Book Review: Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

Shadow Divers: The True Adventures of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
by Robert Kurson
Copyright 2004
Publisher: Ballantine Books
356 pages

Rating: 9.5/10

Summary: In 1991, a scuba diver named John Chatterton found a World War II U-boat roughly sixty miles off the New Jersey coast. No one could have known that Chatterton’s find was just the beginning of a great mystery that would take years to unravel. Robert Kurson’s book about these events – Shadow Divers – is a fantastic story that anyone can enjoy.

Review: My local library had a copy of Shadow Divers in its discards for 50 cents. I decided to buy it thinking that I had little lose. It was a lucky break, as I discovered an incredible, true story about two divers who found a long-lost German U-boat. Shadow Divers is the best sort of nonfiction – an amazing story told by a skilled writer.

Wreck Divers

Some of the best stories in Shadow Divers take place long before the discovery of U-boat. Author Robert Kurson explores the world of wreck divers – scuba divers who go far beneath the ocean’s surface to examine sunken ships. Wreck divers often work in total darkness inside dangerous, crushed vessels and – as a result – often die while exploring the wrecks.


Shadow Divers is also blessed with amazing, “real-life” characters. If you were trying to cast a movie, you couldn’t create these people –

– Bill Nagle – is the acknowledged superstar of the wreck divers but he has a surly personality and a terrible drinking problem.

– John Chatterton – is the book’s central figure. Born into a wealthy family (his father was a Yale graduate), Chatterton chooses to forgo college in order to become a medic on the front lines in Vietnam. His experiences in that war – which Kurson covers – would be a good book by themselves.

Once Chatterton returns to the U.S., he struggles to find his niche. Then, he takes a course and becomes an underwater construction worker in the New York City area. Eventually, Chatterton begins to dive shipwrecks in his spare time. Chatterton sees diving as a supreme test of oneself, and the U-boat mystery gradually consumes him.

– Richie Kohler works in a glass business with is father. He grew up on the water and remains fascinated by it. Eventually, he falls into a hard-partying group called the Atlantic Wreck Divers. Kohler and Chatterton initially dislike each other, but the U-boat mystery creates a friendship. Kohler’s German-American heritage helps “hook” him on the sub mystery.

The Mystery

The U-boat will not give up its secret for several years. Neither German nor American records indicate that a German sub should have been anywhere near the spot where it was found. Chatterton and Kohler make many dives and travel the world in an attempt to identify the sub. (In wreck diving, much of the glory goes to the person who can i.d. the wreck).

By taking on their research, the divers go deep into the past – into the World War II era – in both Germany and the U.S. Author Kurson does a great job of re-creating that lost era and what it was like for the men who served on the U-boats. The book includes some interesting thoughts about bravery in the face of long odds.

Wrapping Up

There are so many superlatives about Shadow Divers – wreck diving, larger-than-life characters, a journey into the past, etc. Tying all of this together is Kurson’s prose, which keeps the pages turning. This one is a winner. Read it.

About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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