My Top 10 Reading List

by Jun 29, 2022

          I never get tired of diving. I never get tired of talking about diving, learning about diving, teaching diving, or reading about diving. Whether it’s a trade publication, consumer magazine, blog, novel, or instructional manual, any chance to stuff my brain with more knowledge and information is always welcome. Sometimes it’s important to my job as an instructor, and sometimes it’s just a fun diversion. Sometimes it’s both! Here’s a list, in no particular order, of my Top 10 favorite books about diving (at the moment). Each of these books, as well as others, adds one layer or another to the way I dive and think about diving. I think you’ll enjoy them and get a lot out of them. There are many others not on this list, but some of them do get a bit technical. If you’re interested in those, drop me a line and I’ll share those too!

1. Shadow Divers by Rob Kurson

Deep wreck-diving legend John Chatterton discovers an unknown submarine off the New Jersey coast, thus beginning a six-year, odds-against-them journey to identify it. New friends are made, friends die, marriages are strained, and dive skills are put to the test. Kurson writes so well that this book reads like a novel with cliffhangers all over the place. However, it’s all true. This is the book that got me into technical diving, and I was lucky enough to learn tech and deep wreck diving from John himself.

Shadow Divers Robert Kurson

2. Pirate Hunters by Rob Kurson

The further adventures of John Chatterton. This time, he and John Mattera are seeking the lost pirate ship of Joseph Bannister, the Golden Fleece. If they can find and identify it, it will be only the second pirate ship officially discovered since the Wydah off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But of course, they’ll have to deal with nations, governments, and rivals along the way. It’s not quite as good as Shadow Divers, in my opinion, but Kurson’s definitely still got it.

3. Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria by Kevin F. McMurray

The Andrea Doria (named after the 16th-century Genoese admiral) was the pride of the Italian cruise fleet until bad weather and bad decisions got her broadsided by the Swedish icebreaker, Stockholm, in 1956. Now lying in about 240 feet of water, she’s long been called the “Mount Everest of Scuba Diving.” While providing an exciting and profound diving experience to those properly trained, equipped, and careful, the Doria has certainly earned her “Mount Everest” moniker by claiming the lives of many divers over the decades. A great read.

4. On the Bottom: The Raising of the Submarine S-51 by Edward Ellsberg

The collision and sinking of the S-51 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in 1925 was a terrible accident that resulted in the tragic loss of 33 submariners’ lives. The salvage operation, led by then-Lieutenant Commander Edward Ellsberg, however, is a storied tale of heroism, innovation, and hard work. This is a great book, detailing US Naval salvage operations at depths that seem relatively tame today. But in 1926, in the infancy of hard hat diving, and in the cold, low-visibility waters of New York, the work these men did is absolutely amazing. One of the principal divers, Chief Gunner’s Mate Tom Eadie, went on to write his own book about the operation, as well as the salvage of the S-4 submarine in 1928, called “I Like Diving.” Good luck finding that one…

5. Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II by Herbert A. Werner

While not really about diving, per se, this was one of the books I read to get in the mindset of diving deep shipwrecks. It’s a fascinating read. I’m not sure which was scarier, being in the torpedo sights of a German U-Boat during WWII or being aboard one. I do know that if you had to be on one, you wanted to be on the one Werner was on. This guy was apparently charmed. Commander Werner details the shift from the time when U-Boats owned the ocean and were the terrors of the seas to the time when they found themselves on the run from great advances in American and British technology and tactics. Toward the end of the war, very few U-Boats returned to their home ports.

Iron Coffins Herbert Werner

6. Dark Descent: Diving and the Deadly Allure of the Empress of Ireland by Kevin F. McMurray

Although less well-known than the Andrea Doria, the Empress of Ireland is yet another case of mistaken intentions and poor decision making that led to the loss of over a thousand lives when she collided with the Norwegian cargo ship, SS Storstad, in the wee hours of May 1914. Now in 130 feet of water in the frigid, dangerous waters of the St. Lawrence river, the Empress provides thrilling dive opportunities to those qualified and daring enough to try. McMurray is always a fun read.

Dark Descent Kevin F McMurray

7. Diver Down: Real-World SCUBA Accidents and How to Avoid Them by Michael R. Ange

Mike Ange is quite the biggie in the scuba industry. He’s authored numerous publications and has served on the training or safety boards of many of the biggest scuba training agencies. In this book Mike lets you learn from others’ mistakes by detailing dozens of dive accidents, mostly resulting from diver error. Many of these ended in serious injury or death. Ange then teaches you how to avoid these same situations with many what-to-do and what-not-to-do explanations. This is a great read for safety-conscious divers.

Diver Down Michael R Ange

8. Titanic’s Last Secrets by Brad Matsen

Another book that doesn’t really have a lot of actual diving in it, but it’s still a fascinating peek into the world of shipwrecks by going into great depth (no pun intended) with the most famous wreck of all, RMS Titanic. Diving legends John Chatterton and Richie Kohler are tasked with discovering whether Titanic was truly built to be “unsinkable” or not. Read the book to find out what they discovered! Matsen may also put to rest some myths you’ve come to believe about Titanic and her sinking…

Titanic's Last Secrets Brad Matsen

9. The Last Dive: A Father and Son’s Fatal Descent Into the Ocean’s Depths by Bernie Chowdhury

Many of you may think to shy away from this book since it does end in tragedy and death. No, that’s not a spoiler; it tells you right on the cover. Nonetheless, I encourage everyone to read it. Not only is it a well-written and fascinating story, but it’s also full of very important lessons for life. If you take nothing else away from it, never allow poor planning, cost-cutting measures, bad attitude, or ego to have any place in your future dives!

The Last Dive Bernie Chowdhury

10. Deco for Divers by Mark Powell

This is the one “technical” book I’ve included in the list because it’s not really ALL that “technical.” Powell is one of the foremost experts in decompression theory, gives countless lectures and teaching presentations around the world, and is the Director of Global Development for Technical Divers International. This book is pretty much required reading for anybody interested in decompression theory. It is indeed aimed primarily at the advanced diver, but it’s full of knowledge and information that anybody can understand and find useful. I’ve taken his 12-week course based on this book, and interacting with Mark throughout the course certainly increased my knowledge far beyond what I thought would be possible. Not just for tech divers, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in deco theory and just what’s going on in your body every time you dive.

Deco For Divers Mark Powell

Happy reading!

Until next time, never stop learning, never settle for “good enough,” and stay sharky, my friends!