller animals—polyps and other beings called zooids.” Photographs were impossible, so Beebe worked with artists to visually recreate his observations; Fox includes many of those striking images. Some of the species Beebe described have never been seen again, giving credence to Barton’s assertion that the two were on an “oxygen jag” during certain dives. Original and often profound, this is a moving testament to the wonders of exploration. Illus. (May)