Jacques-Yves Cousteau The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although good intentions are no substitute for quality, one cannot resist some sympathy for the author [of Life and Death in a Coral Sea] whose Silent World opened a new realm for millions, whose aqualung pioneered rewarding fields for both research and enjoyment, and whose books, films and other activities are seriously dedicated to underwater exploration. There are few men like Jacques-Yves Cousteau, but they have an important role to play in the development of science, chiefly because they provide that imaginative energy so necessary if research projects are to reach beyond the resources of any one institute….

In 1967 [he] began his voyage in the Calypso, once a minesweeper but now fully equipped for underwater research. M Cousteau dubbed this voyage a "permanent expedition", although the immediate aim was to gather material for twelve television films and six books to defray costs. The first book,… [The Shark] was not satisfactory, chiefly because of its scientific inaccuracy, inept translation and lack of elementary editorial polish. The present book, on coral reefs, pretends to much less and is an interesting, uncomplicated account of the standard underwater adventures that may be expected by those who have not yet donned mask and flippers. Fortunately, science has been relegated to four appendixes and a glossary (presumably by Philippe Diolé), leaving the text free from those errors that marred the shark volume….

[It is] unfortunate that accounts of territoriality among reef fishes, or of the interesting relationship between clownfishes and anemones, are not given the benefit of recent studies. More than one hundred colour plates, some excellent, some a trifle blurred, redeem the text and set the reader firmly in that world that M Cousteau has done so much to explore. Together with such men as George Bond and Edwin Link, he will be remembered as one of the great underwater pioneers; and while his books and films may lack biological precision they will always be regarded as an integral part of his total achievement.

"In Seas Beneath," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3625, August 20, 1971, p. 1007.