Explorations - Robert D. Ballard

Bookshelf: Explorations

Explorations: A Life of Underwater Adventure – Robert D. Ballard & Malcolm McConnell

Explorations - Robert D. Ballard
Explorations - Robert D. Ballard

Robert Ballard is the author of several other books I’ve reviewed here, and I must confess that this is one of the ones I enjoyed the most. He’s best known for his work locating the wreck of the Titanic, documented in a beautiful volume that balances history, science and anecdote.

This is more of a biography than the other books by Ballard that I’ve reviewed, and Ballard describes his path from navy recruit to graduate student to world-renowned marine geologist and explorer. It’s amply illustrated and very easy to read. More steeped in the everyday life of an academic, the book is also riddled with accounts (sensitively done) of the infighting, politics and jockeying for credit and funding that characterises the everyday life of a researcher.

Ballard isn’t really a diver; most of his work is on extremely deep wrecks and sites far beyond the reach of a human being in a wetsuit. He is one of the pioneers of the use of submersibles, and he recounts several times what it feels like to sink, in a small titanium bubble, deep into the darkness of the ocean. It’s quite scary-sounding… At that depth one is beyond all help, and if the submersible should get stuck, have a ballast problem, catch alight or lose power, there are very few options for escape. Sumbersibles are now equipped with very flexible steering equipment, but it still requires great patience and skill on the part of the pilots to deal with problems that may arise.

From a personal perspective, Ballard sounds as inept at marriage and fatherhood as Lance Armstrong – he tries to rationalise things (like divorcing his wife without warning, just after their college-age son had died in a car accident, because she wasn’t interesting and exciting enough for the world-famous explorer that he’d become) but just comes off sounding like a complete jackass. Fortunately being a decent human being doesn’t have any bearing on how adept one is at directing the search pattern of a submersible, but it’s still disappointing. His dealings with his colleagues and subordinates also seem fraught with conflict a lot of the time, and while his arrogance may be justified, it’s not attractive.

You can get a copy of the book here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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