Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Brilliant Abyss

Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean, and the Looming Threat That Imperils It

by Helen Scales

A marine biologist vividly brings alive the extraordinary ecosystem of the deep ocean—a realm about which we know less than we do about the Moon—and shows how protecting rather than exploiting it will benefit mankind

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date June 14, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5823-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date July 06, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5822-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date July 06, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5824-6
  • US List Price $27.00

“The oceans have always shaped human lives,” writes marine biologist Helen Scales in her vibrant new book The Brilliant Abyss, but the surface and the very edges have so far mattered the most. “However, one way or another, the future ocean is the deep ocean.”

A golden era of deep-sea discovery is underway. Revolutionary studies in the deep are rewriting the very notion of life on Earth and the rules of what is possible. In the process, the abyss is being revealed as perhaps the most amazing part of our planet, with a topography even more varied and extreme than its Earthbound counterpart. Teeming with unsuspected life, an extraordinary interconnected ecosystem deep below the waves has a huge effect on our daily lives, influencing climate and weather systems, with the potential for much more—good or bad depending on how it is exploited. Currently the fantastic creatures that live in the deep—many of them incandescent in a world without light—and its formations capture and trap vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise poison our atmosphere; and novel bacteria as yet undiscovered hold the promise of potent new medicines. Yet the deep also holds huge mineral riches lusted after by many nations and corporations; mining them could ultimately devastate the planet, compounded by the deepening impacts of ubiquitous pollutants and rampant overfishing.

Eloquently and passionately, Helen Scales brings to life the majesty and mystery of an alien realm that nonetheless sustains us, while urgently making clear the price we could pay if it is further disrupted. The Brilliant Abyss is at once a revelation and a clarion call to preserve this vast unseen world.

Praise for The Brilliant Abyss:

Named a Globe 100 Book by the Globe and Mail
Named a Best Science Book of the Year by
Library Journal

The Brilliant Abyss, Helen Scales’s sweeping survey of the seafloor, is brave enough to risk a darker and, in some ways, more satisfying tone . . . 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 . . . She urges us to err on the side of preservation: no deep-sea mining, fishing, oil drilling or extraction of any kind. The deep, she argues, is too vulnerable, and too crucial to the working of the planet to blindly ransack.”—Robert Moor, New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“Written by a highly articulate expert in the field, [The Brilliant Abyss is] so comprehensive and insightful that it will be a long time before it’s surpassed . . . In the first half of her book, Scales does an excellent job of animating the almost unbelievable panoply of life in the deep. As an explorer herself, she has seen things first-hand that few others will ever witness. But it is the second part of her book, devoted to the human impacts on the abyss, which brought gasps to my throat . . . 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.” —Tim Flannery, New Statesman

“Fascinating . . . The book’s purview is technically all of history, but the incredible paucity of interaction people have had with the deep sea means that most of the information here takes the form of news delivered as a dire, last-minute warning . . . The Brilliant Abyss is a manifesto for change as much as it is a description of an ecological crisis. Its overall effect is not to clarify the waters . . . but to insist that what’s already down there matters, even or especially when it is hidden from our view.”—Jo Livingstone, New Republic

“Vivid . . . [Outlines] some of the staggering biological creatures that have already been uncovered—with the promise that many more await discovery . . . Stylish, eloquent . . . Enthralling and richly expressed and highlights how closely our lives depend on the deep.”—Robin McKie, Guardian

“An exploration of the deep sea’s biodiversity and the threats it faces . . . The author lucidly explains not only the geological contours of the deep but also the animals that inhabit it . . . Scales bids us to think of the deep not merely as a place to exploit for resources, but as a wondrous abode that we are compelled to protect – a precious realm that we should all care about.”—Benjamin Shull, Christian Science Monitor

“[Scales] has an astonishingly big, profoundly important story to tell and wisely gives it the pace and care it deserves . . . Extraordinary . . . It’s all so marvellous, astonishing, remarkable and compelling that readers can’t help but embrace Scales’s vision of a majestic and mysterious world mostly unsullied by humans . . . An important, powerful and hypnotizing tale of the deep, one that can’t be recommended enough . . . Scales is a brilliant writer.”—Gerald Flood, Winnipeg Free Press

“In The Brilliant Abyss, Helen Scales, a marine biologist whose previous books explored the shallower reaches of the sea, dives deep and revealingly into the realm below 660 feet where sunlit blue begins to give way to black.”—Economist

“Scales writes beautifully of the ocean floor while at the same time instilling rage for the damage wrought by deep-sea fishing and mining . . . It is the author’s gift to leave us both enthralled and angry, but angered to action and not to despair.”—Air Mail

“In The Brilliant Abyss, the erudite Helen Scales explains why the ocean is so important and valuable an asset to our planet and to our survival . . . Part of protecting the oceans involves fighting climate change. Scales joins activists around the world in demanding that the way the world does business has to change . . . If we do it the right way, Scales suggests that we will also be able to preserve the oceans as sanctuaries filled with wonder and beauty.”—Ed Meek, Arts Fuse

“An investigative foray into the world of deep-sea waters with a veteran marine biologist . . . [A] beguiling journey into the ocean’s deep, a wondrous landscape full of mystery and adventure . . . Scales offers crisp, engaging prose, linking everything together in an accessible, entertaining manner. With plenty of scientific research to back her up, the author displays legitimate concerns about a wide variety of maladies . . . A captivating nature tour and a convincing warning that ‘the deep needs decisive, unconditional protection.’”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Marine biologist Scales tours the lightless depths of the ocean and showcases its denizens in this show-stopping work . . . This vivid survey hits the mark as an awe-filled paean to the mysteries of the deep.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Marine biologist Scales takes readers into the deep sea in this vivid and luminous title. With occasional forays into history, including Ernst Haeckel’s illustrative work on sea creatures, and references to Moby-Dick and whaling, Scales writes of the astonishingly small group of scientists who explore the ocean’s greatest depths . . . It is the author’s lush descriptive language and the breadth of her knowledge that truly stand out . . . The questions, Scales insists in this compelling title, should not be so much what the deep can do for us (feed us, cure us, save us), but rather what we must be willing to do for the oceans and every wondrous thing that lives there, given that our very existence depends on the health of the planet’s seas.”Booklist (starred review)

“Scales introduces readers to the deep ocean, which begins where photosynthesis stops, 660 feet below the surface. Humans have interacted almost exclusively with the ocean’s surface and edges, but the deep comprises far more of the ocean’s volume and is likely more vital to the continuation of life on earth, Scales writes . . . A fascinating international glimpse of Earth’s last frontier that will draw in readers concerned for the health of our oceans.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Thanks to modern technology, especially unmanned submersibles, abyssal research is experiencing a golden age. Helen Scales, a marine biologist who is also a gifted storyteller, takes the reader on several expeditions that rely on these devices, and describes the bizarre life forms that have recently come to light.”—Natural History Magazine

“Scales details the astounding leaps forward we’ve made in the past 20 years in understanding this previously ignored realm. She shares the excitement that advances in technology and hard scientific graft have delivered in a relatively short time span. As with her previous best-selling books, Scales has an uncanny ability to make complex science engaging and entertaining.”—Geographical 

“Weaving together the latest discoveries with well-known examples, [Scales] details the many fascinating adaptations that life has evolved to survive in a world unlike anything at Earth’s surface . . . The Brilliant Abyss is an enjoyable and accessible introduction to the deep sea, told with a passion that I found infectious. The stories of life’s struggle for survival beneath the waves are compelling and Scales is particularly evocative when describing hydrothermal vents . . . . Scales brings to life this important part of our planet.”—Eleanor Parsons, New Scientist

“It is, indeed, weirdness all the way down, and Scales’s bestiary is a wonderful introduction to its variety . . . Scales’s enthusiasm for her subject is matched by a gift for visual evocation . . . The book also has a crusading message, which is that we depend on the ocean more than we realise, and are harming ourselves the more we harm it.”—Steven Poole, Daily Telegraph

“Beguiling . . . With her light and engaging prose, Scales takes the reader on an introductory dive into the mysterious depths to reveal the myriad of life hidden within, from red and green bone-devouring worms that flourish whenever whales fall down to the abyss, to the world’s fishiest-smelling fish . . . The ideal plunge into the depths of Earth’s last great wilderness.”—Ian Randall, Physics World

“Helen Scales offers up an abundance of wondrous revelation and wise warnings in this mesmerizing consideration of the vibrant world of darkness under the sea. This is essential, unforgettable reading about our marvelous blue planet.”—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, bestselling author of World of Wonders

“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 Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate and The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing

“Mind-blowing! From vampire squids to translucent octopuses, from marine snow to sea butterflies, from Yeti crabs who farm their microbial meals on their own hairy claws, to snails who build shells of iron in hydrothermal vents, Helen Scales blitzes us again and again with the deep sea’s staggering strangeness and arresting beauty. Studded with wonder on every page, The Brilliant Abyss is proof that, even as we consume and ruin our beautiful Earth in our greed, we hardly know our planet AT ALL! At this critical point in human history, Scales’ eloquent reporting underscores the urgency with which we must focus on saving the deep sea if our planet is to survive.”—Sy Montgomery, author of the national bestseller The Soul of an Octopus

Praise for Eye of the Shoal:

“A sprawling, ambitious underwater journey studded with fascinating tidbits.”New York Times Book Review

“An engaging and informative bouillabaisse.”Economist

“Scales’s genuine appreciation and awe for fish are contagious. She continually entices the reader by introducing exciting aspects of fish in each chapter.”Science

“A delightful book that provides a welcome invitation to enter the amazing world of fish.”New Scientist

“This aquarium of a book is an eloquent reminder of how remarkable [fish] are.”Natural History

“Enthralling and thought-provoking.”Countryman

“Helen Scales invites us to dive below the waterline as she reveals the hidden but glorious lives of fish going about their rather fascinating business.”Coast

Praise for Spirals in Time:

“A rewarding glimpse of another world, filled with strange and reclusive creatures . . . There is rich detail in all directions. One does not know what will come next. Often the descriptions made me see shafts of sunlight underwater, irradiating extraordinary places and creatures. That is just what the book does itself.”Guardian

“Punctures assumptions with the power of a cone snail dart.”Spectator

“Scales is a charming raconteur with boundless enthusiasm and an eye for detail that make her subject glow with life. Combining biology, history and ecology, this is nature writing at its most engaging.”Sunday Express

“The stories in Spirals in Time—which range from slaves being bought for bags of shells in west Africa in the 1770s to ground-breaking medical uses of cone-snail venom—are gripping and unimaginable.”Telegraph

“Takes us on a fascinating journey into the strange and captivating world of mollusks. Carefully researched and entertaining throughout . . . Relentlessly interesting.”Science

“An informed introduction to this fascinating group. The author’s enthusiasm shines through the prose . . . An ideal book for a summer holiday, and beach finds will take on a new dimension because of it.”Times Literary Supplement

“With the soul of a poet and a talent for finding the most intriguing trivia about familiar seaside sights, marine biologist Scales turns the mundane into the magical.”Discover