Reviews for The Bathysphere book : effects of the luminous ocean depths

Publishers Weekly
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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)

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A loose history of the bathysphere that’s imbued with the adventurous spirit of science and exploration. Designed by diver and inventor Otis Barton in the late 1920s, the bathysphere was a spherical, submersible, windowed chamber that allowed scientists to observe marine life in their natural environment. From 1930 to 1934, Barton and the naturalist William Beebe performed record-setting dives off Nonsuch Island in Bermuda, exploring depths and seeing luminescent, phantasmagoric fish that had never before been recorded. While centered on the Nonsuch dives, the book unfurls its tentacles to adopt a strange new form, caught between a biography of Beebe, a collection of oddball anecdotes, and a meditation on the pursuit of knowledge. Fox, author of the novel To Remain Nameless, eschews a traditional chronology for a more constellation-shaped story, jumping among interrelated vignettes. For example, the author connects Beebe’s 1925 adventure aboard the ship the Arcturus to a 1930s production of King Kong (the co-director was coincidentally aboard the Arcturus and likely drew inspiration from Beebe’s exploits). Elsewhere in the book, Beebe visits a friend during a hurricane, which prompts Fox to recount the strange-but-true story of Dr. James Barry, who was born female in 1789 but lived and worked their whole life as a man. Some readers may be frustrated by Fox’s vaguely connected tangents and wish instead for a more linear history, but there’s a method to his pacing. Beebe believed “no action or organism is separate” and that all of life was “underwritten by the same natural forces.” In Fox’s words, “it was not the number of species that mattered, but how they all fit together, and to sense that, you had to feel around at the edges of things…into the immaterial meaning of things.” Fox seeks to not just tell Beebe’s story, but to embody his philosophy, and he explores the vast potential of storytelling and searches its depths for glimmers of life and connectivity. An enchanting cabinet of curiosities. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.