Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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Gilbert Klingel

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If you are one of those imaginative people who in fancy or reality would like to enter another world where none of the ordinary rules apply, and where on every hand scenes new to the eye of man unfold in endless succession, then "The Silent World" is the book for you. It is the story of Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau of the French Navy and of his development of the "aqualung."… The book is profusely illustrated and the underwater shots, particularly those in full color, are extraordinary.

Captain Cousteau tells of exploring sunken ships, including a Roman galley filled with a cargo of wine jars, some of them still sealed and bearing the initials of ancient Greek wine merchants, and of retrieving antique marble and statuary looted from the Greeks by the conquering Romans and lost at sea centuries ago. With Captain Cousteau one enters drowned caverns into which the light of day has never penetrated; one of these, the cave of the Fountain of Vaucluse, very nearly cost the author his life.

The book unfolds one fascinating undersea panorama after another….

Captain Cousteau, unlike so many writers about the deep, has not marred his stories with supercharged prose. There are no hair-raising tales of encounter with sea denizens; instead he devotes an entire chapter to portraying many of these "monsters" as they really are. We learn that octopi cannot be induced to bite, and wish nothing more than to be let alone. Similarly, reputedly savage morays and conger eels are shown to be veritable "home bodies" showing resentment only when their dens are deliberately invaded….

Only sharks are treated with concern, and one of the most interesting chapters in the book deals with an encounter with a shark of unknown species which cornered Captain Cousteau and his friend Frederic Dumas (the civilian diver who helped test the aqualung) near the body of a dead whale. It is as good a shark story as any I have read.

By far the better part of the book is the latter half, in which Captain Cousteau describes in detail the appearance of his undersea world and its inhabitants. One wishes he had devoted even more space to this and less to the development of his equipment. In sum, however, he has made a worth-while contribution to deep-sea exploration methods and has placed the thrill of ocean investigation within the reach of nearly everyone.

Gilbert Klingel, "A World of Lost Ships and Shy Octopi," in The New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1953, p. 3.

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