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The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration Hardcover – 5 Mar 2000
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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
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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 humanity's 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)
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Robert Ballard is perhaps best known for his finding of the resting place of the Titanic. The technology that led to this success came after many decades of development, beginning with quite heroic explorations during the 1930s, in vessels that were little more than steel balls into which the adventurers were squeezed in the knowledge that they might not return.
This book is very much a personal account of the endeavours of its author, but he gives due credit to the pioneers who inspired him. In the first of the book’s three sections, he tells of these early expeditions, when the goal was primarily to reach a depth that broke records set by one’s competitors. These culminated in a descent to the Challenger Deep, in the Marianas Trench in 1960, a feat that has not been repeated. The US military realised the potential of deep sea exploration when it lost a submarine in 1963 and a nuclear bomb three years later.
Having overcome the major barriers, the era of scientific research could begin, facilitated by the use of free-diving submersibles. This led to the discoveries of the mid-ocean ridge, which confirmed the theory of plate tectonics, and the hydrothermal vents and black smokers that harbour exotic life that does not depend on photosynthesis. The implications for the origins of life on Earth are profound, while the potential for finding it on other planets has not gone un-noticed by NASA.
The final section deals with the use of unmanned submersibles in the archaeology of the deep seas, beginning with the Titanic expedition and going on to the search for ancient wrecks in the waters of the Mediterranean. In parallel with recent developments in space exploration, these vessels can now be fully controlled by scientists working in their laboratories on land, something about which the author is enthusiastic.
This is a well-told story of an exciting adventure that has just begun, with many more as yet unimagined discoveries still to be made.
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The main difference with this book vs. "Explorations" is that Ballard chronicles in more detail the history behind his groundbreaking discoveries. You appreciate his dangerous adventures aboard submersibles when others before him had far less sophisticated equipment to do the same job. I only wish he would have talked more about about early deep sea exploration via submersibles. His thoughts on death being only inches away every time he dove adds a special poignancy to the book that is especially worth taking to heart.
I would totally disagree with those who say Ballard doesn't give proper credit for his accomplishments. Ballard actually goes out of his way to give proper acknowledgment of his discoveries. He mentions scores of scientists and explorers who either go and help him on his expeditions. He lays an impressive groundwork for the work that goes before him and makes it perfectly clear he wouldn't be where he is today without those people.
I don't know the man personally but I gather Ballard is an extremely personable man who loves to share his discoveries with the average layman and tries his best to make science understandable. A lot of people call him a showman who borders on entertainment to sell science. Fine, but if I could go with him on one of his expeditions, I'd do so in a heartbeat.
I had to read it for a geology of the pacific basin class. I ended up really loving the book though!
I would highly recommend.