Book review: One Breath

LAST year I developed a bit of a fascination with free-diving, though from the far and contrasting comfort of my city-dwelling 9am to 5pm routine.

So my plunge into this mysterious and mesmerising world of unaided, deep diving was done through reading.

James Nestor’s Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science And What The Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves hooked me in a way I’d not experienced with a book since possibly childhood and I wondered if any other freediving book could come close.

One Breath is different: where Nestor explores the often mystical and mindblowing science of the deep and how it’s possible for humans to hold their breath and descend to depths that see their lungs compress to less than half their usual size and survive (though blackouts and coughing up blood is common).

Skolnick explores the story of Nicholas ‘Nick’ Mevoli, the first American to dive down to 100m on a single breath hold — and also the first person to die in a competitive freediving event, at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas in 2013.

It’s easy to dismiss the death merely as proof that the sport is dangerous — but, as Skolnick demonstrates, it doesn’t end there, and there are numerous questions that remain unanswered.

To what extent was Nick’s own obsession with pushing limits responsible for his death? Could the tragedy have been prevented if the medical team had been better prepared? Why did his lungs respond the way they did, what does this teach us about the effects of freediving, and can those lessons help prevent future deaths?

Skolnick interweaves these questions with a biographical narrative of Nick’s life; his journey from free-spirited, daredevil youngster to handsome world-class athlete, whose talent and sporting ambition matched his modesty, and who lived and gave so fully yet always remained somewhat out of reach.

Skolnick, an American journalist and travel writer, didn’t know Nick, but brings his persona — and all its beautiful and frustrating complexities — to life through those who did (relatives, lovers, friends and peers), and through a balanced and informed but also appreciative examination of the appeal of competitive freediving.

One Breath Freediving, Death, And The Quest To Shatter Human Limits

Adam Skolnick

Corsair, €22.45; ebook, €11.80


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