Stars Beneath the Sea

Bookshelf: Stars Beneath the Sea

Stars Beneath the Sea: The Extraordinary Lives of the Pioneers of Diving – Trevor Norton

Stars Beneath the Sea
Stars Beneath the Sea

Marine biologist Trevor Norton channels Bill Bryson in this often hilarious collection of vignettes featuring a selection of the adventurers, scientists and other lunatics who shaped the last two hundred years’ history of skin and scuba diving. A propensity for gadget-making and a willingness to experiment on oneself seem to be the personal characteristics that have served these men (all of them, alas) very well in their chosen field.

I hadn’t heard of many of the pioneers profiled by Norton – much of their work was done during the First and Second World Wars, during which time many people were distracted with other matters. Some familiar names do crop up during the course of the narrative, however: Jacques Cousteau (in the chapter about Guy Gilpatric), George Bass (in the chapter on Peter Throckmorton), and John Scott Haldane, who will be familiar to all Divemaster candidates.

Norton contributes personal knowledge of at least one of his subjects: Jack Kitching, a British experimental zoologist. Kitching spent much of his career studying the marine life at Lough Hyne, Europe’s oldest marine reserve. During this time he used a surface supply of air and a makeshift diving helmet (involving a bucket and a hosepipe) to walk about on the bottom of the lough and collect samples. Norton has written more than one account of this time – you can read some here and here.

I found this a refreshing look back to a time when scuba diving wasn’t the slickly packaged, aggressively marketed, neon-hued “cool” sport that it is today. Norton’s writing is very funny, and he fully conveys the quirkiness and eccentricity that enabled his subjects to make some of the advances – scientific and experimental – that they did. I recommend this book – you’ll learn something, and after reading it you’ll probably want to do some further reading. All good things!

You can get a copy of the book here or here, otherwise (possibly – not often in stock) here if you’re in South Africa.

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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.