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Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II Hardcover – June 29, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 948 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This superlative journalistic narrative tells of John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two deep-sea wreck divers who in 1991 dove to a mysterious wreck lying at the perilous depth of 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey. Both had a philosophy of excelling and pushing themselves to the limit; both needed all their philosophy and fitness to proceed once they had identified the wreck as a WWII U-boat. As Kurson, a writer for Esquire, narrates in this debut, the two divers next undertook a seven-year search for the U-boat's identity inside the wreck, in a multitude of archives and in a host of human memories. Along the way, Chatterton's diving cost him a marriage, and Kohler's love for his German heritage helped turn him into a serious U-boat scholar. The two lost three of their diving companions on the wreck and their mentor, Bill Nagle, to alcoholism. (Chowdhury's The Last Dive, from HarperPerennial in 2002, covers two of the divers' deaths.) The successful completion of their quest fills in a gap in WWII history-the fate of the Type IX U-boat U-869. Chatterton and Kohler's success satisfied them and a diminishing handful of U-boat survivors. While Kurson doesn't stint on technical detail, lovers of any sort of adventure tale will certainly absorb the author's excellent characterizations, and particularly his balance in describing the combat arm of the Third Reich. Felicitous cooperation between author and subject rings through every page of this rare insightful action narrative. If the publishers are dreaming of another Perfect Storm, they may get their wish.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Deep-wreck divers are used to operating with almost no headroom and in zero visibility, navigating by touch alone; it is a compliment to be told "When you die, no one will ever find your body." Despite the dangers, wreck divers are typically weekend warriors, men who leave families and jobs behind to test themselves at two hundred feet down. Kurson's exciting account centers on two divers, John Chatterton and Robert Kohler, who in 1991 found an unidentified U-boat embedded in the ocean floor off the coast of New Jersey. The task of identifying it leads them to Germany, Washington, D.C., and the darkest corners of the submarine itself. Some of the most haunting moments occur on land, as when the divers research the lives of the doomed German sailors whose bones they swim among. Once underwater, Kurson's adrenalized prose sweeps you along in a tale of average-guy adventure.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375508589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508585
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (948 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is one of those rare books that you know within the first dozen pages it's going to be a great read and you're going to be disappointed when it ends. Robert Kurson's tremendous research combined with a great historical narrative style results in learning not only about the lives of the living players such as Chatterton and Kohler, but the dead sailors on the submarine as well. While this is Kurson's book, you can see the extensive contribution provided by Chatterton, Kohler and others who shared the experience. This book fits beautifully with "The Last Dive", which I reviewed here a few years ago. I did learn things here, which surprised me relative to "The Last Dive". I thought they had been doing mixed-gas diving much longer on U-869 then just before the Rouse's arrival. Chapter 2 is about the dangers of wreck diving and sets the stage of what to expect throughout the remainder of the book. Kurson makes sure the reader understands this wasn't just a bunch of treasure hunters looking for some "stuff". These guys respected this dive site as sacred resting place for these German sailors and their actions (including their own research) supported that belief. And in the end, I was right...it was a disappointment to see it end.
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Format: Hardcover
This retelling of true events is as good and as close as you can get to the excitement of made up fiction. Admittedly the author, Robert Kurson, had good material with which to work, but a writer of lesser talent could have easily botched this little gem of an opportunity. As it is, Kurson's ability to grab the reader and maintain his/her full attention throughout a story that spans more than six years, is a testament to his writing prowess.

Kurson puts us in the center of the action as we learn about the discovery of a mysterious submarine shipwreck--not one of ours--just 60 miles east of Pt. Pleasant, NJ. In nautical terms this is literally in our backyard. Resting on the bottom of the ocean at 233 feet, it is a depth that is tantalizingly close, yet dangerously deep and accessible to all but a few of the most experienced deep diving specialists.

Central to the story are the truly larger than life main characters: hard drinking rough hewn John Nagle, Captain of the dive-boat and world renowned wreck diving legend; two peas in opposing pods, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, wreck diving enthusiasts who idolize Nagle and only hope to share in some of the excitement that he has experienced in the past; and a rather odd assortment of other players who come and go at different times. Along the way we witness relationships destroyed, marriages ruined, jobs forfeited, sanity questioned, and even lives tragically lost, all in the single minded pursuit to solve a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.

Kurson pulls it all together nicely, and without revealing the end, I will just say that this book is a richly rewarding experience for the reader. Good books like this leave me wanting to know so much more about the characters, sort of "where are they now?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a WWII history buff and a diver, I had read "The Last Dive", which is based on the U 869. After reading the Pre-release info about "Shadow Divers", I pre-ordered this book from Amazon, and waited with baited breath for it to arrive. When I received it on July 2nd, I immediately started reading. I was not disappointed. The book is not written in a sensationalistic journalistic fashion as it could have been. It was immediately obvious that Robert Kurson did a lot of homework before putting pen to paper. Kurson doesn't delve into the intricacies of tech diving as others before him, instead, he concentrates his efforts on the lead characters, Chatterton, Kohler and the U869. While reading about some of Chatterton and Kohler's close calls, I found my nerves on edge, the frightening situations almost tangible. Kurson does a great job of bringing back to life the U boat crew, memories that probably would have been forgotten if it was not for Chatterton, Kohler and Kurson. The author did this phenomenal story great justice.
This book is as good as any suspense novel out there, but the diffference is that it is true. I highly recommend this book to diver and non-diver alike!
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Format: Hardcover
....but a mite overwrought. Kurson does a remarkable job recounting the story of the men who found and identified a German submarine of the coast of New Jersey. The story transcends its gripping details to become a story of redemption: self-interested treasure-hunters in the habit of hauling mementos from shipwrecks ("Andrea Doria" china and the like) become genuinely interested in the history of the boat, genuinely frightened of the dangers in exploring it, and genuinely respectful of the German sailors who died in it.

From time-to-time Kurson lays it on pretty thick stylistically; the story is so dramatic (several divers died during the search) that it does not need melodramatic prose. There is an interesting but strangely apologetic chapter on the German sailors; Kurson seems a little too eager to prove that many of them had anti-Hitler leanings. This is surely true, but the story of the lost men, whose bones still rest on the bottom of the Atlantic, is tragic and touching regardless of their politics.

Still, if you like true adventures, you can't do better than this.
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