June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

By Robert Kurson

CRITIC’S CHOICE

In September 1991,14 deep-sea scuba divers traveled 60 miles off the New Jersey shore to a spot where a fishing boat captain had told them about a possible shipwreck lying on the ocean floor 200 or so feet below the surface. Even for experienced divers, 200 feet is “crazy deep,” Kurson writes, and fraught with danger: “If a deep-wreck diver stays in the sport long enough, he will either come close to dying, watch another diver die or die himself.” But the group overcame their fear as they soon learned this was no ordinary wreck: It was the remains of a World War II-era German submarine, and the discovery would ultimately dominate their lives.

According to German and American military records, no U-boats were sunk anywhere near this location. So what boat was this, and how did it get here? For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, both experienced deep-wreck divers, those questions became obsessions. Along the way, the pair turned into first-rate amateur historians whose sleuthing led them to realize that official histories aren’t always trustworthy. Beset by colleagues’ deaths and false leads, Chatterton and Kohler persisted in unraveling the mystery–as impressive a feat as their daring dives–even as their single-mindedness took its toll on their marriages and mental health.

Exquisitely researched and superbly told, this hard-to-put-down first book by Esquire contributing editor Kurson delves into the psyches of these men and helps explain why a wreck came to mean so much to them. The book’s harrowing accounts of shark encounters, equipment malfunctions and the severe physical rigors of deep-sea diving, meanwhile, will leave even armchair adventurers gasping for breath.

NON-FICTION

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