LIKE MANY DIVERS, I pare my airline baggage down to the essentials – the stuff I take under water – and there would have to be a good reason to take a guide-book with me when I know I’ll find guidance strewn around the dive-centre or boat in one form or another.
Lawson Wood’s Underwater Guide to the Red Sea is another of those books that looks as if it’s been around forever but is in fact a new offering. The well-travelled author has written some 50 reference books over the years, but I think this might be the first time he has focused specifically on the Red Sea.
Red Sea guides have to slot into a very crowded market. As this is the latest I was slightly surprised to find no references to the current problems for divers wishing to fly into Sharm el Sheikh, which have been going on for more than a year, but I guess it was decided to take the long view and keep fingers crossed.
The short history section concludes in 1989, but rather a lot has happened in recent times.
It happened that I was about to fly to Hurghada when the book landed on my desk, so I looked to see what it could tell me about the diving around those parts.
The small-format book contains 24 pages of general information, 65 of an ID guide to 350 common marine-life species (shown in necessarily small pictures) and another 10 devoted to snorkelling sites.
That leaves fewer than 30 pages to cover scuba-diving in 25 popular areas, so as you might imagine the information is not exactly detailed.
In fact El Gouna/Hurghada gets a single page and a few hundred words, so it would hardly have been worth packing the book for the trip.
Also, if a dive-guide is to the Red Sea, you might expect more than passing recognition of sites in places such as Jordan or Sudan. This is in fact the Underwater Guide to the Egyptian Red Sea.
The book is very well produced, as we have come to expect from John Beaufoy Publishing, and the photography of a high standard. However, in the digital age the in-depth and more location-specific information available online or at a destination has made such titles a harder sell than they used to be.
This guide-book is fine as a general foundation course in Red Sea diving before someone’s first trip to the area, and the pricing is OK, but if you already have a dedicated fish-ID book there is too little diving detail here to make this a must-have.
Steve Weinman

John Beaufoy Publishing
ISBN: 9781909612846
Softback, 160pp, £12.99