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The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration [Hardcover]

Robert D. Ballard , Will Hively
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

14 Feb 2000

Until a few decades ago, the ocean depths were almost as mysterious and inaccessible as outer space. Oceans cover two-thirds of the earth's surface with an average depth of more than two miles--yet humans had never ventured more than a few hundred feet below the waves. One of the great scientific and archaeological feats of our time has been finally to cast light on the "eternal darkness" of the deep sea. This is the story of that achievement, told by the man who has done more than any other to make it possible: Robert Ballard.

Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He led the teams that discovered hydrothermal vents and "black smokers"--cracks in the ocean floor where springs of superheated water support some of the strangest life-forms on the planet. He was a diver on the team that explored the mid-Atlantic ridge for the first time, confirming the theory of plate tectonics. Today, using a nuclear submarine from the U.S. Navy, he's exploring the ancient trade routes of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for the remains of historic vessels and their cargo. In this book, he combines science, history, spectacular illustrations, and first-hand stories from his own expeditions in a uniquely personal account of how twentieth-century explorers have pushed back the frontiers of technology to take us into the midst of a world we could once only guess at.

Ballard begins in 1930 with William Beebe and Otis Barton, pioneers of the ocean depths who made the world's first deep-sea dives in a cramped steel sphere. He introduces us to Auguste and Jacques Piccard, whose "Bathyscaph"descended in 1960 to the lowest point on the ocean floor. He reviews the celebrated advances made by Jacques Cousteau. He describes his own major discoveries--from sea-floor spreading to black smokers--as well as his technical breakthroughs, including the development of remote-operated underwater vehicles and the revolutionary search techniques that led to the discovery and exploration of the Titanic, the Nazi battleship Bismarck, ancient trading vessels, and other great ships.

Readers will come away with a richer understanding of history, earth science, biology, and marine technology--and a new appreciation for the remarkable men and women who have explored some of the most remote and fascinating places on the planet.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Printing edition (14 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691027404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691027401
  • Product Dimensions: 3.7 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

As a young man, at a time when most of his peers were turning their eyes to deep space, Robert Ballard came under the spell both of scientific inquiry and of the ocean. After taking a doctorate in marine geology and geophysics, he spent three decades at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, through which he participated in more than a hundred deep-sea expeditions. Writing from the point of view of "a privileged witness to a fascinating burst of exploration", Ballard recounts many of those explorations, including the first up-close studies of the great mid-ocean ridge of volcanic mountains that circles the globe, full of seafloor vents and "black smokers". Along the way Ballard provides a brief history of modern oceanography, looking at the contributions of such scientists as Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton, whose legendary dives in the early 1930s paved the way for much subsequent research. Ballard's narrative takes on particular vigour when he describes, in fascinating detail, his team's search for the wreckage of the Titanic--a search that relied on intelligent guesswork as much as on hard evidence. The methods he and his colleagues used--employing, among other things, sophisticated remote-control craft--to find the unfortunate vessel ushered in a new era of deep-ocean research, a contribution in which Ballard takes justified pride. --Gregory McNamee


Recipient of the Commonwealth Award for Science and Invention, Sigma Xi
Honorable Mention for the 2000 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Geography and Earth Sciences, Association of American Publishers

"The Eternal Darkness is a straightforward look at a complicated business that shows again not just that exploration is worth doing but that even at home here on earth it is far from over. . . . [It] is not really a book about the past. It's a promise that the "E" word remains the deepest adventure of them all."--Michael Parfit, New York Times Book Review

"Drawing from the expertise gained during his more than 100 trips into the abyss, Ballard highlights historical and scientific events that he and Hively expertly weave into a series of scintillating tales."--Loretta DiPietro, Scientific American

"Dr. Ballard is a passionate advocate of deep-sea exploration, pointing out that all such expeditions so far undertaken have probably surveyed less than one percent of the sea floor. . . . One can hardly disagree with Dr. Ballard's proposal that we should expand that one percent."--The Atlantic Monthly

"The man who found the Titanic, discovered black smokers on the sea floor, and first ventured into the mid-Atlantic ridge tells the story of deep-sea exploration. . . . Scores of photographs highlight the steadily absorbing text; together, words and pictures present a vital and authoritative general history of humanitys adventures deep beneath the waves."-- Publishers Weekly

"The Eternal Darkness is an excellent book . . . It is authoritative and well written, and . . . it is impossible to put down."--Richard Shelton, Times Literary Supplement

"Titanic discoverer Ballard . . . handily summarizes a technology unfamiliar to many readers. Ballard has published popular books about his recovery of other famous sunken ships besides the movie's namesake, which adds cachet to this more scholarly work."--Booklist

"Doing science is exciting! This is the main message of Ballard's fascinating combination memoir and history of deep ocean science."--Library Journal

"The Eternal Darkness is a highly readable book. . . . I am always on the lookout for books that will motivate and enthuse potential and present students. The Eternal Darkness will become a firm favourite on that list, as Ballard shows what can be achieved by hard work, determination and unbounded enthusiasm."--Paul Tyler, New Scientist

"A remarkable story of science and adventure, as fascinating as the exploration of space and the landing on the moon."--American Way (Airline Magazine)

"An informative and interesting book written with authority on a fascinating subject."--Daniel Lenihan, Naval History

"Pitched to the lay reader, Ballard's The Eternal Darkness is engaging, sometimes thrilling and always authentic. . . . Ballard was also involved in the 1985 discovery of the Titanic, and his account of the sleuthing that went into the hunt makes for terrific reading. . . ."--Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World

"This book takes the reader into the deep-sea realm along the discovery paths of famous deep-sea explorers as chronicled by the preeminent explorer of our time. Ballard's book will leave readers enlightened and concerned about the expanding role the oceans are playing as the future evolves."--Choice

"Cool technology meets personal obsession in this history that's also a memoir by the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic. Break out the bathospheres, the minisubs and the ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles); it's time to take the plunge and see what's Down There."--Washington Post Book World

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On June 11, 1930, the first humans entered the world of eternal darkness and returned alive. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars Supurb 11 Jan 2007
What a read, slightly one sided but then it is a personal history. Gives a very clear and excellent review of historical items to do with underwater exploration. Super read and could not put it down for 11 days.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balancing the reviews: Another exceptional volume by Ballard 30 Nov 2003
By Frank T. Manheim - Published on
The earlier reviews of The Eternal Darkness show the benefit of Amazon's review system. I get nothing for polishing Amazon's apple, but this company has transformed book selling in much the same way that Ballard took existing knowledge, technology, and organizational leadership and enthusiasm and converted them into historic discoveries on the ocean floor.
As one with longtime personal acquaintance with Ballard's oceanographic work, I advise readers not to place credence in one carping, jealous critic. On the other hand, without Amazon's review system how else could one ever learn of the nuanced, knowledgeable critique of "Time Walker"?
One noteworthy point is that beside his spectacular images and technical breakthroughs, Ballard is ever on the alert to new ideas and concepts. For example, he realized and has popularized the amazing resource that the Black Sea - which has no oxygen through most of its 2000 m depth - offers for finding new insights into ancient cultures. In this environment teredo worms and ordinary bacteria that destroy virtually all wood and metal are absent. The anaerobic bacteria that remain operate exceedingly slowly - offering the chance that even leather and sometimes paper might remain recoverable when wrecks are buried in mud.
Because of the popularity of Ballard's work he has enjoyed support of powerful organizations, from the U.S. Navy to National Geographic. He uses these resources not to enrich himself as many others might do, but primarily to advance further explorations whose costs might otherwise be prohibitive.
So enjoy the visual and the action in Ballard's book, and keep the mind open for the talk, and appreciate one of the large spirits of 20th Century and 21st Century science and exploration.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Science for the People. 27 Jan 2004
By tvtv3 - Published on
I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Ballard speak on some of his explorations. It was quite an honor because I remember when his team discovered the Titanic in 1985 and because of that discovery I have tried to keep up at least a popular know-how about science and technology. THE ETERNAL DARKNESS discusses some of the things Dr. Ballard spoke about when I heard him and some of the things I remember reading about when I was a kid.
The book is basically a very brief history of deep-sea exploration that is divided into three parts. The first part deals with exploration up until the time of the submersible. There really isn't much about ancient exploration techniques because until the beginning of the 20th century, humankind really wasn't doing any deep-sea exploring. The book talks a lot about bathyscaphs and bathyspheres, things that I only vaguely remember from old Walt Disney cartoons.
The second part of the book explores the discoveries made using submersibles. Ballard began his career near the beginning of the end of this age and it is in this section that he begins discussing many of his own personal voyages and discoveries, including those in the mountain ranges of the oceans.
The third part of the book talks about the events in deep-sea exploring from about the early 1980s on with robotic vehicles doing most of the really deep work. In this part of the book, Ballard discusses other discoveries he was involved with including the Titanic.
Personally, I found the book quite interesting. Ballard does seem to take a lot of credit for various discoveries and events, but he was actually there for the discoveries of those things or at least was a member of the team. This book probably isn't something that an expert in science would want to read (too easy), but it's great for the average Joe. If only all science books were as easy to read as this one.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book 21 Mar 2001
A Kid's Review - Published on
This book is the BEST book for people who want to learn about the hydrothermal vents, the RMS Titanic, or the Bismark. It brings out the best in Robert D. Ballard and sea exploration. It has information on just about everything Robert D. Ballard has found. When I first read this book, I almost flipped over. The hydrothermal vents are very interesting and the RMS Titanic has a big part in this book also.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Share it with your kids 23 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An amazing book which not only creates suspense and a sense of adventure but contains clear and cogent scientific explanations as well. Even the geology is clearly and interestingly described. This is a book for all ages, and should especially appeal to those with an interest in scientific discovery and the advancement of man's knowledge of the earth.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Personal history aside, a pretty good book 2 Jan 2006
By Barbara L. Lemaster - Published on
Dr. Ballard gives his account of discovering the wreck of the "Titanic," but he also fails to give credit where credit is due to many deepsea pioneers who made his work possible. I would've been happier with the book if there were less 'personal history' and more 'deepsea exploration.'
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