H. J. Cargas

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau promises to be an epic. Having seen [Oasis in Space, The Act of Life, and Quest for Food], the first three volumes of the 20 book set, I am impressed by what quality work can be published at such a reasonable price….

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The texts, expectedly, are excellent. Whether they were ghost written or translated from French we are not told, but they have the same clarity and adventuresomeness that Cousteau's television specials have. The introduction to the first volume, Oasis in Space, may surprise with its pessimistic message. The oceans are in danger of dying and thus the threat to mankind is enormous. But the situation is remedial and Captain Cousteau tells what the approach will be in this set. "… we want to explore the themes of the ocean's existence—how it moves and breathes, how it experiences dramas and seasons, how it nourishes its host of living things, how it harmonizes the physical and biological rhythms of the whole earth, what hurts it and what feeds it—not least of all, what are its stories."

Cousteau is clearly not only a scientist but a poet as well. He embodies the humanistic vision through an artistic sensibility which is rooted in the knowledge and skills of his science. He is a unique contributor to man's progress.

The photographs in all three volumes are, in many cases, dazzling—in all cases helpful. (p. 395)

Oasis in Space discusses the mysteries of the ocean and water as the essence of life. The ocean is described as the cradle of life, behavior patterns—protective and destructive—are indicated, the interdependence of ocean life is beautifully rendered, and the dangers to the sea are pointed out. Only the conclusion of this volume seems somewhat facile, possibly too poetic. We read that "Man takes off for the conquest of space, only to find that the solar system is a dustbin of dead celestial bodies. The truth is that man is alone—a lonely, pulsating, thinking creature—in the universe." That kind of position seems rather premature, today, given the hypotheses of other scientists and theologians as well.

"Dying for Survival" is the title of the Introduction to The Act of Life, the second book of the set. Evolution, adaptability, is the key to this one. The balance of nature, survival of the fittest, reproduction, parental care, these are the topics covered. The last chapter is actually a poem bearing the title of this volume. We can't help admiring Cousteau's continued enthusiasm for and wonder of his life's work.

Quest for Food discusses the various types of feeders, fishing methods, mariculture (sea farming) and the now recognized important subject of the balance of nature. Man will find that "by destroying the fertility of the sea he has condemned his own civilization."

While this set is about the sea, Cousteau never forgets to relate everything to Man and this is perhaps the greatest value of this undertaking. How things relate, how the environment is totally interdependent is something we are just beginning to take seriously. The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau is a wonderful contribution in that direction. (pp. 395-96)

H. J. Cargas, "Professionally Speaking," in Catholic Library World, Vol. 45, No. 8, March, 1974, pp. 395-96.

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