WHOI & FPL Community Read

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution & Falmouth Public Library Community Read 2022


Dr. Edith Widder Introduces Below the Edge of Darkness


“A pioneering marine biologist takes us down into the deep ocean to understand bioluminescence – the language of light that helps life communicate in the darkness – and what it tells us about the future of life on Earth.”

Edith Widder’s childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist was almost derailed in college when complications from a surgery gone wrong made her temporarily blind.  Her new reality of shifting shadows drew her fascination to the power of light – as well as to the importance of optimism.  As her vision cleared, Widder found the intersection of her two passions in oceanic bioluminescence, a little-explored scientific field within Earth’s last great unknown frontier: the deep ocean.  With little promise of funding or employment, she leaped at the first opportunity to train as a submersible pilot and dove into the darkness.  Widder’s first journey into the deep ocean, in diving gear that resembled a suit of armor, took her down to eight hundred feet.  Turning off her lights, she witnessed breathtaking underwater fireworks: explosions of bioluminescent activity.  Her concerns about her career vanished.  She only wanted to know one thing: Why was there so much light down there?

Below the Edge of Darkness takes readers deep into our planet’s oceans as Widder pursues her questions about one of the most important and widely used forms of communication in nature.  In the process, she reveals hidden worlds and a dazzling menagerie of behaviors and animals, from microbes to leviathans, many never before seen or, like the legendary giant squid, never before filmed in their deep-sea lairs.  Alongside Widder, we experience life-and-death equipment malfunctions and witness breakthroughs in technology and understanding, all set against a growing awareness of the deteriorating health of our largest and least understood ecosystem.  


WHOI & FPL Community Read 2022 Events

WHOI & FPL Community Read 2022 events are free to the public and registration is required.

Inner-Space Aliens with Larry Madin on Wednesday, May 11th from 3pm-4pm in the Library’s Hermann meeting room. Register here.

        The organisms of Earth’s ‘inner space’ – the oceans, are so alien in appearance and behavior to what most people know. Following a video on ‘Blue Water Diving’, Larry will give a short presentation to illustrate more of the biology of the open ocean and deep-sea and its connection to the rest of the world and society.  A discussion and Q&A period will follow.  Larry Madin is Deputy Director Emeritus and Senior Science Advisor at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, MA, USA.

Below the Edge of Darkness Book Discussion with Allan Adams on Wednesday, May 25th from 7pm-8pm via Zoom.  Register here.

        Discuss Edie Widder’s book, Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea, in a group setting.  We will have a special guest, Allan Adams.  Allan is an Adjunct Oceanographer in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department at WHOI.

Below the Edge of Darkness Book Discussion with Dana Yoerger on Wednesday, June 1st from 3pm-4pm in the Library’s Hermann meeting room.  Register here.

        Discuss Edie Widder’s book, Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea, in a group setting.  We will have a special guest, Dr. Dana Yoerger.  Dana is a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a researcher in marine robotics. He supervises the research and academic program of graduate students studying oceanographic engineering through the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in the areas of control, robotics, and design.

Edie Widder Book Reading & Signing on Saturday, June 11th from 1pm-2:30pm in the Library’s Hermann meeting room.  Register here.

        Author Edie Widder will do a select reading from her book, Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea, followed by a short Q&A and then a book signing.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase by Eight Cousins at the event.  

Edie Widder Ocean Explorer – A Conversation on Saturday, June 11th from 4pm-5pm at WHOI’s Redfield Auditorium.

        After an introduction by Larry Madin, Edie Widder will engage in a conversation with Sam Harp, WHOI’s Vice President for Advancement, followed by a Q&A with the audience about her book Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea.


Edith Widder, Ph,D., is an oceanographer, a marine biologist, and the co-founder, CEO, and senior scientist at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association, a non-profit organization where she is focusing her passion for saving the ocean into developing innovative technologies to preserve and protect the ocean’s most precious real estate: its estuaries.  She has given three TED Talks; has been awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as he Explores Club Citation of Merit; and is the first recipient of the Captain Don Walsh Award for Ocean Exploration established by the Marine Technology Society and the Society for Underwater Technology.


5 Facts from Below the Edge of Darkness

“Gripping . . . Widder’s voice is in turns jaunty, precise and nerdily quippy. . . . The prose glints. . . . Widder [has] worked hard to bring the abyss to light. It is our duty, as clumsy land-bound dwellers of a water planet, to look, and to remember.”The New York Times Book Review

“Edith Widder’s story is one of hardscrabble optimism, two-fisted exploration, and groundbreaking research. She’s done things I dream of doing. I’d have wrapped my submersible, the Deepsea Challenger, in bacon if it would have lured the elusive giant squid from the depths. In Below the Edge of Darkness, Widder tells you how she did it.”—James Cameron

“My experience of exploring the deep ocean and its alien life with Edie Widder was fabulous. She enthralls us with many such stories in her book. I recommend it.”—Ray Dalio

“To shed light on a subject is what any scientific book should do. To go into it in depth without losing the reader is a harder task. Edith Widder’s subject is light itself—the manufacture of light by strange and eerie denizens of the deep sea—and her scintillating style is worthy of the topic. This is a book to delight the general reader while simultaneously informing the professional: a book of marvels, marvelously written.”—Richard Dawkins, New York Times bestselling author of The God Delusion

“Personal and page-turning, adventurous and awe-inspiring, Below the Edge of Darkness sparkles with the thrill of exploration and glows with an urgent plea for the future of our precious seas. Comparisons to Jacques Cousteau spring to mind as Edith Widder shares the profound journey of her life—one as unique and important as the unexplored realms of our very own planet.”—Juli Berwald, author of Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

“‘Luminous’—the topic, the heroic journey, and the author herself. Dive in with Edith Widder, trailblazing scientist and explorer, as she reveals the galaxy of light and life in the universe below the surface of the sea, out-shining skeptical male colleagues with dignity, grace and a robust sense of humor.”—Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer in residence, founder of Mission Blue


The Weird, Wonderful World of Bioluminescence 

Book and Film List for Adults and Children

Documentary Films

Children’s Books on Bioluminescence

Children’s Books on the Deep Sea

Adult Books on Underwater Exploration

Adult Books on the Ocean

The WHOI & FPL Community Read 2022 is part of Dispatches from an Ocean Planet: A Celebration of Film and Literature presented by the Yawkey Foundation and WHOI.