NEW YORK (AP) – The crazy, dangerous world of deep-sea shipwreck diving, and the discovery of a sunken German World War II sub off New Jersey, are woven into a tale of grit and friendship in the hot-selling summer read “Shadow Divers.”

Written by Esquire’s Robert Kurson, with the help of adventurers John Chatterton, the late Bill Nagle and Richie Kohler, the book is expected to rival “The Perfect Storm” and “Into Thin Air” in beach-chair popularity.

Released Tuesday amid glowing reviews, Kurson’s nonfiction story was No. 4 on Amazon.com’s best seller list by Wednesday, with 180,000 copies in print.

Kurson, who doesn’t even know how to swim, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he was drawn into the high-stakes world of deep wreck diving after a phone call from a friend.

The friend said that Nagle, a washed-up diver who ran a charter boat business, and Chatterton, who was working underwater construction for a living, had come across a sunken German submarine in 1991 off Brielle, N.J. No one, not even the Navy, had known or even suspected it was there, Kurson said.

With no knowledge of the dangerous and cliquey world of deep sea diving, a world inhabited by weekend warriors lurking in shadowy, lethal depths, Kurson’s answer was a resounding “Yes!”

“Would you believe that there are East Coast dive gangs with colors and stuff like that?” Kurson said. “That divers have tried to knife each other underwater over a tea cup?”

Kurson, 41, pored over charts and history books, traveling to Germany and contacting the ex-wives and girlfriends of many of the 14 divers on the team of 14 divers who went down to investigate the wreck.

“Most of these guys want to be the first to connect with a moment in time, to see a moment before anyone else,” said Kurson, who lives in Chicago. “That’s what motivates deep wreck divers.”

What they found in the Atlantic, at the perilous depth of 230 feet less than 60 miles from Brielle, was the German submarine U-869, long thought to have sunk off Gibraltar in 1945. Through Kurson’s research and the expedition’s discovery, the book reveals that instead, the U-boat apparently was felled by its own backfired torpedo off New Jersey.

Kurson details the seeming desperation of the sub’s 56-member crew, reconstructing their stories through relics found in the wreck and interviews with their families in Germany.

The sub had been ordered to New York but missed its rerouting instructions to Gibraltar and kept on going to New Jersey, the book said.

Kurson stops short of theorizing whether New York City or its neighbor state were targets.

“It occurred to me that there were shadows cast throughout the story, by the fallen crewmen, by World War II, by the seeming infallibility of written history …” Kurson wrote.

Books about World War II and adventure tend to sell well, but “Shadow Divers” was bought mainly because of Kurson’s ability to tell a story, said Jonathan Karp, the editor at Random House who acquired it just 48 hours after receiving the book proposal.

Kurson said he and the divers sold movie rights after a recent bidding war.

“We really thought it was going to be the next big thing,” Karp said. “I edited ‘Seabiscuit’ as well and I’ve never seen a book take off like this.”

Like “Seabiscuit,” the story of a broken-down racehorse with a winning spirit, the “Shadow Divers” expedition took its toll on those involved.

The expedition killed three crew members, sent Nagle into rampant alcoholism and eventually death, and ruined marriages – all chronicled by Kurson through interviews and research.

Beyond the perils that lurk in the black of the ocean, the mind-twisting effects of narcosis among them, past the demons that drive deep-sea divers and the horrors of an armed German sub trolling off New Jersey in wartime, Kurson said he was drawn to the story because of its Regular Joes, men who want to grab a piece of history.

“I don’t just want to inspire people to go deep wreck diving,” Kurson said. “I hope the book inspires people to push forward in their own passions.”

Chatterton, 52, a Vietnam veteran and rebel grandson of a rear admiral, told The Associated Press that deep sea diving is a way of life, not a beach resort folly.

“It’s almost rooted in who we are as a species,” said Chatterton. He first learned of the wreck after local fishermen reported seeing swarms of marine life around a patch of ocean off New Jersey.

“Exploration is what brought us out of our caves,” Chatterton said. “It strikes a primitive chord with us.”


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