This very focused book centers around the Italian Cruise liner Andrea Doria that sank in 1956, and those who seek her out by diving down almost 250 feet to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. What makes this wreck special is the ship's grand magnificence, the relatively recent sinking, and the depth that is just at the edge of where advanced wreck divers can go. The Doria has also yielded an unusual amount of "artifacts," mementos that divers retrieve from a wreck (in this case mostly China). As a result of all this, the Andrea Doria has been called the "Mount Everest of diving," the ultimate adventure. And just like Mount Everest has claimed many victims, so has the Andrea Doria.
Author Kevin F. McMurray is not only an award-winning internationally acclaimed journalist and photographer, but also an expert scuba diver and swimmer. As a result, his insight into what it takes to dive the Andrea Doria is that of someone who has actually been there and done it, several times, and he is describing the experience in a style that is thoroughly enjoyable to read. It is rare that a professional writer is also an accomplished expert in the field he is writing about, and that is what makes this book special. It is both a spellbindingly told documentary and an adventure story. McMurray is factual at all times, yet never gets tedious. And while he follows a timeline and the book is broken down into individual sections and adventures, it all flows together and is not just a collection of thoughts.
The Andrea Doria sank when she collided with another ship, the Stockholm, about 50 miles south of Nantucket and 100 miles east of New York City. It was a freak accident where blame is still being discussed 50 years later. Due to the slow sinking and an excellent rescue effort, all but 51 of the 1,700 onboard were saved. Tragically, the resting location of the Doria, just within reach of deep divers, would claim a good many more victims, most excellently trained and experienced divers seeking adventure and the ultimate thrill. Their story is what McMurray's book is all about. That and of the two primary charter boats bringing divers to the Andrea Doria, the Wahoo and the Seeker.
Deep Descent doesn't pull any punches in telling the story of the Doria, its sinking, and in describing the people who have been seeking her out. The author knows those people, has lived with them, dived with them, interviewed them. The book is loosely organized along a timeline from the ship's sinking in 1956 to approximately 2000 (Deep Descent was published in 2001). It always describes the backgrounds of the characters, their careers, their personalities, and provides extra information on gear, technologies, organizations, feuds, etc., when necessary. Not too much, not too little, just so the reader gets the full picture. The reader is there when divers go down, encounter problems and either escape them, or not. We also learn about the rapid advances in diving science and equipment over the years, with the early "cowboys" of deep diving gradually giving way to technical divers using a variety of breathing gasses and increasingly expensive high tech gear.
Adding to the enjoyment of reading Deep Descent are numerous photos. And they are not just the usual set of beauty shots combined in a section in the center of the book. Instead, they are interspersed throughout the book, adding illustration. Several show dead and dying divers, though not in graphic detail. Unfortunately, all pictures are in black-and-white. This is one book where I'd gladly have paid more for color!
McMurray is remarkably unbiased in telling his story. Though he is one of the few qualified enough to dive the Andrea Doria, there is a humility in his words and no bragging at all. His accounts are non-judgmental and present all sides of arguments. There are the usual hints of dismissing older divers or those considered overweight, but there are no other biases.
Deep Descent is great reading, both for divers who will appreciate the expertly presented technical details, and for a general audience that is treated to a terrific adventure book. This is one I found hard to put down, a real page-turner. Since 2001 when the book was published, the Andrea Doria has continued to deteriorate, and a couple more divers died. It would be interesting to get a full update on the ship's fate. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com