Robert Kurson,
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who
Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II

(Ballantine, 2005)

Shadow Divers is a gripping tale that combines the best of real-life thrill-seeking adventure, undocumented war-time history, friendships and interpersonal drama. Author Robert Kurson brings the reader 223 feet underwater to the sunken remains of a German U-boat located just off the New Jersey coast. Officially, no U-boat ever got that close to the eastern seaboard, and there are no unaccounted-for U-boats that were hit in the area. Post-war record keepers cleaned everything up nicely, filling in the blanks in which data was unclear.

The divers in this story come from different backgrounds and opposing schools of thought about technique, teamwork and respect for historical artifacts. Men entrenched in different deep-sea diving camps are forced to work together, often clashing, but relying on one another for their survival. In the off season, the amateur historians of the team work with specialists around the globe to attempt to identify the U-boat by its artifacts and the official record of U-boat casualties. The men in this story suffer from alcoholism, addiction, work troubles, marriage strains and face the brink of death as a result of their devotion to diving and the mystery of the unknown German U-boat.

Kurson takes the reader inside the scientific, practical and physiological realities of deep-sea diving. He lays out the complex moral and ethical issues of disturbing grave sites and keeping personal treasure troves. He also humanizes the German soldiers who served on submarines for their country. At times, yes, the story does get a tad melodramatically overwrought, but overall this is a real-life true action adventure that Hollywood could do little to improve upon.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

18 September 2010

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