517QAKZPMXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_A legendary naturalist and a wealthy engineering student come together in the name of science (and glory) in this highly readable look at the discoveries that made William Beebe and Otis Barton international celebrities of the Depression era. Journalist and nature-doc producer Matsen (Planet Ocean, etc.) shows how Barton, who’d long dreamed of undersea adventure, convinced the already-famous Beebe that his diving device will be the key to Beebe’s success. Barton would pay for the bathysphere—a four-and-a-half-foot steel ball dangling from a wire rope and ventilated by its occupants waving a palm leaf fan—and thus go along for the ride. The men were personally incompatible, but they made an effective team; from 1929 to 1934, they made more than 20 dives off Bermuda and many improvements in their vehicle. Matsen devotes greater energy to Beebe, noting how his scientific credentials were often questioned—a bon vivant, he wrote for Ladies’ Home Journal as well for Science. Matsen also pays tribute to the duo’s support team (which Beebe often did not), including wildlife artist Else Bostelmann. From interpersonal conflict to the first radio broadcast from the ocean’s depths and the intricate negotiations with National Geographic Society that enabled them to make their last dive in the depths of the Depression, Matsen’s account is a thoroughly researched, fluently written addition to the history of science. —Publishers Weekly

Today, it corrodes in a utility yard abutting the Coney Island roller coaster. Seventy years ago, it was front-page news, plunging into the sea off Bermuda. It’s the original bathysphere, the brainchild of Otis Barton, who teamed up with zoologist William Beebe. In Matsen’s history of their partnership, Barton needed Beebe for his fame and social connections, while Beebe needed Barton for his money, and on that pragmatic basis–they apparently disliked each other–they pioneered deep-sea diving from 1928 to 1934. Their project was dressed up as scientific research, but record-setting, death–defying adventure was its sine qua non. At that time, a few hundred feet was as deep as anyone had gone; then Barton learned that Beebe had a submersible project. It won’t work, thought -engineering-educated Barton, who offered instead a steel sphere on a cable. Its operations and occasional malfunctions dramatize Matsen’s account, which is further vitalized by the portraits of the protagonists. A marvelous story for maritime mavens. Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

2 Responses to “Descent”


  1. 1 Kerry Prendergast July 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Mr. Matsen:

    I am the Library Director at the Wildlife Conservation Society and would like to speak to you if you are available. You worked with a former Library Director, Steve Johnson, on your book, Descent.

    Can you please email me or call me (718-741-1122) with your contact information.

    Thank you,
    Kerry Prendergast

    • 2 Janil Miller January 31, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Mr. Matsen:

      I have been reading and enjoying “Descent: the heroic discovery of the abyss” and greatly appreciated the research you did on this fascinating subject. I was wondering, if you ever came across a copy of Barton’s film Titans if the Deep? And if so, what institution holds it? I’ve been searching with no luck and thought you might have glimpsed it, if it still exists.

      Thanks in advance for any information/direction you can provide.
      Sincerely,

      JK Miller


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