Winner of the 2024 National Book Foundation's Science + Literature Award
A Washington Post top 10 best book of 2023
A Publishers Weekly best nonfiction book of 2023
"Hypnotic . . . Beautifully written and beautifully made." —W. M. Akers, The New York Times Book Review
"one of the most beautiful books-as-objects of the year" —The Globe and Mail
"...one of the most fascinating and unusual new books I’ve read in some time." —Benjamin Shull, The Wall Street Journal "...a weird and often beautiful fusion of science writing, history and poetry that explores our own relationship with the unknown..." —Edward Posnett, The Guardian
"Mesmerizing . . . Original and often profound, [The Bathysphere Book] is a moving testament to the wonders of exploration." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Imbued with the adventurous spirit of science and exploration . . . [The Bathysphere Book is] an enchanting cabinet of curiosities." —Kirkus Reviews
A wide ranging, philosophical, and sensual account of early deep sea exploration and its afterlives, The Bathysphere Book begins with the first ever voyage to the deep ocean in 1930 and expands to explore the adventures and entanglements of its all-too-human participants at a time when the world still felt entirely new.
In the summer of 1930, aboard a ship floating near the Atlantic island of Nonsuch, marine biologist Gloria Hollister sat on a crate, writing furiously in a notebook with a telephone receiver pressed to her ear. The phone line was attached to a steel cable that plunged 3,000 feet into the sea. There, suspended by the cable, dangled a four-and-a-half-foot steel ball called the bathysphere. Crumpled inside, gazing through three-inch quartz windows at the undersea world, was Hollister’s colleague William Beebe. He called up to her, describing previously unseen creatures, explosions of bioluminescence, and strange effects of light and color.
From this momentous first encounter with the unknown depths, The Bathysphere Book widens its scope to explore a transforming and deeply paradoxical America, as the first great skyscrapers rose above New York City and the Great Plains baked to dust. In prose that is magical, atmospheric, and entirely engrossing, Brad Fox dramatizes new visions of our planetary home, delighting in tales of the colorful characters who surrounded, supported, and participated in the dives—from groundbreaking scientists and gallivanting adventurers to eugenicist billionaires.
The Bathysphere Book is a hypnotic assemblage of brief chapters along with over fifty full-color images, records from the original bathysphere logbooks, and the moving story of surreptitious romance between Beebe and Hollister that anchors their exploration. Brad Fox blurs the line between poetry and research, unearthing and rendering a visionary meeting with the unknown.
About the Author
Brad Fox is a writer living in New York. His novel, To Remain Nameless, was published by Rescue Press in 2020. His stories, articles, and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, Guernica, Public Domain Review, and the Whitney Biennial. He has worked as a researcher and story consultant for novelists and filmmakers, and he had an earlier career as a journalist and relief worker in the Balkans, Mexico, the Arab world, and Turkey.
Winner of the 2024 National Book Foundation's Science + Literature Award
"By turns philosophical and elegiac, Fox’s history of Beebe’s explorations is a hypnotic ode to the world beneath the waves. This is no straightforward narrative but a book built from scraps that belie its intricate engineering. It is also an exceptionally beautiful object, bursting with full-color illustrations and paintings of the creatures Beebe encountered." —Carl Hoffman, A Washington Post top 10 best book of 2023
"The fatal implosion of the Titan submersible is a reminder that, for all its beauty, the ocean can be an unforgiving place, one that should be explored with humility. William Beebe held the primordial waters in awe. His reflections from a half-mile down suffuse one of the most fascinating and unusual new books I’ve read in some time." —Benjamin Shull, The Wall Street Journal
"Hypnotic . . . Beautifully written and beautifully made, The Bathysphere Book is a piece of poetic nonfiction that strives to conjure up the crushing blackness of the midnight zone. Full color, overflowing with stunning illustrations of the uncanny creatures that live beyond the sun, it raises questions of exploration and wonder, of nature and humanity, and lets readers find answers on their own . . . A dreamy, relaxing read." —W. M. Akers, The New York Times Book Review
"[The Bathysphere Book] is a weird and often beautiful fusion of science writing, history and poetry that explores our own relationship with the unknown—how we make sense of something fundamentally new with the limited tools at our disposal." —Edward Posnett, The Guardian
"The Bathysphere Book... holds up a mirror to a pioneering explorer of the deep seas... Fox unspools a quirky, digressive series of meditations on Beebe, his times and ours" —Financial Times 'Wondrous... Beebe’s descent becomes a Blakean heaven or hell, as the giant eyeball of the bathysphere hangs in the abyss... As Fox dives into Beebe’s biography, the book itself becomes the bathysphere" —Philip Hoare, Spectator
"The Bathysphere Book is wonderful, in the literal sense: filled with wonder. Brad Fox illuminates the extraordinary discoveries of the ocean depths, to be sure, but also of the scientists and artists who first explored them, less than a century ago. To read this glorious and beautifully illustrated account—relayed with what its protagonist William Beebe called 'the oblique glance', the wisdom that everything is connected—is to feel again a child's awed delight at human ingenuity, and at our planet." —Claire Messud, author of The Emperor's Children and A Dream Life
"What is this sublime, remarkable book? It’s a black unreadable eye sliding past a submarine window, it’s a color on an alien spectrum, it’s a fish made of filaments and lit by its own light. I don’t know what it is, I only know that it’s luminous." —Shelley Jackson, author of The Melancholy of Anatomy and Riddance
"Exquisite and shocking, endless space and hypnotic details all pressed together at once, just as any exploration of the deep should be. Brad Fox shows there is so much in the deep ocean to know and think about and change who we are." —Helen Scales, author of The Brilliant Abyss
"Brad Fox has created a brilliant work of literary art—at once almanac and seance, wonder-cabinet and hallucinogen. The vigor, pluck, and compression of his language turn a linear chronicle into a time-bending, gem-laden constellation, with surprising flashes of wit, gossip, and melodrama." —Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Ultramarine and The Cheerful Scapegoat
"Brad Fox knows that the descent into the deep meant a sea-change not just in science, but in aesthetics, philosophy, the sense of what it is to be human. All have been changed, become rich and strange, as this rich, strange book shows so beautifully." —China Miéville, author of The City in the City and This Census-Taker
“In Brad Fox's retelling the life work of an explorer-scientist becomes a thing of rich poetry, strange imaginings and otherworldly beauty. A wonderous, mesmerising collage of a book, one that celebrates the natural world while pushing up against the tantalising limits of human knowledge and perception.” —Helen Gordon, author of Notes from Deep Time: A Journey Through Our Past and Future Worlds
"Brad Fox has produced an impressionistic work of art depicting one of the greatest moments of discovery in human history. Fashioned from short, nimble verbal strokes, this gem of a book provides tantalizing glimpses of deep-sea life, alongside flashes of insight into the lives of William Beebe and his team of explorers." —Edith Widder, author of Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea