Winner of the 2024 National Book Foundation's Science + Literature Award
A Washington Post top 10 best book of 2023
A Publishers Weekly best nonfiction book of 2023
"Hypnotic . . . Beautifully written and beautifully made."
—W. M. Akers, The New York Times Book Review
"one of the most beautiful books-as-objects of the year"
—The Globe and Mail
"...one of the most fascinating and unusual new books I’ve read in some time."
—Benjamin Shull, The Wall Street Journal
"...a weird and often beautiful fusion of science writing, history and poetry that explores our own relationship with the unknown..."
—Edward Posnett, The Guardian
"Mesmerizing . . . Original and often profound, [The Bathysphere Book] is a moving testament to the wonders of exploration."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Imbued with the adventurous spirit of science and exploration . . . [The Bathysphere Book is] an enchanting cabinet of curiosities."
A wide ranging, philosophical, and sensual account of early deep sea exploration and its afterlives, The Bathysphere Book begins with the first ever voyage to the deep ocean in 1930 and expands to explore the adventures and entanglements of its all-too-human participants at a time when the world still felt entirely new.
In the summer of 1930, aboard a ship floating near the Atlantic island of Nonsuch, marine biologist Gloria Hollister sat on a crate, writing furiously in a notebook with a telephone receiver pressed to her ear. The phone line was attached to a steel cable that plunged 3,000 feet into the sea. There, suspended by the cable, dangled a four-and-a-half-foot steel ball called the bathysphere. Crumpled inside, gazing through three-inch quartz windows at the undersea world, was Hollister’s colleague William Beebe. He called up to her, describing previously unseen creatures, explosions of bioluminescence, and strange effects of light and color.
From this momentous first encounter with the unknown depths, The Bathysphere Book widens its scope to explore a transforming and deeply paradoxical America, as the first great skyscrapers rose above New York City and the Great Plains baked to dust. In prose that is magical, atmospheric, and entirely engrossing, Brad Fox dramatizes new visions of our planetary home, delighting in tales of the colorful characters who surrounded, supported, and participated in the dives—from groundbreaking scientists and gallivanting adventurers to eugenicist billionaires.
The Bathysphere Book is a hypnotic assemblage of brief chapters along with over fifty full-color images, records from the original bathysphere logbooks, and the moving story of surreptitious romance between Beebe and Hollister that anchors their exploration. Brad Fox blurs the line between poetry and research, unearthing and rendering a visionary meeting with the unknown.
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.