The Bathysphere Book. Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

Author: Fox, Brad

Publication Date:

May 2023



Original language and publisher

English | Astra House

Territories Handled

World excl. North America

Territories Sold

English (UK & BC excl Can) (Pushkin Press)
Germany (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft)
Netherlands (Thomas Rap, in a preempt)
Italy (Ponte Alle Grazie, in a preempt)
South Korea (CocoonBooks, at auction)
France (Editions du sous-sol, in a preempt)
China (China Science)




  • 2024 National Book Foundation’s Science + Literature Award (winner)

The Bathysphere Book. Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

Author: Fox, Brad


It’s rare to find a book that lets readers feel the wonder of biological diversity, what Darwin described as ‘endless forms most beautiful.’ Brad Fox does this and more in The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths. Part Jules Verne-type adventure, part social inquiry, Fox chronicles the descent of a self-taught scientist and explorer into the oceanic abyss, where he discovers never-before-seen species as well as truths about our senses all within a four-and-a-half foot steel sphere, the Bathysphere, a marvel of engineering in 1930. With beautiful prose and a restrained voice, he complicates the trope of the lone white male scientific genius while illuminating the human drive to explore. — National Book Foundation & Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths have been cited as works that “deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology” and “highlight the diversity of voices” in modern science and technology writing. . . [it] is the only winner you could officially classify as science.”  Associated Press

“By turns philosophical and elegiac, The Bathysphere Book is an alternative history of Beebe’s deep ocean exploration.” —Rebecca Oliver Kaplan, The Mary Sue

“This book is such a feat . . . With beautiful prose and a restrained voice . . . [Fox] complicates the whole white male explorer narrative while immersing us in a Jules Verne-slash-The Origin of Species exploration. Plus the book is gorgeously illustrated with paintings of the species he discovers on his voyage. I’m still thinking about this book.” —Ricardo Nuila, The Stacks

“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.” —A Washington Post top 10 best 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

“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

“[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

“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

“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

“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 Perdido Street Station

“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

“A fascinating and enlightening journey into the deepest of waters.” —Tobias Carroll, InsideHook

The Bathysphere Book is a strange, striking, singular recounting . . . It’s a truly creative, passionate, and inspiring blend of science writing, adventure, historical curiosity, art and poetry that will leave you in love with the Earth’s unknowable depths.” —J. Simpson, Spectrum Culture

“A strange and intoxicating book.” —Duncan Madden, Geographical

“Brad Fox has illuminated something true about nature, the world, philosophy and history.” —Bill Rambo, Winnipeg Free Press

This isn’t a conventional biography — it’s a mosaic of rich snippets, unafraid to consider poetry alongside the flaws of Beebe and his companions. The result is a messy and delightful portrait of a life shaped by fascination with the natural world. — Helen Czerski, Times Literary Supplement

For fans of Undrowned, The Brilliant Abyss, and The Book of Eels. For fans of visually rich nature documentaries: My Octopus Teacher, Planet Earth.

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.

The Bathysphere Book delights in the human drama that surrounds this groundbreaking move into the deep ocean, a story of one visionary encounter with the unknown.

Marketing Information

  • 61 full-color images included.
  • A Washington Post top 10 best book of 2023
  • A Publishers Weekly best nonfiction book of 2023
  • Brad Fox wrote a piece for Hope Ginsburg’s “Meditation Ocean” exhibition, which is currently on display at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts.
  • Mentioned in Martin MacInnes’s The Guardian list of the “top 10 visionary books about scientists”
  • The Columbian picked up the news of The National Book Foundation Science + Literature Award win
  • The recording of Brad Fox’s conversation with the other winners of the National Book Foundation Science + Literature award can be found on YouTube
  • Included by Australian writer James Bradley on his list of the top 5 books about the ocean for Big Issue