James P. Sterba

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

It is difficult to criticize anything with Jacques Cousteau's name on it, especially a book as beautiful to look at as ["The Ocean World"]. Captain Cousteau has done more than anyone else to educate people about their "water planet." He has been a buoyant, indefatigable scout of the saltwater world, and through his films of his underwater adventures he has invited us to come along with him. (p. 12)

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For the past several years, Captain Cousteau has been dashing about the globe, ringing the tocsin. In "The Ocean World" he sounds the alarm yet again: "Now the crisis is at hand. This is not the raving of a placard-carrying doomsayer, but the observation of thousands of learned and concerned individuals. I am 100 percent pessimistic when I predict some sort of a disaster, for it will surely come."

Since he cannot accept the resignation that such pessimism implies, however, he quickly adds: "But it is in our power to reduce dramatically its seriousness and its consequences. Yet I am also 100 percent optimistic for recovery after the disaster. After the deluge, the sun will shine, and men will hope again that the golden age will come."

This eight-pound volume is a welcome addition to the coffee table or bookshelf because of its 385 photographs, most of them striking color shots of the undersea world. Only a few of them, however, were taken by Cousteau's band aboard the Calypso; most were chosen from the collections of such talented underwater photographers as Carl Roessler, Paul Tzimoulis and Eda Rogers. And simply as a book of photographs, "The Ocean World" does not stand up to Mr. Roessler's own collection, "Underwater Wilderness," or the several volumes of Douglas Faulkner.

Furthermore, the text is laborious, winding through 48 encyclopedic chapters on history, biology and the adventures of the Calypso. Based on a 20-volume series that Captain Cousteau published between 1972 and 1974, the book reads like the narration of so many of his films—which is what it started out as. It seems much too general for either armchair scientists or fellow divers. (pp. 12, 36)

Though it is somewhat carelessly recycled, "The Ocean World" is nonetheless well packaged and better on the whole than popular volumes published recently on the sea and what man is doing to it—and, ultimately, to himself. Since Captain Cousteau is a pioneer and an adventurer, not a scientist, we can forgive his tendency toward clichés, generalities and self-promotion. He found a way to earn a living doing what he loved to do most, exploring the oceans, and we are all the richer because he took us with him. (p. 36)

James P. Sterba, "The Fragile Beauties of the Deep," in The New York Times Book Review, January 13, 1980, pp. 12, 36.

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