The best books about deep sea exploration

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to deep sea exploration, and here are their favorite deep sea exploration books.
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Coral Empire

By Ann Elias,

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

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

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Helen's favorite books.

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.

Coral Empire

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…

Our Wives Under the Sea

By Julia Armfield,

Book cover of Our Wives Under the Sea

Marisa Crane Author Of I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself

From the list on LBGTQ+ speculative books that will break you and then put you back together again.

Who am I?

I’m a queer, nonbinary writer who has always loved reading and writing speculative fiction, whether it be dystopian novels, sci-fi, fantasy, and beyond. I think speculative fiction is such an effective and creative way to hold a mirror up to our society, explore traumatic and heavy themes, and ultimately, show us what it means to be a person, no matter how strange or unfamiliar the world is. Like many millennials, I grew up reading that awful transphobic woman’s magical series but soon realized how limiting that series was, and how there were so many better, smarter, more inclusive books out there, especially those that center queer and trans characters and know how to break my heart ten times over.

Marisa's book list on LBGTQ+ speculative books that will break you and then put you back together again

Discover why each book is one of Marisa's favorite books.

Why did Marisa love this book?

Our Wives Under the Sea feels almost unclassifiable to me, in the best way possible. Is it speculative? Yes. Is it horror? Sort of. Is it also a love story? Yes.

Written in dreamy, lyrical, meandering prose, it follows Miri and Leah in the aftermath of Leah, a marine biologist, having finally returned from a deep-sea trip that took a horrifying turn, though we aren’t entirely sure what happened down there. All we know is, Leah is traumatized and definitely not herself. It is gorgeous, suspenseful, and devastating. Plus, it has the energy of that girlfriend meme: “Would you still love me if I were a worm?” and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Okay, and it made both my wife and me cry.

Our Wives Under the Sea

By Julia Armfield,

Why should I read it?

2 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 Into the Drowning Deep

Megan Derr Author Of The High King's Golden Tongue

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Megan's favorite books.

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.

Into the Drowning Deep

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…

The Eternal Darkness

By Robert D. Ballard, William Hively,

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 the list on the history of exploration.

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Stephen's favorite books.

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.

The Eternal Darkness

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 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Patrick G. Cox Author Of Harry Heron: Into the Unknown

From the list on combining fantasy and social commentary.

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Patrick's favorite books.

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.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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.

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…