Spotlight Book Review--Deep by James Nestor

Here is a book review of James Nestor's book, Deep, a gripping journey into the world of freediving.
  1. Deep by James Nestor
    • Hardcover: 272 pages
    • Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (June 24, 2014)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0547985525
    • ISBN-13: 978-0547985527
    A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
    An Amazon Best Book of the Month
    Amazon Best Science Book of 2014
    Scientific American Recommended Read
    iTunes Top 20 Books of the Month
    Christian Science Monitor Editors' Pick: 10 Best Books of July
    BBC Book of the Week
    The Week Book of the Week
    Finalist for the PEN American Center Best Sports Book of the Year
    BuzzFeed 19 Best Nonfiction Books of 2014
    ArtForum Top 10 Book of 2014

    A screenshot of the book cover from James Nestor's website.
    Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.32.24 AM.png

    In 2011, Outside Magazine sent the author, James Nestor, to Greece to cover a freediving championship for the magazine. Nestor, a SCUBA diver, didn't know or particularly care much about freediving at that time, but following this assignment, he became obsessed with freediving.

    But the book is not just about freediving and its history and technical side. The book is about man's and specifically Nestor's relationship with the sea. It's about how difficult it is to study the ocean, especially at great depths, and how freediving can be a tool to surmount some of those difficulties.

    Freediving is a relatively new competitive sport with records kept since 1996, although any kind of diving without the use of SCUBA gear is considered freediving, such as spear fishing or the Japanese pearl divers, who have been doing it for hundreds of years. Freediving is dangerous and is considered the second most dangerous sport after BASE jumping.

    There is plenty of information in the book about the dangers of freediving, and the author recounts in horrifying detail what it's like to watch a competition in which many of the competitors return to the water's surface not breathing or bleeding from their noses and mouths or don't return to the surface at all and require rescue divers to look for them.

    As Nestor takes the reader through the history of all kinds of diving and the history and science of the bends or decompression sickness (DCS), he also explores the differences between freediving and diving with assisted-breathing equipment and how freediving offers certain advantages when studying marine life. For example, some sea creatures are afraid or repelled by the noise and bulk of equipment.

    In parallel with learning about freediving, the book also introduces you to many scientists studying the ocean and its inhabitants sometimes at great depth. At one point, Nestor is invited by Fabrice Schnöller from Reunion Island off the coast of Africa to attend an expedition several months away studying sperm whales and their methods of communication--if and only if he can learn to freedive.

    One of many requirements for freediving is learning how to equalize--quickly. Nestor struggles with that using the tried-and-true Valsalva Maneuver method. He eventually learns that freedivers usually use the Frenzel Maneuver as opposed to the Valsalva or Toynbee Maneuvers, the Lowry Technique, and the Edmonds Technique. Of course, learning how to do this maneuver correctly, and fast, is, well, a challenge.

    So, while the book is really four complex parallel stories told in tandem (everything you could possibly want to know about freediving, the challenges of studying marine life, man's relationship with the sea, and Nestor's own personal journey to learn how to freedive) Nestor's wit and detail make the journey interesting. The narrative that wanders a bit and would feel disorganized in a less skilled writer's hands is a veritable page turner.

    Don't let the fact that this book was published in 2014 give you pause. It's a terrific read for the armchair diver, and I highly recommend it. And wait until you get to the part about diving with sperm whales!

    And never dive alone.

    This is a royalty-free image from Pixabay.


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    Author Profile: Cynthia White

    Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU a long long time ago. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is Seawitch.

    Cynthia had hoped to become scuba certified but extreme difficulty equalizing which was later diagnosed as a malformation in her sinus spelled the end of her diving dreams. She's a devoted armchair diver today who loves to read about diving.

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