Review of Chris Santella’s “Fifty Place to Dive Before You Die”

Let’s suppose you are the author of a hot selling series of books, with titles like “Fifty Places to Go Birding Before you Die,” and “Fifty Places to Sail Before you Die.”  Now your editor suggests you write one about diving.  The problem is you are a casual diver, with only a few hours underwater.

If you’re Chris Santella, you seek out fifty experts and interview them about their favorites, in addition to doing basic research.  How did he find these experts?  Networking.  Tom Phillip, Ethan Gordon, and the Scubazoo crew provided Chris an entrée into the convoluted world of diving professionals.

When Chris called, he quizzed me about my experiences and opinions on the Galapagos.  It’s among the top half dozen of my favorite places, but I told him I’d rather discuss Bikini or the Red Sea.  Too bad, only one destination per expert, and Galapagos was what he’d assigned me.  Over the next half hour, he asked incisive questions which showed he had done his homework before calling.  At the end of the interview I voiced some concerns about environmental protection in the area, and asked outright if these would be included in the text.  I’m relieved to report that they are.  So this isn’t just editorial puffery.

Among the experts consulted are Jim Abernethy, Steve Frink, Marty Snyderman, Chuck Nicklin, Dan Orr, Stan Waterman, Berkley White, and Al Hornsby.  Some of the other names were new to me, but turned out to be dive operators in their regions, trip leaders, biologists, photographers, and local divers.  Dive sites come alive with recollections of dramatic incidents and memorable experiences, as well as nuts and bolts information.  Each of the 50 chapters concludes with information on getting there, best time to visit, and accommodations along with phone numbers and web addresses.  Full page color photographs head up each chapter.  Printing and reproduction live up to the high quality reputation of this publisher.

Certain chapters are specific to one dive site (Browning Pass, British Columbia) while others are more general and try to cover an entire region (Raja Ampat, Indonesia).  By limiting it to 50 places, a few classics had to be left out.  For example Sudan’s Sha’ab Rumi was the only site chosen for the Red Sea instead of many safer, more accessible, and arguably better ones on the Egyptian side.

Here’s a dive book for the general public that provides a highly positive look at the beauty and diversity of the underwater world.  At the same time, it’s a valuable reference for traveling divers who are looking for the best that world has to offer.

I’ve dived only 23 of the 50 places, and time is running out. 

Review by Eric Hanauer