Thursday, 28 October 2021

Deep by James Nestor

Having enjoyed a previous book by James Nestor, Breath, in which the author discusses at some length the nature of breathing, I was delighted to discover that my county library catalogue had his previous book, Deep. Which is, of course, also connected with breathing in that it's all about the sport of free-diving (diving without artificial aids) and thus 'deep' breathing. I'm guessing one thing led to another...


At the time of writing this book author, James Nestor, was a journalist working for Outside magazine (he may well still be) and was sent to Greece to cover the free-diving championships which were taking place there. He knew practically nothing about it so was horrified to see divers surfacing with blood streaming out of their noses or having to be brought to the surface by rescuers because they'd blacked out. He soon discovers that it's the second most dangerous sport in the world, after that thing where people jump off cliffs and tall buildings with a parachute and hope it opens in time (its name eludes me). Apparently hundreds are injured or die every year free-diving.

Anyway, as you do, Nestor decides to do some more investigations and eventually to have a go. Of course in order to be any good whatsoever your lung capacity has to be increased considerably and thus your ability to hold your breath in order to get down to 300ft. and come back alive. That's not the world record by the way, the world record for free-diving is currently 702 feet. You read correctly. The pressure at that depth does awful things to your body, especially your lungs, so special behaviours have to be learnt and even those don't always work. The author finds it incredibly difficult, which the likes of me (fully paid-up member of CowardsRus)  find rather understandable...

But he soon learns that competitive diving is not the only use this form of diving is put to. He meets experts in sea mammals who dive with whales and dolphins and are trying to communicate with them. For me, this is when the book really took off. Whole sections are dedicated to echolocation and the clicks whales and dolphins use and investigations into exactly how they use this to communicate with each other. And us. One scientist thinks he's worked out a way to introduce himself to dolphins and that they 'reply' with their own signature.

I was rivetted by this and would love to find out more and will. But this is a fascinating book, so much detail included about the make-up of the ocean floor, the life down there and how much we don't know, we know more about outer space apparently. He talks about hydrothermal vents and the theory that that is where life began, about how our world is really built on microscopic bones, and how until recently it was thought that the bottom of the ocean was an uninhabited, underwater desert. Hint: it's not. 

I've read a handful of really excellent non-fiction books this year and Deep is yet another. I had no hesitation whatsoever in giving this five stars on Goodreads and can only hope James Nestor has more such books in the pipeline. As an author he reminds me a bit of Simon Winchester whose books are a similar mine of information, written in way that anyone can understand.


12 comments:

CLM said...

It's really the sign of a gifted author (and an avid reader!) if he can elicit and maintain interest in a completely new topic! I am not as good as you at finding such books. I don't read a lot of nonfiction and when I do it tends to be in a subject that already interests me like history or literature, but I do enjoy these books vicariously!

Some seem to be doing a November Nonfiction but I am just trying to read all my library books before they are due! Some libraries renew automatically if no one else is waiting and some do not - it can be hard to keep track and adjust my reading accordingly.

Jeane said...

I think I want to read this for exactly the same things you liked about it.

Cath said...

Constance: Yes, and it is a fairly new topic to me, although I did read one good book about cave diving at the beginning of the year and that's connected I suppose. To be honest it is quite hard to find these non-fiction books that completely engage me. They're out there I know it, Goodreads help with their lists but I also keep a close eye on the blogs I follow.

Yes, lots of people doing Non-fiction November, I've seem posts and watched vlogs on Youtube about it. I keep thinking I should join in but it feels a wee bit structured to me with four weekly posts to do and prompts although I don't think there's a set number of books. I'm still not inclined to do it though... daft really!

Cath said...

Jeane: The whales and dolphins sections absolutely fascinated me and were by far the best parts of the book. I'm going to look for further reading on that but am not sure where to start looking. See if Goodreads have any appropriate lists perhaps.

Sam Sattler said...

Poor swimmer that I am, I can't even come close to imagine what it must be like to participate in a sporting contest like this one. I'm mot sure I could even watch it. The book, though, sounds really interesting and well written. Five-Star books just don't come around every day; glad you enjoyed this one.

Lark said...

What a fascinating book! I don't know how people do this kind of free-diving. It would scare me to death, and I would probably drown. :)

TracyK said...

This sounds like a very good read, Cath. Especially since he covers information about the ocean too, not just the activity of diving. I can see how people could get hooked on it (diving itself) but not for me.

I did Nonfiction November last year and I did find it very structured, and hard to keep up with. However, you can just pick one, two or three of the weeks to participate in. There are no real rules. I picked up a lot of suggestions for reading that I would not have run into otherwise, but I have read less nonfiction this year than last year.

Cath said...

Sam: Poor swimmer here too. And *no way* can I even imagine trying this sport. The author was himself shocked when he got to the site in Greece, to see what was going on and wondered if the authorities would arrive and put a stop to it. I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly but I fancy Greece was chosen for the championships because the diving rules are a little more lax there. Funny how reading teaches you about ways of life you had no idea existed!

Cath said...

Lark: Me too... I have no clue how anyone would even 'want' to do this kind of thing. I know I'm a real wimp but even so! Oh, I would drown too, no doubt about it.

Cath said...

Tracy: Yes, I was quite surprised when the book turned out not to just be about diving but about our oceans in general and the life they support. Much more interesting than I was expecting.

Thanks for your take on Nonfiction November. I feel quite guilty about not taking part as I am a keen non-fiction reader and I should spread the word a bit more. I'll think about it.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I don't read biographies, but I do enjoy 'coffee table' non-fiction books, where I can just read a few pages at a time then walk away. NN definitely wouldn't be for me!

I don't swim at all and have an inherent fear of the water, which is really weird, because my perfect day out is down by the coast, preferably on a rocky shoreline, where I can just sit to watch and listen to the waves crashing on the rocks! Suggest that I go on a boat trip though, even on a small calm lake and I am a quivering wreck the entire time, sweaty palms, the lot!

I have a friend who has been all over the world diving and some of the pictures and stories she comes back with are truly amazing. Its funny, but on dry land she weighs less than 9st and has a multitude of illnesses, but weigh her down with a full air tank and a whole load of diving gear and throw her off the back of a boat, and she is as 'Happy as Larry!' She does have to do a certain amount of free diving in this country, somewhere down near Weymouth, when she goes to renew her licence each year, but nothing as extreme as this!!

Happy November Reading :)

Cath said...

Yvonne: I used to swim when I was a teenager - most people from Penzance do or did back then - but somehow or other I've forgotten how and am now a non-swimmer. I'd like to do something about it to be honest, take lessons at the swimming pool perhaps as I know it would do me good.

Like you I love sitting by a rocky shoreline, it's so soothing to the soul. Unlike you, I also enjoy being on boats but have become more nervous about it as I've got older. Same with flying, possibly I've read too much about things that can happen. Which is completely daft because the vast majority of the time it doesn't.

Interesting about your diving friend. I gather it's become really a really popular pursuit now, which surprises me as it's really not easy!

Enjoy your weekend.