The most recommended books about deep sea exploration

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to deep sea exploration, and here are their favorite deep sea exploration books.
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Book cover of Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere

Charlotte Gunnufson Author Of Dream Submarine

From my list on exploring the ocean for children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a children’s book author who is awed by the ocean and the creatures that dwell in its depths. I love writing for kids because they’re unabashedly eager, enthusiastic, and curious! To write this book, I dove deep into researching information about the ocean. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I kept thinking, kids will love these fascinating facts and they’ll want to learn more. The wonderful books on this list tell amazing tales, take kids on adventures, and turn dry facts into a deluge of fun. These nonfiction stories offer kids opportunities to become immersed in our awesome ocean!

Charlotte's book list on exploring the ocean for children

Charlotte Gunnufson Why did Charlotte love this book?

I highly recommend this true tale of deep-sea exploration!

The suspense is intense, compelling readers to keep turning pages. In 1930, two intrepid explorers climbed into a 5,000-pound hollow metal sphere and descended 800 feet into the ocean—farther than any human had ever dared to venture. They were amazed to find animals aglow in the ocean’s cold, dark depths.

Young readers (and older readers, too!) will be inspired by Otis and Will’s desire to know more, their persistent problem solving, and this remarkable feat of science and engineering. Over 90% of the ocean is still unexplored! Well-researched pencil, ink, and watercolor illustrations suit the story perfectly.

By Barb Rosenstock, Katherine Roy (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Otis and Will Discover the Deep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

The suspenseful, little-known true story of two determined pioneers who made the first dive into the deep ocean.

On June 6, 1930, engineer Otis Barton and explorer Will Beebe dove into the ocean inside a hollow metal ball of their own invention called the Bathysphere.

They knew dozens of things might go wrong. A tiny leak could shoot pressurized water straight through the men like bullets! A single spark could cause their oxygen tanks to explode! No one had ever dived lower than a few hundred feet...and come back. But Otis and Will were determined to become the first people…

Book cover of The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration

Stephen J. Pyne Author Of The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned about a Wider World

From my list on the history of exploration.

Why am I passionate about this?

My 15 seasons at Grand Canyon inspired me to understand its story of revelation, which led to a fascination with the history of exploration overall.  This has resulted in a series of books about explorers, places explored, and a conceptual scaffolding by which to understand it all: a geologist of the American West (Grove Karl Gilbert); Antarctica (The Ice); revisiting the Rim with better conceptual gear, How the Canyon Became Grand; and using its mission as a narrative spine, Voyager: Exploration, Space, and Third Great Age of DiscoveryThe grand sweep deserved a grand summary, so I’ve ended with The Great Ages of Discovery.

Stephen's book list on the history of exploration

Stephen J. Pyne Why did Stephen love this book?

For a while space and the deep oceans were a matched set of explorations – even Arthur C. Clarke wrote parallel novels about space and sea - then they diverged. What space promised, however, the oceans delivered – new maps of the solid Earth, a new geology, new biotas, and life forms.

No comprehensive survey of all that exploration yet exists. But Robert Ballard’s Eternal Darkness gives access to what happened and some of the critical discoveries, even if it grants attention to the sunken Titanic as well as to black smokers. Deep sea discovery doesn’t have a grand narrative akin to the space race to the Moon or Voyager’s mission to the outer planets; instead, it has biographies like that for the submersible Alvin and pioneers like Ballard. A readable introduction, with some thoughtful conclusions.

By Robert D. Ballard, William Hively,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Eternal Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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…

Book cover of Into the Drowning Deep

Megan Derr Author Of The High King's Golden Tongue

From my list on queer SFF to get you through winter.

Why am I passionate about this?

Megan is a long-time resident of queer fantasy romance and keeps herself busy reading and writing it. She has been doing so for nearly twenty years, and hopes to do it at least another twenty. She is asexual, biromantic, and married to a wonderful woman. When she’s not busy writing, she likes to cook, harass her wife and cats, or watch movies and play video games.

Megan's book list on queer SFF to get you through winter

Megan Derr Why did Megan love this book?

Another great book rife with tension and terror, about a team who go in search of what killed their friends and loved ones, a nightmare recorded on video but hard to believe, a terror buried in the depths of the Marianas Trench. I love this fascinating take on mermaids, how the book keeps you on tenterhooks the whole time, waiting to see what will happen, who is next, and what sort of monsters we haven't even seen yet.

By Mira Grant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Into the Drowning Deep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'VISCERAL . . . IRRESISTIBLE . . . a claustrophobic, deep-sea terror tale that will leave readers glad to be safely on dry land' Kirkus


Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary, bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend.

It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a tragedy; others have called it a hoax.

Now, a new crew has been assembled to…

Book cover of Our Wives Under the Sea

Allison Epstein Author Of Let the Dead Bury the Dead

From Allison's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History lover Punster Editor Theater nerd Cat mom

Allison's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Allison Epstein Why did Allison love this book?

My Goodreads review of this book just says, “Yes yes yes yes yes this is the good stuff,” if you want a sign of my emotional reaction to Our Wives Under the Sea.

This is a gorgeous, compact, spooky, haunting novel about a marriage falling apart, and it came into my life at exactly the right time. Miri’s wife, Leah, is an undersea explorer who vanishes for months under the water without a trace. Finally, she returns—but has all of Leah come back?

I would call this half dark fantasy horror, half contemporary queer literary fiction. Or Mitski meets The Haunting of Hill House. It checked all my boxes, and I whipped through it in two sittings. In other words, “the good stuff.”

By Julia Armfield,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Our Wives Under the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named as book to look out for in 2022 by Guardian, i-D, Autostraddle, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, Stylist and DAZED.

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah may have come back wrong. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home.

To have the woman she loves back should mean a return…

Book cover of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Captain James Heron First Into the Fray: Prequel to Harry Heron Into the Unknown of the Harry Heron Series

From my list on combining fantasy and social commentary.

Why am I passionate about this?

My great interests have been ships and space travel, and if one takes time to consider the similarities the parallels stand out. Ships, especially submarines, travel in a medium and through an environment that is hostile to human life. In space travel, the ‘ship’ becomes the only habitat in which we can survive for any extended period, leaving it without a space suit is a fatal move. I cannot claim to be an expert in closed environments, but it's a subject that has fascinated me throughout my life. Every ‘biosphere’ is unique and incredibly complex and depends on the symbiosis of an enormous number of living creatures right down to bacteria and even viruses. 

Patrick's book list on combining fantasy and social commentary

Patrick G. Cox Why did Patrick love this book?

This is the story that first got me interested in science fiction. Of course, we now recognise some of the flaws in the science, but consider that at the time of its writing steam propulsion was still in its infancy, most ships were still built of timber, and Verne envisaged a ship capable of indefinite travel beneath the ocean surface – something not even possible until the advent of nuclear power almost a century later. Even today Verne’s vision and the story he wove around it can inspire.

By Jules Verne,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 11, 12, 13, and 14.

What is this book about?

First serialized in a French magazine from 1869-1870, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible adventure story that popularized science fiction throughout the world.

Professor Aronnax, a marine biologist, joins harpoonist Ned Land in search of a mysterious sea creature in the open ocean, only to discover that the beast is actually a submarine piloted by the enigmatic Captain Nemo. They are taken captive, thus beginning a strange undersea voyage from Antarctic ice shelves to the subterranean city of Atlantis, hunting sharks along the way.

With its sprawling, exotic plot and vivid descriptions, Jules Verne's epic underwater adventure…

Book cover of Coral Empire: Underwater Oceans, Colonial Tropics, Visual Modernity

Helen M. Rozwadowski Author Of Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans

From my list on human's relationships with the underwater world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with the ocean starting when I was a kid growing up on the Great Lakes. While I sailed and swam in Lake Erie’s freshwater, I dreamed of and read about oceans. My career as a historian and writer has been dedicated to exploring the human relationship with the ocean, especially the underwater realm so often left out of maritime history and literature. My greatest joy is that other historians have joined my quest. The books I’ve selected include some I used as sources in writing ocean history and others by historians who are themselves plumbing the ocean’s depths. 

Helen's book list on human's relationships with the underwater world

Helen M. Rozwadowski Why did Helen love this book?

Ann Elias demonstrates how visual media – photography, film, art, and museum displays – re-cast coral reefs in the early 20th century from dangers to navigation into fantastical but familiar and inviting spectacles. Coral Empire reveals photographers, artists, and scientific explorers as they rendered the undersea modern yet colonial. Using technology, indigenous knowledge, and their own visions, they presented the oceans as wild, untouched spaces full of resources that invited exploitation, conquest, and tourism. Desire-fueled uses of the undersea obscured the destructive nature of human activities on coral reefs, now abundantly apparent, while the power of the visual for imagining and knowing the undersea remains.

By Ann Elias,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coral Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From vividly colored underwater photographs of Australia's Great Barrier Reef to life-size dioramas re-creating coral reefs and the bounty of life they sustained, the work of early twentieth-century explorers and photographers fed the public's fascination with reefs. In the 1920s John Ernest Williamson in the Bahamas and Frank Hurley in Australia produced mass-circulated and often highly staged photographs and films that cast corals as industrious, colonizing creatures, and the undersea as a virgin, unexplored, and fantastical territory. In Coral Empire Ann Elias traces the visual and social history of Williamson and Hurley and how their modern media spectacles yoked the…