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Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea

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A pioneering marine biologist takes us down into the deep ocean to understand bioluminescence—the language of light that helps life communicate in the darkness—and what it tells us about the future of life on Earth. "Edith Widder's story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration, and groundbreaking research. She's done things I dream of doing." —James Cameron Ed A pioneering marine biologist takes us down into the deep ocean to understand bioluminescence—the language of light that helps life communicate in the darkness—and what it tells us about the future of life on Earth. "Edith Widder's story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration, and groundbreaking research. She's done things I dream of doing." —James Cameron Edith Widder's childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist was almost derailed in college, when complications from a surgery gone wrong caused temporary blindness. A new reality of shifting shadows drew her fascination to the power of light—as well as the importance of optimism. As her vision cleared, Widder found the intersection of her two passions in oceanic bioluminescence, a little-explored scientific field within Earth's last great unknown frontier: the deep ocean. With little promise of funding or employment, she leaped at the first opportunity to train as a submersible pilot and dove into the darkness. Widder's first journey into the deep ocean, in a diving suit that resembled a suit of armor, took her to a depth of eight hundred feet. She turned off the lights and witnessed breathtaking underwater fireworks: explosions of bioluminescent activity. Concerns about her future career vanished. She only wanted to know one thing: Why was there so much light down there? Below the Edge of Darkness takes readers deep into our planet's oceans as Widder pursues her questions about one of the most important and widely used forms of communication in nature. In the process, she reveals hidden worlds and a dazzling menagerie of behaviors and animals, from microbes to leviathans, many never before seen or, like the legendary giant squid, never before filmed in their deep-sea lairs. Alongside Widder, we experience life-and-death equipment malfunctions and witness breakthroughs in technology and understanding, all set against a growing awareness of the deteriorating health of our largest and least understood ecosystem. A thrilling adventure story as well as a scientific revelation, Below the Edge of Darkness reckons with the complicated and sometimes dangerous realities of exploration. Widder shows us how when we push our boundaries and expand our worlds, discovery and wonder follow. These are the ultimate keys to the ocean's salvation—and thus to our future on this planet.


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A pioneering marine biologist takes us down into the deep ocean to understand bioluminescence—the language of light that helps life communicate in the darkness—and what it tells us about the future of life on Earth. "Edith Widder's story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration, and groundbreaking research. She's done things I dream of doing." —James Cameron Ed A pioneering marine biologist takes us down into the deep ocean to understand bioluminescence—the language of light that helps life communicate in the darkness—and what it tells us about the future of life on Earth. "Edith Widder's story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration, and groundbreaking research. She's done things I dream of doing." —James Cameron Edith Widder's childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist was almost derailed in college, when complications from a surgery gone wrong caused temporary blindness. A new reality of shifting shadows drew her fascination to the power of light—as well as the importance of optimism. As her vision cleared, Widder found the intersection of her two passions in oceanic bioluminescence, a little-explored scientific field within Earth's last great unknown frontier: the deep ocean. With little promise of funding or employment, she leaped at the first opportunity to train as a submersible pilot and dove into the darkness. Widder's first journey into the deep ocean, in a diving suit that resembled a suit of armor, took her to a depth of eight hundred feet. She turned off the lights and witnessed breathtaking underwater fireworks: explosions of bioluminescent activity. Concerns about her future career vanished. She only wanted to know one thing: Why was there so much light down there? Below the Edge of Darkness takes readers deep into our planet's oceans as Widder pursues her questions about one of the most important and widely used forms of communication in nature. In the process, she reveals hidden worlds and a dazzling menagerie of behaviors and animals, from microbes to leviathans, many never before seen or, like the legendary giant squid, never before filmed in their deep-sea lairs. Alongside Widder, we experience life-and-death equipment malfunctions and witness breakthroughs in technology and understanding, all set against a growing awareness of the deteriorating health of our largest and least understood ecosystem. A thrilling adventure story as well as a scientific revelation, Below the Edge of Darkness reckons with the complicated and sometimes dangerous realities of exploration. Widder shows us how when we push our boundaries and expand our worlds, discovery and wonder follow. These are the ultimate keys to the ocean's salvation—and thus to our future on this planet.

30 review for Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea

  1. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    I had high hopes for this one, but ultimately it fell far short of my expectations. This is a memoir by marine biologist Edith Widder. When she was in college, she had a terrifying experience; She was temporarily blinded after a risky surgery that nearly killed her. She uses this anecdote at the beginning of "Below the Edge of Darkness" to talk about eyes, eyesight, and the relationship both share with light, something that would become critically important later in her career as she began to foc I had high hopes for this one, but ultimately it fell far short of my expectations. This is a memoir by marine biologist Edith Widder. When she was in college, she had a terrifying experience; She was temporarily blinded after a risky surgery that nearly killed her. She uses this anecdote at the beginning of "Below the Edge of Darkness" to talk about eyes, eyesight, and the relationship both share with light, something that would become critically important later in her career as she began to focus on studying bioluminescence - or "living light" - in the deep sea. We landlubbers can see bioluminescence on summer evenings in the flicker of fireflies, but it's much more common in the ocean. It's not the kind of light that generates heat, it's a chemical light that creatures have developed for a variety of reasons, many of which we're still uncovering. It's been a part of Widder's work to discover why these creatures make light - a very energy-intense adaptation - and what certain flashes mean. In this memoir, Widder talks about her work and the trajectory of her career after her brief brush with blindness, including capturing a giant squid on camera in its natural habitat. It's all incredibly interesting information. The problem is that it's extremely heavy on the science and hops back and forth between academic writing and overly casual writing about her experiences. As such, I don't think this is a book for general audiences. I think it also has weaknesses as a completed product since that anecdote about her temporary blindness is one of the only things about her personal life included in the book - making it stick out in a sea of stories about her career - but it's also not really commented upon after it's discussed at the start of the book, which ultimately became the thing that disappointed me the most. I came into this book looking for some fascinating science - which I got, albeit in language above what I expected in a non-academic book - but I also figured the experience of losing her sight would inspire Widder to make some connections to her work. It seemed like fertile ground for her to dig deep into what the blindness meant to her and how it inspired her to seek light in the deep sea, but instead, she kept everything very surface-level. I'm heartbroken to think of what a gorgeous work this could have been had she used her background, her career, and her clearly amazing perspective and presented it with more emotion and more elegant prose. I thought this was going to be a new favorite, but I remain on the hunt for the next science/nature memoir that will strike the same chord as Lab Girl.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    It is a good memoir and in another time I would read every word. Now is not that time. Extremely graduate level physics, math, criteria of visual sciences amongst 100 other pertinent to the deep sea territory sciences. This is NOT easy read. I do appreciate the author's honesty and blunt obsession. But it's all too much of that obsession for me. Her early medical crisis near death experience (NDE) was somewhat similar to mine at 26. But she (at 18) reflects it entirely differently. Very brave and It is a good memoir and in another time I would read every word. Now is not that time. Extremely graduate level physics, math, criteria of visual sciences amongst 100 other pertinent to the deep sea territory sciences. This is NOT easy read. I do appreciate the author's honesty and blunt obsession. But it's all too much of that obsession for me. Her early medical crisis near death experience (NDE) was somewhat similar to mine at 26. But she (at 18) reflects it entirely differently. Very brave and courageous woman. That's a fact. I read more than 3/4ths of this but no rating. Obsessions are not a meld with me. It would be 3 stars at the most if I did. This is not a read for the non-math individual or for those who can't parse light sciences. Your eyes will glass over. If you enjoy preach/teach - then for you it will be a 4 star most likely. It is often depressing and at the same quirk unrealistically optimistic. She's got a huge association history too. Blue Planet and Fidel Castro included.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Literary Redhead

    A magnificent memoir by ocean scientist Edith Widder, pioneer in the study of bioluminescence. Blinded during surgery, she recovers and finds light and life in the ocean depths, her discoveries essential to protecting global seas. Captivating, inspiring and a must-read for fans of brilliant women changing the world. 5 of 5 Stars Pub Date 27 Jul 2021 #BelowtheEdgeofDarkness #NetGalley Thanks to the author, Random House Publishing Group - Random House, and NetGalley for the ARC. Opinions are mine.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    I came across mention of this book in a New Yorker article, as I recall. I thought it might be interesting so I got it from the library. "Interesting" is definitely an understatement. I liked this book a lot. Widder is like that really smart, cool, funny scientist friend (think Mark Watney from The Martian) who invites you to accompany her on a field trip to some exotic place so you can see what she does. What she does is nothing short of amazing. She's an expert on bioluminescence in the ocean I came across mention of this book in a New Yorker article, as I recall. I thought it might be interesting so I got it from the library. "Interesting" is definitely an understatement. I liked this book a lot. Widder is like that really smart, cool, funny scientist friend (think Mark Watney from The Martian) who invites you to accompany her on a field trip to some exotic place so you can see what she does. What she does is nothing short of amazing. She's an expert on bioluminescence in the ocean (sea creatures that glow). The book is partly memoir, beginning with her almost dying in college, and moving on through her education and experience in deep sea research. It's also a fascinating, completely accessible look at what lives down there, what the biology and chemistry of life in the deep sea involves and suggests about how sea life evolved into what it is today, the hurdles (financial, engineering, technological, psychological) that must be overcome to do the research, what it all tells us about the degradation of what is by far the largest part of our planet, and so very much more. And the thing is, she engages the reader exactly as she a non-scientifically minded friend, indeed, as she does in her TED talks, which I was compelled watched because the book was so wonderful -- check them out even if you don't read the book). I had no idea how common bioluminescence is in the sea, particularly in mid-level depths. (One scientist found that more than 90% of the fish he collected while researching sea life off Bermuda were bioluminescent!) Widder explains why this is so, and why at this level of the ocean rather than further up or further down. She shares stories about what she found in the ocean and what was involved in getting there. Her love for her subject -- her enthusiasm -- is contagious. You share her awe at what she sees (thank goodness for the photos at the end of the book and for what comes up when you Google her name), as well as her frustration at, well, the things that justifiably frustrate her. Rather than describing in detail what "Below the Edge of Darkness" covers, let me share some of what I highlighted (which was a lot!). For example (deep inhalation): The amazing lifeforms she encounters, like: the bioluminescent bristlemouth fish (the most abundant vertebrate on Earth); bright red shrimp the size of hamsters; saber-toothed viperfish (which she admires for its "badassery" and because it glows not only on its 'face' but also in its mouth); the anglerfish that, well, bear with me, I've got to share a whole paragraph here: The male anglerfish is much smaller than his female counterpart. He lacks a lure and has no teeth for consuming prey. For many anglerfish species, the male’s only hope for continued existence is as a gigolo. In the unimaginably immense black void of the deep sea, he must somehow locate a potential mate, either visually or by smell, and, upon finding her, seal the relationship with an eternal kiss by latching on to her flank, where his flesh fuses with hers. Her bloodstream then grows into his body, providing him with sustenance, in return for which he provides sperm upon demand. This lifetime commitment may sound romantic, but it’s not all hearts, flowers, and pillow talk. He’s a bloodsucker and a sperm bag, and she’s ugly and weighs half a million times more than he does. and creatures with names like: cockeyed squid, bearded seadevil, shining tubeshoulder, stoplight fish, velvet belly lantern shark, gulper eel, glowing sucker 0ctopus (sorry, got to share again: Many octopods seduce mates by throwing their arms up over their heads and displaying their suckers as if they were in a wet T-shirt contest: “Hey! Look what I’ve got!” Under such circumstances, it makes sense that sexual selection would favor mutations that made the suckers more visible.) brownsnout spookfish ("Middle school must have been hell," Widder says of the name. It's quite an astonishing creature: big head, four protruding eyes, black body, transparent head -- yeah, it's weird down there), squat lobsters, (I pause here to acknowledge the existence of "marine snow," glowing "marine fecal pellets," and underwater lakes), Greenland sharks (which can grow up to twenty-four feet long), giant squids (reaches lengths of at least forty-three feet, and its eyes are bigger than basketballs!)), floppy sea pens, giant jellies ("believed to be the longest ocean creature ever recorded, at 150 feet long), and, yes, Kraken because, well, Kraken. For all the humor and Holy Cow! excitement, Widder has a very serious purpose in the book. Her goal is not only to share what she's learned about all these exotic life forms, but also to show what's at stake because we so callously exploit the oceans even though we know so terribly little about it, and act as if there are no costs attached to our ignorance. Overfishing, chemical runoff, our addiction to plastic ("It is estimated that by the year 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.") And "entertainment" like the ubiquitous and misleading Shark Weeks on TV. (These descendants of "Jaws" make us terrified of sharks, but typically only 10 or so people die each year from shark attacks. On the other side of the ledger, commercial fishing by humans kills an estimated 100 million sharks each year!) And then there's time Animal Planet ran a show called "Mermaids: The Body Found," which "purported to uncover a plot by the government to conceal evidence of mermaids." Deliberately made to look like a nature documentary, it was entirely fake -- actors, CGI, pointless DOJ logo, a fake government whistleblower, even a fake web page pop up that would appear if you Googled the whistleblower's name. This is longer than I intended so I'll stop here. It's one of the best "nature" books I've ever read. Widder's personal story is remarkable, the science is astonishing, and it's about a topic that couldn't be more important to our future. Check it out.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dav

    This book is my jam. Mind blowing details. Crazy adventures. Frontiers of scientific exploration. The ocean is ~70% of the Earth's surface, but it is ~99% of the biosphere. This whole topside atmospheric place we call home is less than 1% of where all known life in the Universe is. Yet we know next to nothing about that life because the vast majority of it is deeper than we tend to look and in a dark inhospitable place where the act of observing is both incredibly challenging and makes the life s This book is my jam. Mind blowing details. Crazy adventures. Frontiers of scientific exploration. The ocean is ~70% of the Earth's surface, but it is ~99% of the biosphere. This whole topside atmospheric place we call home is less than 1% of where all known life in the Universe is. Yet we know next to nothing about that life because the vast majority of it is deeper than we tend to look and in a dark inhospitable place where the act of observing is both incredibly challenging and makes the life scatter to avoid the observations. We've barely even got decent maps of most of the ocean (the vast majority is super low resolution) and have probably physically visited (in person or with remote probes) more of the moon than this part of our planet. Most of what we know about marine life is limited to what was gleaned from examining dead samples that made it to the surface. We couldn't just observe in vivo like we can with the terrestrial flora and fauna . So Edie Widder back in the 60s pioneers the study of said life in its own environment using submersibles and she has pretty much (exactly?) been involved in every major advancement since then it seems, compiling a long list of exciting scientific and dangerous adventures along the way. I'm not even going to go into the crazy cool things she's figured out about marine biology and ecology because you should just read the book. Gendered terms aside, I feel compelled to end this review the same as the one for The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier which in a complementary way explores the unseen world on the ocean surface: Author is obviously a stud.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    The following reviews have been shared by Text Publishing - publisher of Below the Edge of Darkness ‘Edith Widder’s subject is light itself—the manufacture of light by strange and eerie denizens of the deep sea—and her scintillating style is worthy of it…A book of marvels, marvellously written.’ Richard Dawkins ‘Edie’s story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration and groundbreaking research. As I’ve said many times, I’d have wrapped my submersible, the Deepsea Challenger, in bacon The following reviews have been shared by Text Publishing - publisher of Below the Edge of Darkness ‘Edith Widder’s subject is light itself—the manufacture of light by strange and eerie denizens of the deep sea—and her scintillating style is worthy of it…A book of marvels, marvellously written.’ Richard Dawkins ‘Edie’s story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration and groundbreaking research. As I’ve said many times, I’d have wrapped my submersible, the Deepsea Challenger, in bacon if it would have lured the elusive giant squid from the depths. In Below the Edge of Darkness, Edie tells you how she did it.’ James Cameron ‘My experience of exploring the deep ocean and its alien life with Edie Widder was fabulous. She enthralls us with many such stories in her book. I recommend it.’ Ray Dalio ‘Personal and page-turning, adventurous and awe-inspiring, Below the Edge of Darkness sparkles with the thrill of exploration and glows with an urgent plea for the future of our precious seas. Comparisons to Jacques Cousteau spring to mind, as Edith Widder shares the profound journey of her life—one as unique and important as the unexplored realms of our very own planet.’ Juli Berwald, author of Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone ‘Luminous—the topic, the heroic journey, and the author herself. Dive in with Edith Widder, trail-blazing scientist and explorer, as she reveals the galaxy of light and life in the universe below the surface of the sea, out-shining sceptical male colleagues with dignity, grace and a robust sense of humour.’ Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, founder of Mission Blue and National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence 'Widder illuminates life in the dark depths of the ocean in her fascinating debut…Informs and electrifies in equal measure.' Publishers Weekly 'Captivating…Widder's enthusiastic, joyful memoir amply describes the “wonder and exhilaration of discovery”. Inspiring for science-loving readers and environmentalists young and old.' Kirkus 'A superbly captivating writer, Widder fluently elucidates complex scientific inquiries and findings…She also renders the ludicrous, the terrifying, and the enthralling with equal vim and vigor…Widder dazzles readers with dramatic tales of expeditions…passionately and expertly arguing that it is urgently important for us to understand the oceans, which are severely imperiled and essential to our survival.' Booklist (starred review) ‘Widder’s passion is so contagious…Her enthu­siasm is matched by her sense of humor…Readers of Below the Edge of Darkness will become staunch champi­ons of the spectacular bioluminescent world that thrives in the ocean’s depths.’ BookPage ‘This book illustrates the careful, curious, years-long quest of a scientist in love with her work. Widder peppers her text with witty asides as footnotes that invite readers into her passion. Highly recommended.’ Library Journal ‘Stylish, eloquent…A unique view of the denizens of the deep.’ Guardian ‘Enthralling...The science throughout the book is fascinating as Widder repeatedly revolutionizes her field, but there is much more than science here. Widder is also an explorer, an inventor and a captivating storyteller whose life has been uncommonly adventurous, both on land and at sea.’ StarTribune ‘A thrilling adventure story as well as a scientific revelation, Below the Edge of Darkness reckons with the complicated and sometimes dangerous realities of exploration. Widder shows us how when we push our boundaries and expand our worlds, discovery and wonder follow.’ Book Riot ‘This autobiography is an adventure story as well as a scientific one, as Widder navigates tense equipment malfunctions while exploring questions about our largest ecosystem, one that is increasingly threatened.’ Gazette ‘Gripping…A thrilling blend of hard science and high adventure…Often the prose glints.’ New York Times

  7. 4 out of 5

    K.

    Trigger warnings: life threatening situations, mentions of death, medical emergency. I picked this up on a whim and ended up absolutely loving it. It's surprisingly light hearted and very funny while also being incredibly informative about oceanography, bioluminescence and underwater exploration in general. Widder has a clear passion for her subject and she's incredibly good at discussing it in a way that's easily understandable to the average idiot like me. As someone who's read Into the Drowni Trigger warnings: life threatening situations, mentions of death, medical emergency. I picked this up on a whim and ended up absolutely loving it. It's surprisingly light hearted and very funny while also being incredibly informative about oceanography, bioluminescence and underwater exploration in general. Widder has a clear passion for her subject and she's incredibly good at discussing it in a way that's easily understandable to the average idiot like me. As someone who's read Into the Drowning Deep multiple times, there were definitely moments when I had to stop reading to check that I hadn't accidentally stumbled into mermaid horror because there were a staggering amount of similarities in the storytelling at times. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I absolutely know that I have zero desire to go to the bottom of the ocean, ta thank you very much.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    4.5 only dinged because I wasn't by the ocean while listening to the audio... I have lived by the sea and adore ocean books while walking on the sand, instead I listened in a hot, smoke filled garden from the rampaging fires and it cut my enjoyment level. If at my beach house would have been a solid 5! 4.5 only dinged because I wasn't by the ocean while listening to the audio... I have lived by the sea and adore ocean books while walking on the sand, instead I listened in a hot, smoke filled garden from the rampaging fires and it cut my enjoyment level. If at my beach house would have been a solid 5!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ula Tardigrade

    What is a recipe for a great popular science book? A lot of adventures, thrill of discovery and hair raising experiences seasoned with a healthy dose of mind-blowing scientific facts and mixed with a moving memoir. All this and more you can find in this brilliant volume. I have to admit that I chose it because of my interest in science rather than familiarity with the author, so I was pleasantly surprised not only by her accomplishments but also beautiful, witty, tongue-in-cheek style (remember t What is a recipe for a great popular science book? A lot of adventures, thrill of discovery and hair raising experiences seasoned with a healthy dose of mind-blowing scientific facts and mixed with a moving memoir. All this and more you can find in this brilliant volume. I have to admit that I chose it because of my interest in science rather than familiarity with the author, so I was pleasantly surprised not only by her accomplishments but also beautiful, witty, tongue-in-cheek style (remember to read the footnotes, it’s pure gold!). Edith Widder spent her life in the lab and on the ocean, fully dedicated to marine biology, never losing her curiosity and spirit, despite leaking submarines (with Hitchcockian touch, she starts the book with such a scene), lack of funding nor fights with TV producers. In some ways this book reminded me of my favorite ‘Lab Girl’ by Hope Jahren, as both are inspiring stories of female scientists, though here the balance between describing the research and memoir is reversed. And that’s a good thing because bioluminescence and deep sea ecology are little known but fascinating topics, especially with such an exceptional guide as Edith Widder. Many thanks to the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for the advance copy of this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    Really interesting read. Not for the lighthearted.. make sure you're interested biology if you want to dive into this one. Learnt a lot about octopuses and even wildlife documentaries. Really interesting read. Not for the lighthearted.. make sure you're interested biology if you want to dive into this one. Learnt a lot about octopuses and even wildlife documentaries.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I saw “sea sparkle” for the first time during a moonlight kayak off the Outer Banks of North Carolina a couple of months ago and was fascinated enough by it that the topic of bioluminescence would have been sufficient to make me enjoy this book. (Usually that kind of bioluminescence is found in the Caribbean, but apparently some of the plankton were blown in by a hurricane and found the North Carolina conditions suitable enough that they set up housekeeping there.) Dr. Widder has had an incredib I saw “sea sparkle” for the first time during a moonlight kayak off the Outer Banks of North Carolina a couple of months ago and was fascinated enough by it that the topic of bioluminescence would have been sufficient to make me enjoy this book. (Usually that kind of bioluminescence is found in the Caribbean, but apparently some of the plankton were blown in by a hurricane and found the North Carolina conditions suitable enough that they set up housekeeping there.) Dr. Widder has had an incredible career, and the book is worth reading for the science alone. But I also loved her passion for exploration, the awe she finds in the world we live in, her dedication and pragmatism regarding climate change, pollution, over-harvesting and the other ways in which humans are decimating their oceans, and her optimism that we will be able to improve things. As she concluded by channeling the Mark Watney character in Andy Weir’s The Martian: “We’re gonna have to science the shit out of it!” And somehow she makes me believe that we can. Highly recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Stevens

    I wanted to like this book. I have never read a book about the deep sea and I was FASCINATED with some of the information Dr. Widder discussed. Regardless of this book, Dr. Widder is a badass. She succeeds in a male-dominated industry and is one of the best in her field. I liked learning about her throughout the book. However, the overall writing felt very scattered. We’d be talking about an interesting deep sea creature, then all of a sudden jump to Dr. Widders childhood, then back to a sea cre I wanted to like this book. I have never read a book about the deep sea and I was FASCINATED with some of the information Dr. Widder discussed. Regardless of this book, Dr. Widder is a badass. She succeeds in a male-dominated industry and is one of the best in her field. I liked learning about her throughout the book. However, the overall writing felt very scattered. We’d be talking about an interesting deep sea creature, then all of a sudden jump to Dr. Widders childhood, then back to a sea creature. The combination of memoir and science can work well, but it was just not quite the best fit here. I would have preferred less jumping back and forth between her life and the creatures every paragraph or so. Again, that is my preference, so perhaps it is not yours! Regardless, this book was full of unique information and told the story of someone I admire. Thank you Net Galley for the ARC!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Ideiosepius

    This was a marvellous book and I loved every page, (I re-read some of them). It has got to be a standout book when, as soon as I finish reading my library copy, I am online to the publisher ordering my own. Edith Widder has has some amazing experiences in her life, as a postgraduate she worked on bioluminescence in marine dinoflagellates, a position she almost stubbled upon and this was the start of a life long journey through Marine Bioluminescence. A lot of the book is around the various fascin This was a marvellous book and I loved every page, (I re-read some of them). It has got to be a standout book when, as soon as I finish reading my library copy, I am online to the publisher ordering my own. Edith Widder has has some amazing experiences in her life, as a postgraduate she worked on bioluminescence in marine dinoflagellates, a position she almost stubbled upon and this was the start of a life long journey through Marine Bioluminescence. A lot of the book is around the various fascinating and exciting trips the author has been on, in various oceans, on various ships to travel down into the deep darkest ocean depths. Usually revolving around trips in small subs, she describes in intoxicating detail the beauty and mystery of bioluminescence in the deep sea. I loved the details! The beginning of the book is a little about the author and how she came to be traveling the bioluminescent life work. This, which I believe was the hardest for her to write, was fun to read. While I understand that a lifetime of scientific writing (which intends to obliviate the personal from writing) is hard to get over, I agree with the publishers; having a sense of the person one is reading about makes the book far more relatable. And the person sounds wonderful! The occasional geeky references and sly humour that sneak into the narrative make me think that Edith would be a great person to meet, to sit down and have a drink and chat with, her anecdotes alone would be gold. And this book is gold too! There are so few writers out there that write about the ocean with the respect, fascination, understanding and joy which it instils in me. Every one is gold. Now, perhaps this will not be for everyone. It starts with a solid grounding regarding vision, physiology, light and all that other vital stuff to understanding bioluminescence, which I enjoyed considerably. In my opinion the author did a magnificent job of giving just enough science, but never too much. Phrasing it at a basic enough level that a 'popular science reader' should be able to follow along easily. MY opinion IS biased however; I do have a marine biology/zoology degree and a lot of this was a refresher or a reminder (Some of it was new, my degree is decades old after all, but I started out with the context), it might be that if you have never read any bio-science it will be hard, it is worth reading though. If you really can't read it, it will not hurt to skip ahead to the adventures. And what adventures they are! Dan Brown novels were less thrilling for me than this! Starting with her first deep-sea diving in the Wasp; which was basically a huge, rigid cylinder on a rope/tether in which the operator was lowered, all alone into the deep ocean. Up to the last trips described, on luxury yachts, with several multiple person subs buzzing around the deep sea to film documentaries (no, no Mermaids, I promise). there are descriptions of first sighting bioluminescent animals never before seen, engineering solutions to filming them and lots of other things that got MY heart racing. The small things thrilled me too; when they see animals for the first time, when they successfully design a 'bio jelly' that attracts the Humboldt squid. The small realisations of what bioluminescence must mean for the life involved and how it can be used. While I loved the stories (and the colour plates) of bioluminescent invertebrate displays, of the weird and wonderful deep sea fishes and the process of learning more about all the denizens, I was always a little aware of the years of work, grant application, data analysis and so firth that lay behind the exciting bits we get to read about. This woman's life work has been truly inspirational. While I never made it as a marine biologist, I am happy that strong, dedicated women like the author have. And reading their amazing stories of lifelong discovery in marine biology is the next best thing to having lived it myself. Maybe better - I did not have to write the grant applications, after all. I especially love her message; "We must do a better job of helping people understand what it means to live on a ocean planet. More specifically: what it means to live on a few little dry islands surrounded by a vast watery world that we know surprisingly little about." [pg. 179] Because the ocean is the single most fascinating thing this world holds, and without it there and healthy, the rest of the world as we know it ceases to exist.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ma'Belle

    "We've got to science the shit out of this" are the final words of this audio format science-y memoir, and that line was by far the most "in touch" Edith Widder's writing got. It was published in 2021 and explores a subject I have become extremely interested in, so I was quite disappointed at how much of it was boring or difficult to follow. I love the cover design and it intrigued me several times a week on the Featured New Titles shelves of the library. There are absolutely many fascinating thi "We've got to science the shit out of this" are the final words of this audio format science-y memoir, and that line was by far the most "in touch" Edith Widder's writing got. It was published in 2021 and explores a subject I have become extremely interested in, so I was quite disappointed at how much of it was boring or difficult to follow. I love the cover design and it intrigued me several times a week on the Featured New Titles shelves of the library. There are absolutely many fascinating things I learned about in this book, and it prompted me to Google a handful of things that appear much more astounding in photos than in words. And in some way I got what I was asking for: more attention to methodology [than had appeared in some other natural science or psychology books I've read recently]. But Widder's presentation of these cool and mysterious bioregions is a linear account that includes things like what she had for breakfast that day. Worse, every single attempt at making a joke goes kerplunk like the corniest of dad jokes. I kept rolling my eyes and asking myself, "Who is she talking to?" I myself am nearly 40 years old and yet the comparisons, sayings, and pop cultural references she makes throughout this very new book were highly dated - the language spoken here is strictly Baby Boomer. If there were a deeeply condensed and carved out summary of this book containing photos and all the coolest things she and her colleagues have found, and *some* of the scientific procedural explanations, I would highly recommend it. As a long-time (rather light) activist for social and ecological justice, I did appreciate the positive attitude she advocates for explicitly. It's easy to feel despair when looking at the facts of how much reckless harm humans have done and continue to do to the one planet we can live on. And Widder makes a convincing argument for a switcheroo of the kinds of budgets dedicated by governments to outer space exploration vs. oceanic exploration. I learned that we have much better maps of several other planets than we do of our own damn ocean floors. Widder says we don't know about the oft-quoted "5%" of the oceans, but closer to 0.01%. Despite the confidence with which David Attenborough spews superlatives about whichever ocean animal is the "most" something or other, it is more clear from this veteran scientist's perspective that we really don't know very much for certain about most ocean life. That said, I watched a very dramatic and informative documentary about the Great Barrier Reef about three quarters of the way through this book, and then immediately watched the "Deep" episodes of Blue Planet (the first one), and I would highly recommend either of those awe-inspiring videos to the average layperson. Below the Edge of Darkness might be just perfect for a senior retiree with curious dreams of ocean science.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    A fascinating and inspiring memoir by the brilliant Edith Widder, a marine biologist, oceanographer, and the CEO of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association. In Below the Edge of Darkness, Widder explains how she developed an interest in and passion for bioluminescence (the type of light produced by living creatures such as fireflies, lanternfish, and comb jellies). The highlight of the book is Widder’s 2012 encounter with a giant squid—she and a team of fellow scientists were the first to f A fascinating and inspiring memoir by the brilliant Edith Widder, a marine biologist, oceanographer, and the CEO of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association. In Below the Edge of Darkness, Widder explains how she developed an interest in and passion for bioluminescence (the type of light produced by living creatures such as fireflies, lanternfish, and comb jellies). The highlight of the book is Widder’s 2012 encounter with a giant squid—she and a team of fellow scientists were the first to film the “kraken” in its natural habitat thanks, in part, to Widder’s development of a specialized camera and a flashing, robotic jellyfish, which the team used to lure the squid. (I mentioned that she’s brilliant, right?) Advocating for a realistic, pragmatic optimism as we work to solve the problems facing our oceans (e.g., climate change, pollution, overfishing), she also argues that humans should prioritize ocean exploration and conservation: “Our focus needs to be on exploring our own planet before it’s too late. We know that our oceans are what make our planet livable, and yet they remain mostly unknown. We need to launch a new age of exploration, one that is focused on our greatest treasure, life. ... I embrace exploration—all exploration—because there is always new knowledge to be gained. But in the face of limited budgets and hard choices, I turn my head away from the stars to look instead at our oceans. I choose life and our own existence, as well as that of swaying kelp forests with playful sea otters and neon-orange garibaldi fish ...; and, of course, deep-sea coral gardens awash in twinkling bioluminescent splendor .... I know I’m biased, but seriously, how can the barren surface of Mars possibly compare?” (292) Widder’s also given some captivating TED talks, including “How We Found the Giant Squid” and “The Weird and Wonderful World of Bioluminescence.” I’m glad I watched these before reading the book, as they helped prepare me for some of the scientific terminology, etc., in the memoir.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    What a fantastic book about bioluminescent ocean animals and a woman scientist breaking barriers in a mostly male world. Part autobiography, part science the main focus is on the research and exploration of the ocean’s waters and bioluminescent animals in particular. This is an exciting read with amazing discoveries (yes, the Kraken is real!), disparaging tv documentary teams (slanted science for ratings), and submersible mishaps (although most dives do go well). Widder’s research and how she go What a fantastic book about bioluminescent ocean animals and a woman scientist breaking barriers in a mostly male world. Part autobiography, part science the main focus is on the research and exploration of the ocean’s waters and bioluminescent animals in particular. This is an exciting read with amazing discoveries (yes, the Kraken is real!), disparaging tv documentary teams (slanted science for ratings), and submersible mishaps (although most dives do go well). Widder’s research and how she goes about trying to capture the bioluminescent animals on film and study them in the wild are fascinating tales. The few mishaps that go awry lead to moments of intense reading. And don’t skip the footnotes! They are extra nuggets that usually contain a bit of a joke. I’m not sure when the last science book made me laugh this much. The book did have message: we have barely explored the ocean waters, which do cover more surface of the earth than land, and we need to do more, much more. Widder juxtaposes ocean explorations and research to space exploration, which gets funding and attention on an extreme scale comparatively. We need to learn more about the animals and environment in the oceans before it’s too late. There’s some really neat stuff down there, we just need to find it! Book rating: 4.5 stars Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for an uncorrected electronic advance review copy of this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Billy Jepma

    An excellent, insightful, and an ultimately hopeful memoir about science, discovery, and perseverance. Widder isn't a writer by trade, which she admits to, so the writing of her memoir is somewhat of a mixed bag, but the quality and richness of her material make up for it. The memoir bits aren't integrated into the scientific aspects as smoothly as I had hoped. Still, they complement each other and give the book a level of accessibility it probably wouldn't have had otherwise. I love the ocean a An excellent, insightful, and an ultimately hopeful memoir about science, discovery, and perseverance. Widder isn't a writer by trade, which she admits to, so the writing of her memoir is somewhat of a mixed bag, but the quality and richness of her material make up for it. The memoir bits aren't integrated into the scientific aspects as smoothly as I had hoped. Still, they complement each other and give the book a level of accessibility it probably wouldn't have had otherwise. I love the ocean and have been enchanted by its mystery and impossible vastness since I was a kid, so it's not like this book would be a hard sell for me. I love Widder's passion for her work, and her enthusiasm is infectious even in the denser, more jargon-heavy sections (of which there are several). I'm so glad the book exists and hope it sells a lot of copies because more people, myself included, need resources like this one that educate them on the incredible (and increasingly fragile) nature of our planet and inspire them to action.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Russell

    Illuminating memoir of Widder's remarkable career as a marine biologist investigating bioluminescence. Prior to reading this, I knew a few fish near the bottom of the ocean used biologically-generated light to attract prey, but had no idea how pervasive light generating was among fish living in the middle layers of the ocean. It was fascinating to read about how she and her various teams designed experimental platforms for use deep in the water, and about the expeditions they mounted to gather i Illuminating memoir of Widder's remarkable career as a marine biologist investigating bioluminescence. Prior to reading this, I knew a few fish near the bottom of the ocean used biologically-generated light to attract prey, but had no idea how pervasive light generating was among fish living in the middle layers of the ocean. It was fascinating to read about how she and her various teams designed experimental platforms for use deep in the water, and about the expeditions they mounted to gather information about these forms of life. It ends with an impassioned plea that we spend at least as much energy and resources investigating the oceans, so that we can understand them before we destroy them with pollution, warming, and overharvesting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    Thank you Random House for the free book. After a lifetime of remarkable discoveries, Edie Widder's still awestruck by the vast bioluminescence lighting the ocean's depths. Her new memoir captures that excitement, and it's a passionate plea to pay attention to science. Thank you Random House for the free book. After a lifetime of remarkable discoveries, Edie Widder's still awestruck by the vast bioluminescence lighting the ocean's depths. Her new memoir captures that excitement, and it's a passionate plea to pay attention to science.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    “Drag a net behind a ship almost anywhere in the ocean below the edge of darkness, and most of the animals you bring up in that net will make light. Given the volume of the open ocean and the vast watery realm between the ocean’s surface and its bottom, which constitutes the largest ecosystem on the planet, we’re talking about a world teeming with light makers….To put this in perspective, if most of the animals in the ocean are bioluminescent (from single-celled bacteria to colossal squid), then “Drag a net behind a ship almost anywhere in the ocean below the edge of darkness, and most of the animals you bring up in that net will make light. Given the volume of the open ocean and the vast watery realm between the ocean’s surface and its bottom, which constitutes the largest ecosystem on the planet, we’re talking about a world teeming with light makers….To put this in perspective, if most of the animals in the ocean are bioluminescent (from single-celled bacteria to colossal squid), then a majority of the creatures on the planet are communicating using language-of-light dialects that we don’t comprehend.” Rachel Carson: “The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.” This scientist should be known by everyone, but this is the first I am hearing of her, which is additional testimony to the lament she has that ocean exploration has garnered a tiny percentage of funds versus the billions, gazillions on space exploration, which is a shame. Tourism into space vs tourism into the waters of the deep right here on our level teeming with life and that may have levels of value Mars just will not. (I support both but want ocean sciences to get more!) I have to confess I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was younger, so am not quite unbiased, and still love the ocean and everything about it; if I look closely at what I didn’t like about the book, and why it slowed me down in reading it- it was the boring info about obtaining funding and how this machine worked and they fixed this or that about it, and the way they had to adjust this or that dial or camera. Some of the science was dense too, and just little poetry unless talking about the “living lights.” But she changed the world and she did it by being a marine biologist who invented things, who had visions of how to capture and prove there was a “living light” that is a language, and worked with an engineer to make it happen, so it is just my bias looking for more poetry like Rachel Carson said was inherent in the ocean. The author has a sense of humor, and was “forced” to call it a memoir, awkwardly, and it lacks poetry and personal information, but she adventured, man, she adventured and explored and did so at a time where women were just starting to break into science. If anyone can be called a badass, she is it. I watched 2 of her TED talks, highly recommended, she may be a better speaker than writer, because I had to see the visuals of what she is describing. It is not something I expect to see, the deep sea bioluminescence, but hopefully one day can do some kayaking on surface bioluminescence. But the thought of it, the thought of submerging into the deeps, turning off the lights, and seeing light shows, living light shows, like stars and constellations and galaxies, but talking to each other in a ways the cold, dead universe does not, or that we have not evolved enough to to understand yet, that is a beautiful mystery that stays with me. Nature is hidden, says Annie Dillard, and it can be one show per customer, if that with the mysteries of the unexplored ocean, but this “living light” show was first seen and documented by her, and she should be a legend. Fireworks are an extraordinary art form—light painted onto the black canvas of a night sky. Each brushstroke is a splash of photons defined not just by color and contour but also by movement through space and time. Transience is what saves these spectacles from the kitschiness of a black velvet painting, as each burst of light morphs from moment to moment, rocketing up, blooming out, cascading down—incandescent for mere moments before disappearing into nothingness. Just as fireworks are a kind of light painting, so is bioluminescence. But instead of the product of incandescence and human ingenuity, bioluminescence is cold chemical light, a consequence of millions of years of evolution resulting in fantastic light-emitting creatures with evocative names like crystal jelly, cockeyed squid, bearded seadevil, shining tubeshoulder, stoplight fish, and velvet belly lantern shark. Their bodies are adorned with all manner of light-emitting structures—nozzles that spew liquid blue flame, incredibly complex light organs that look like flesh-encrusting jewels but behave optically like eyes that emit light instead of collecting it, and absurdly elaborate glowing appendages that resemble abstract sculptures…It’s true that there were evanescent sprays and swirls and squirts of flashiness glittering in the darkness that resembled the “light jazz” of a fireworks display, but they weren’t every color of the rainbow. Instead, it was a mixture of the most brilliant blues ever to grace an artist’s palette—azure, cobalt, cerulean, lapis, neon—supernatural hues, emitted rather than reflected light. In the course of human history, our pattern has been exploration followed by exploitation, but in the ocean we have managed to reverse the order—massively exploiting the ocean’s resources before exploring what’s actually there. In the past sixty years, we have altered the ocean more than in all of the preceding two hundred thousand years of human existence. Warming waters and melting ice are potentially altering the flow of the great rivers in the sea like the Gulf Stream. More than sixty miles wide and a half-mile deep, the Gulf Stream transports a volume of water that exceeds that of all the rivers in the world by twenty-five times, carrying warm water from the equator along the east coast of North America and across the great Atlantic to northwestern Europe. The other rationale for our inaction is the simple fact that the swelling drumbeat of decimation engenders such a sense of helplessness that people want to plug their ears and cover their eyes. But the beat goes on, growing ever louder, with the hope that if we just point out how truly dire the situation is becoming, the appropriate checks and balances will be brought to bear, like taxing carbon and switching from burning fossil fuels to alternatives like solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear energy. It has been said that Martin Luther King, Jr., did not mobilize the civil rights movement by preaching, “I have a nightmare.” Nonetheless, that’s what many on the environmental front lines are doing. We need a different outlook, one that focuses on our strengths rather than our weaknesses. Exploration has always been the key to our survival, which is why I believe we need explorers now more than ever. Explorers are, by necessity, optimists who have to see beyond imagined limits to find a way forward. Our survival on this planet depends on fostering a greater sense of connection to the living world, and wonderment is key to forging that link. I have long believed that bioluminescence provides a means to reveal the wonder in this unseen world to a public that is alarmingly unaware and, thus, largely indifferent to what makes life possible on our planet. I believe it is a light capable of exciting the imagination and firing the inborn curiosity that defines the core of what it means to be human. I hope it can fire the imaginations of the next generation of explorers and in so doing provide a beacon of hope for the future of life on Earth. Environmentalist Rachel Carson once said, “One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again? It is easy to understand why a tree is the living thing most often used to symbolize the human need to connect to nature. Poets and conservationists pen odes to “a tree called life” because it is a living being that nearly everyone has experienced firsthand. But how do we connect to nature on the much broader scale upon which we are now impacting it? We live on an ocean planet, but we have very little understanding of what that actually means. Ours is a living, breathing water world, filled with creatures whose existences are so utterly alien to our own, it’s a significant struggle to relate to them. (less) If you try to take a firefly apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a nonworking firefly. However, holding it gives at least one clue to its sorcery. Bioluminescence is cold light. This seems surprising, because, based on our everyday experiences with the sun, candle flames, and incandescent lightbulbs, we associate light with heat. The ability to produce light is so critical to survival that it has been selected for independently more than fifty times during evolutionary history. This is known as “convergent evolution,” where creatures that aren’t closely related evolve similar traits in order to adapt to similar circumstances. although sharks and dolphins share analogous streamlined body shapes and fins of comparable form and function, this is not because they are closely related genetically; sharks, after all, are fish, while dolphins are mammals. Rather, that particular body plan works well for maneuvering through water and therefore provides an advantage—allowing them to catch more food and evade more predators and thus survive long enough to pass on their DNA. It seems wrong that the color of a thing is defined by a negative—in other words, what it doesn’t absorb. Chlorophyll appears green because it absorbs red and blue, using the energy from these colors to make photosynthesis possible. The green that reflects back to our eyes is the unuseful stuff—basically discarded photons. Most of us live our lives with our feet planted firmly on the ground and are out of touch with the true nature of our watery world. Only 29 percent of the surface area of Earth is land; the rest is water. Oceanographers often try to alert their fellow Earthlings to the significance of their research by using such numbers. Or they describe how we have better maps of the back side of the moon than we do of the bottom of the ocean. But even that disparity misses the point, because it’s thinking in just two dimensions. The three-dimensional reality is that, while living space on land extends into the tallest trees and many feet beneath the surface, it is still an absurdly thin layer and represents a tiny volume compared with the staggering enormity of the ocean, which encompasses more than 99.5 percent of the living space on the planet. And this is no empty void. These waters teem with life, but our experience of this largest of Earth’s ecosystems is scant and biased by the limitations of our tools for exploration. It’s remarkable that the primary way we know about life in the midwater is by dragging nets behind ships. How many other branches of science can you name that still depend on technology thousands of years old to gather data? It takes more than twenty minutes for the human eye to dark adapt, so I turned out the lights, prepared to wait a while before being able to see much, but no delay was necessary. Instantly I was engulfed in what looked like a field of stars. Everywhere I looked, there were glowing motes. The density was like what you might see in a desert sky on a moonless night, but these stars weren’t static; they were swirling all around me like a three-dimensional version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. My breath caught in my throat. The phrase “mermaids’ tears” came to mind. Their light was not a steady glow or an abrupt flash, but rather a slow, deliberate illumination, like turning up lights with a dimmer switch, only these lights didn’t switch on synchronously, but in a propagated sequence. Mixed in with all these mermaids’ tears were other, less abundant flashes and glows, small puffs of what looked like luminous blue galactic clouds, and distant orbs that would glow brightly for three seconds and then wink out. Monterey Bay, home to one of the world’s most spectacular submarine canyons—comparable to the Grand Canyon in depth, but with steep escarpments and multitier plateaus studded with all manner of marine life. The canyon also serves to funnel deep-sea animals from offshore up the chasm, potentially providing a greater concentration of the midwater animals that we wanted to observe. Inside the sphere I had a supersensitive video camera*1 that I hoped would be capable of recording the bioluminescence outside the sub. Up until this point, the only people who had ever seen bioluminescence in the deep ocean had been those lucky few who had been able to dive in a submersible and had bothered to turn out the lights. I badly wanted some way of recording it so I wouldn’t have to depend on my visual memory of fleeting flashes, and also so I could share something I considered one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on the planet with people completely unaware of its existence. Since jellies were prevalent throughout the water column and almost universally bioluminescent, I decided to focus on them. To determine what kind of display a particular jelly produced, I would steer the sub until I had the jelly lined up between the acrylic sphere and the screen. Some firm-bodied round jellies emitted a perfect necklace of light when they hit the screen. By contrast, an exquisite crystalline jelly that looked like the top half of a hot cross bun fringed by hundreds of threadlike tentacles did something very unexpected. Whenever I lined it up to strike the screen, it would react to the water currents by contracting its margin into sharp folds, so when it made contact, it was recognizable by its un-jelly-like shape, sometimes forming a near-perfect square of light. Even more remarkable than some of the odd shapes were the incredibly elaborate flash patterns. There were comb jellies generating bands of light that propagated along their comb rows, creating a delicate tracing of a figure eight. Funding for deep-sea exploration in general and bioluminescence in particular has always been a tiny fraction of that for space exploration. In fact, the only reason my interest in bioluminescence turned out to be fundable was that the Soviet Union was also interested in it. Had that not been the case, I doubt my adventures would have been possible. SEAS SOWED WITH FIRE Ancient navigators could read the sea in the same way that the Inuit people read snow.*1 Route finders drew on not just a lifetime of study but many lifetimes, passed on from one generation to the next. This knowledge was central to transforming the seas from hindrances into highways for exploration and opening up new frontiers for settlement and trade. Knowledge was power, which is why, in some ancient cultures, navigators were revered as priests and their knowledge was zealously guarded as state secrets. If you want to know what it’s like to swim through a minefield of living light, you can find out by visiting a bioluminescent bay. There are several in Puerto Rico… When the vessel stops, dangle your legs over the side and you will be immediately rewarded with shimmering sequined boots—a scintillating aura that surrounds your limbs, enticing you to kick more and more vigorously until you are gleefully splashing like a toddler in the bathtub, creating a watery eruption of brilliant sapphire. If you are lucky enough to be some place where swimming is allowed, then you can go ahead and dive in.*8 As you swim, you will be enveloped in a twinkling halo of glittering stardust. Wiggle your fingers in front of your face and watch sparks fly off your fingertips. It’ll feel like you have been magically granted superpowers. You have! Life surrounds us and nature is everywhere, but too often invisible to our eyes. Here, the hidden energy of life is revealed and the response is universal—a heady fusion of joy and awe. Marine bioluminescence is a comparable evolutionary success story. Why? How did there come to be so many light makers in the ocean? more than 90 percent of the fish he collected in his nets were bioluminescent. When you do the math, it turns out that we’re not talking about mere billions or even trillions but possibly quadrillions of bioluminescent fish in the ocean. If you measure success in terms of numbers, then bioluminescent fish are the most successful vertebrates on the planet. There are also shrimp and squid, as well as plankton (like dinoflagellates and copepods) and untold numbers of fragile jelly animals, that are part of this light-spangled bouillabaisse. what we witnessed when we turned out the lights and sat quietly in the dark. Whenever I did this in the midwater, as long as I went dead still I saw nothing—no spontaneous bioluminescence, just absolute and complete blackness. But here, on the seafloor, there was frequent luminescence, not from the detritivores living on the bottom but from plankton carried by the current, which were mechanically stimulated when they bumped into the detritivores. But what about the giants that inhabit the deep midwater, where the primary food is fecal pellets and marine snow? Here the food content is so dilute, it’s the equivalent of a few grains of rice in a cubic meter (264 gallons) of seawater. To survive on such a diet, animals have to sieve through an enormous quantity of liquid—anywhere from one hundred thousand to ten million times their own body volume per day! In interviews, I tried to emphasize how little we have actually explored of our own planet. Based on the large quantities of giant squid beaks found in sperm whale stomachs and given how readily we filmed them with the Medusa, it appears that giant squid aren’t rare; they’re just shy. We only knew about their existence because they happen to float when they die. How many other amazing creatures are down there that we don’t know about because what little exploring we have done we’ve done wrong? These squid are highly adaptable. They seem to have a plethora of feeding strategies, shifting prey preference as the situation warrants—from fish to krill to each other. They can tolerate extremely low oxygen levels and, to some degree, may actually be beneficiaries of climate change. Their range in the eastern North Pacific Ocean has recently expanded, and they have invaded waters along the central California coast and been spotted as far north as the Gulf of Alaska. Their extreme adaptability positions them as potential survivors in a rapidly changing world, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that they have developed a way to detect and avoid motorized fishing fleets. Back on deck, I was practically levitating with excitement. What fantastic, mysterious creatures these squid are! We had been granted the oh-so-rare opportunity to observe them in their inner sanctum, and, as so often happens, the experience created more questions than it answered. Gaining a better understanding of how this bit of ocean works relates directly to understanding how Spaceship Earth functions. Buckminster Fuller, a man of many titles, including inventor, architect, systems theorist, and futurist, popularized that phrase to emphasize what it means to live in a biological system with finite resources. If we damage our life-support machinery beyond repair, there is no possibility of a resupply ship showing up in the nick of time to save us. With that in mind, you might think that the importance of understanding how our world operates should be self-evident, but experience suggests otherwise. We humans have a really unfortunate history of not understanding the value of what we’ve got until it’s gone.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    I wish she had talked about her life more in her MEMOIR. After reading the first section I was looking forward to the rest, but it went downhill from there. There wasn't really anything bad about the chapters individually, but it could've used some more editing - there was very little thread tying it together and the tone and writing style ranged from overly scientific to preachy to way too casual. I wish she had talked about her life more in her MEMOIR. After reading the first section I was looking forward to the rest, but it went downhill from there. There wasn't really anything bad about the chapters individually, but it could've used some more editing - there was very little thread tying it together and the tone and writing style ranged from overly scientific to preachy to way too casual.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    It felt very repetitive and I’m honestly not really sure what I was expecting but it felt like it was talking more about her getting funding etc than the actual sea creatures.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cade

    I enjoyed learning about the visual ecology of animals in an environment where bioluminescence is a significant light source. Unfortunately that was at most half the book. I didn't care at all about the author's personal history or her sermons about ocean conservation. I enjoyed learning about the visual ecology of animals in an environment where bioluminescence is a significant light source. Unfortunately that was at most half the book. I didn't care at all about the author's personal history or her sermons about ocean conservation.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jared White

    An interesting glimpse into the deep sea and the explorative missions that take us there. It was really neat to be able to pause reading the book and to go see footage of various encounters/experiences that Widder references in the book. It boggles my mind how hard it is to get funding for ocean exploration and how much is spent on space exploration compared to it. "In 2013, the government's budget for space exploration was $3.8 billion, 160 times the $23.7 million allocated to ocean research an An interesting glimpse into the deep sea and the explorative missions that take us there. It was really neat to be able to pause reading the book and to go see footage of various encounters/experiences that Widder references in the book. It boggles my mind how hard it is to get funding for ocean exploration and how much is spent on space exploration compared to it. "In 2013, the government's budget for space exploration was $3.8 billion, 160 times the $23.7 million allocated to ocean research and climate forecasting. President Biden has asked the U.S. Congress to boost NASA's science funding to $24.8 billion, the most ever. Biden proposed a record budget for the agency in charge of ocean studies, too, but at $7 billion, it is still a fraction of the money spent on space." From the article, Are we ready for another planet? by William Becker on Wall Street International. I think space is fairly fascinating but it can wait, what there is to be discovered and explored will not disappear because of humanity's blunders, unlike ecosystems in our oceans. The health of humanity does not depend on the health of space (or, if it does, we can do nothing to change that) but the health of the ocean is very much tied to humanity's future and we can only properly care for the ocean if we understand it better (aka explore it more fully). That aside, there are truly amazing creatures yet to be discovered (if those regularly discovered ones are any indicator). Space may be the "final frontier" sometime in the future but for now, there remains 80% (or more, depending on your source) to be explored. This book is just a dip into the wonder waiting in the depths of the sea. I listened to this as an audiobook and quite enjoyed it in that format.

  25. 4 out of 5

    James Hendrickson

    wonderful subject Great subject and well written. It’s hard to recommend this to anyone not interested in underwater research or bioluminescence but if you are interested in those subjects this book is for you.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kit Pfeiffer

    Envigorating read, opening my eyes to a vast world "below the edge of darkness" in the sea. Good storytelling, clear explanations of dense science. I highly recommend this! Envigorating read, opening my eyes to a vast world "below the edge of darkness" in the sea. Good storytelling, clear explanations of dense science. I highly recommend this!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Angela McCollister

    Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley: This was a phenomenal memoir of a scientist who has spent her professional life searching for bioluminescent light in our vastly under-explored oceans. She suffered a serious illness that almost killed her and could have wrecked her plans but she persevered and has led an inspiring life. I love marine biology so it was amazing to learn more about this subject and to have an inside peek into what this research is really like was such a bonus. I received Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley: This was a phenomenal memoir of a scientist who has spent her professional life searching for bioluminescent light in our vastly under-explored oceans. She suffered a serious illness that almost killed her and could have wrecked her plans but she persevered and has led an inspiring life. I love marine biology so it was amazing to learn more about this subject and to have an inside peek into what this research is really like was such a bonus. I received a vicarious thrill when she was wrote about her work on the expedition in 2013 to find and film giant squid because I remember that documentary like it was yesterday. I remember being so excited that it was the woman scientist who was the first to be successful with her equipment compared to the other scientists on board. With an easy, conversational writing style and plenty of wit, this book is a must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in marine biology.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael D

    I was fascinated …… by the NY Times review of this book. Being an older gent, I have an approximate 75 page “trial period” for any book, during which I had better be captivated, or I move on to my lengthy list of “next” books. While the author has an interesting subject, presented in a concise, authoritative manner, it is simply boring. For whatever reason, I could not stay focused, and forced myself to read it. Not good. For those of you who are marine biologists, or any sort of nautical scient I was fascinated …… by the NY Times review of this book. Being an older gent, I have an approximate 75 page “trial period” for any book, during which I had better be captivated, or I move on to my lengthy list of “next” books. While the author has an interesting subject, presented in a concise, authoritative manner, it is simply boring. For whatever reason, I could not stay focused, and forced myself to read it. Not good. For those of you who are marine biologists, or any sort of nautical scientist, this is your book. For those of you who cover a broad spectrum of interests, genres and periods/eras (me), this is a tough read that requires your attention and commitment. If you a member of the latter group, move on.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sneed III

    Edith Widder's new book not only adds a much-needed, ahem, depth to our understanding of the oceans, it provides an entertaining, personal, and insightful narrative of a scientist's journey. In a time when science is so maligned and discounted, Widder reminds us that science is basically just pursuing our curiosity and fascination with this incredible world we are lucky enough to live in. In between recounting her almost unlimited encounters and adventures with everything from comb jellies to gi Edith Widder's new book not only adds a much-needed, ahem, depth to our understanding of the oceans, it provides an entertaining, personal, and insightful narrative of a scientist's journey. In a time when science is so maligned and discounted, Widder reminds us that science is basically just pursuing our curiosity and fascination with this incredible world we are lucky enough to live in. In between recounting her almost unlimited encounters and adventures with everything from comb jellies to giant squid, she shares remarkable information about the nature of our undersea world, a world that we have still only begun to explore but is in imminent danger from human activities.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Meaghan Babin

    I was so excited to read this book when I saw it on NetGalley! Below the Edge of Darkness is a really amazing memoir into bioluminescence and finding light and life in the ocean. This book is really mesmerizing and thrilling with just enough scientific to really keep you interested.

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