Jacques-Yves Cousteau Desmond Young - Essay

Desmond Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Recently, as the exploration of the oceans and the sea-bed has become less commercial and more scientific in purpose, books about diving have won a wide readership. All of us are entranced by the new knowledge brought up from this secret world.

No man has done so much to open the door to this world and to reveal its mysteries as Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Certainly no other man is so uniquely fitted for the self-imposed task. A seaman, qualified to command any vessel in the French fleet, superb navigator, highly skilled diver, gunner, aerial observer, inventor of the Aqua-Lung, he is also a scientist, with a gift for explaining scientific problems.

Captain Cousteau's previous book, "The Silent World," was translated into 22 languages and sold more than three million copies in English alone. It will be surprising if "The Living Sea"—which he has written with freelance writer James Dugan—does not surpass that record. Whether Captain Cousteau is describing the recovery of artifacts from a Greek galley sunk more than two centuries before Christ, or his battle to prevent the dumping of radioactive waste into the Mediterranean, he is unfailingly interesting.

His descriptions gracefully combine literary style and scientific nomenclature….

The mobile base for the explorations reported in this book was the oceanographic ship Calypso, well-equipped with depth-probing devices and a professional diving team. The log unfolded in these pages records episodes ranging over the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Included are trips to discover ocean-bed oil deposits and to help lay electrical cables in the Gulf of Lion off the south coast of France. There is a strange journey to "hunt water underwater"—that is, a fresh water supply for the sea town of Cassis east of Marseille.

There is something along the way for all tastes. Oddities abound for curiosity-seekers. Cousteau reports seeing a number of creatures never reported before, including "a fish twenty inches long and shaped exactly like a draftsman's triangle. It was the shade and thinness of aluminum foil with a ridiculous little tail." He records also, on his underwater writing pad, a squid that squirts white ink; a shark observed at 13,000 feet, where no shark has any right to...

(The entire section is 956 words.)