The deep sea is the last, vast wilderness on the planet. For centuries, myth-makers and storytellers have concocted imaginary monsters of the deep, and now scientists are looking there to find bizarre, unknown species, chemicals to make new medicines, and to gain a greater understanding of how this world of ours works. With an average depth of 12,000 feet and chasms that plunge much deeper, it forms a frontier for new discoveries.
The Brilliant Abyss tells the story of our relationship with the deep sea – how we imagine, explore and exploit it. It captures the golden age of discovery we are currently in and looks back at the history of how we got here, while also looking forward to the unfolding new environmental disasters that are taking place miles beneath the waves, far beyond the public gaze.
Throughout history, there have been two distinct groups of deep-sea explorers. Both have sought knowledge but with different and often conflicting ambitions in mind. Some people want to quench their curiosity; many more have been lured by the possibilities of commerce and profit. The tension between these two opposing sides is the theme that runs throughout the book, while readers are taken on a chronological journey through humanity's developing relationship with the deep sea. The Brilliant Abyss ends by looking forwards to humanity's advancing impacts on the deep, including mining and pollution and what we can do about them.
Helen Scales is a marine biologist, diver, surfer, broadcaster and writer who's spent hundreds of hours underwater watching fish. A familiar voice for the oceans, she's pondered the mysteries of the deep sea with Robin Ince and Brian Cox on BBC Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage and donated an imaginary tank of seahorses to The Museum of Curiosity. She's a regular writer for BBC Focus and BBC Wildlife magazines. Among her radio documentaries she's explored the dream of living underwater and followed the trail of endangered snails around the world and back again.
Helen's recent book, Spirals in Time, is a Guardian bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology book prize, picked as a book of the year by The Economist, Nature, The Times and the Guardian and was BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.
"So comprehensive and insightful that it will be a long time before it's surpassed . It is hard to imagine a more timely or important book than The Brilliant Abyss. Carefully conceived and luminously written, it is certain to be a bestseller, which gives me hope that its urgent message might help save the world."
– New Statesman
"Scales's approach is enthralling and richly expressed and highlights how closely our lives depend on the deep."
"Scales's great gift is for transmuting our awe at the wonders of the deep sea into a kind of quiet rage that they could soon be no more. The deep, she argues, is too vulnerable, and too crucial to the working of the planet to blindly ransack."
– New York Times Book Review
"Accessible, enjoyable and written with infectious passion, this book is a compelling guide to a fascinating and often overlooked part of our planet."
– The Week
"Fascinating. The Brilliant Abyss is a manifesto for change as much as it is a description of an ecological crisis. Its overall effect – to insist that what's already down there matters, even or especially when it is hidden from our view."
– New Republic
"Helen Scales is one of those rare scientists who can capture the excitement of science. The Brilliant Abyss has a thrill on every page as she explores the deep and little known ocean. But this comes with a warning. Man's destruction is now reaching the remotest corners of the planet and our survival depends on stopping it."
– Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod
"Helen Scales' beautiful account reveals the astonishing complexity and importance of the creatures of the abyss, to the planet and to us."
– Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation and scientific advisor, BBC Blue Planet II
"If you read only one work of non-fiction this year, make it this – plunge into the abyss and experience its brilliance."
– Nicola Davies, author of Whale Boy