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September 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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To The Very Depths: Peter Bennett’s Family Album

from the September, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A close friend and a well-published writer handed me his autobiography not long ago. I was surprised he had self-published it and asked why. He laughed. “Hell, I’d never show this thing to my publisher. It’s an advertisement for myself, intended for my grandkids and their kids, and a few friends who will indulge me, like you. I’d be embarrassed if anyone else read it.”

I wish my friend had been able to give his wise counsel to Dr. Peter B. Bennett before he published his autobiography.

Bennett was the first president of Diver’s Alert Network (DAN), and led it through its formative years. Carrying a Ph.D in anesthesiology, Bennett has contributed decades of research about human physiology under pressure, including important work on decompression, narcosis, mixed gases .. a very long list. He has an impressive resume. Oddly, in face of overwhelming data and support about the value of nitrox, he was about the last man standing in opposition to sport divers using it. It’s fair to say that anyone who straps on a tank and goes diving owes something to Bennett’s research.

What you don’t owe him, however, is to read his justpublished unfortunate memoir To the Very Depths, which is filled with self-serving passages and self congratulations, plus a 45-page personal defense of his struggle to retain his seat as chairman of DAN. Seven years ago, the DAN board voted to throw him out, amidst conflict of interest and other issues. Rather than step down graciously, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of DAN’s money defending himself, finally departing in 2003 with an orchestrated resignation. Most of the dive community has forgotten about that vain battle, and Bennett is now president of the Underwater Hyperbaric Medical Society. So why he decided to devote a quarter of his book to the DAN fight to try to prove once again that he was right and the board was wrong is anybody’s guess. But his smug one-sided defense, with no prosecutor to challenge him, should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

To The Very Depths: Peter Bennett’s Family AlbumWhen Bennett discusses his research, a student of diving physiology might keep reading because his work was indeed interesting and influential. However, he intersperses his book with photos that are best kept in a family album – his grandmother, his first house in England, trophies he has been awarded, buildings he worked in, a congratulatory letter from Ronald Reagan, gravestones of deceased relatives. And the glowing introduction is written by his son. Boy, I wish he had listened to my friend.

The remainder of the book is a walk through his life - - such as how his English parents had never planned for him, nor the twin who was born first. It culminates in a 25-page list of everything (yes, everything) he’s ever published, including his master’s thesis, as well as his awards, honors, memberships in professional societies, and even a letter to the editor and two management courses he took. One would think he was applying for a job. And then there is that “history” of DAN, which he abruptly ends at the year of his resignation, 2003, as if DAN disappeared when he left.

Yes, Dr. Peter B. Bennett is among the pioneers in diving physiology research, and his life might be worthy of a book, but it would need an unbiased storyteller to make it worth reading.

To the Very Depths; a Memoir of Professor Peter B. Bennett, Ph.D, D.Sc. (Best Publishing, 2008) is $21.95 and available by going to Undercurrent and clicking on the Amazon icon. On the Amazon website, you can read a review of the book by Chris Bennett, who doesn’t disclose he is Dr. Bennett’s son. All profits from our sale of the book go to preserve coral reefs.

- - Ben Davison

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