In Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss, Brad Matsen brings to vivid life the famous deep-sea expeditions of Otis Barton and William Beebe. At a time when no one had traveled deeper than a few hundred feet, they took the world to a half mile down. At the height of the Depression, Beebe and Barton plumbed the depths of the ocean in nothing but a steel sphere, setting two records at once: it was also the first time a dramatic journey of discovery was broadcast live in America and Europe.
Beebe was an internationally acclaimed naturalist when he became obsessed with oceanography. He had an oceanographic research station on Nonsuch Island off Bermuda and a tug that could launch the craft. Beebe also had the support of many of the most famous financiers and industrialists of the day, the ability to drum up publicity wherever he went, and connections at the New York Zoological Society and National Geographic.
Barton was half Beebe’s age and heir to a considerable fortune, and had long dreamed of deep-sea exploration and making his mark on the world as an adventurer. Barton had the engineering skill to design the craft—his idea was simple, yet elegant: a steel sphere with thick portholes tethered to a support ship by a steel cable—and he had the wherewithal to build it. Together, Beebe and Barton would achieve what no one had done before—direct observation of life in the blackness of the abyss. But even as they achieved their greatest success, a bitter rift left the two explorers on barely more than speaking terms.
In this vivid narrative history of scientific vision, courage, and adventure, Brad Matsen illuminates the dramatic achievements of Beebe and Barton against the backdrop of the great age of exploration, in a riveting tale of man and nature.
“I could not put this book down; Descent is fascinating not only as a tale of high scientific adventure but also as a psychological study of two men who risked their lives to plumb the abyss.” —Oliver Sacks, author of Uncle Tungsten
“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. It is 1930. With his trusty sidekick Otis Barton, William Beebe prepares to descend in a sealed steel ball to a half mile down, to look for weird and wonderful deep-sea creatures. Will he find them? Will he and Barton succeed in their record-breaking dive? In this wonderful book, you will find the answers to these and any number of other fascinating questions about deep-sea exploration.” —Richard Ellis, author of Deep Atlantic, Imagining Atlantis, and The Search for the Giant Squid
“Brad Matsen’s Descent is the Seabiscuit of the deep ocean. It evokes an amazing era when we humans were just discovering the planet we live on, and it never lets up with the drama of risk-taking in the name of science. I absolutely loved this book.” —Ray Troll, artist and author of Rapture of the Deep, and Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea, and Dancing to the Fossil Record
Brad Matsen is represented by Random House Speakers Bureau
Brad Matsen is the author of many books about the sea and its inhabitants. He was a creative producer for the television series The Shape of Life. His articles on marine science and environmental topics have appeared in Mother Jones, Audubon, and Nature, among other publications. He divides his time between Seattle and New York City.