Jacques-Yves Cousteau The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Diving for Sunken Treasure is a popular account of M Cousteau's expedition to the site of what he believes to be the Silver Bank, near Puerto Rico, in search of the remains of the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the treasure galleon salvaged by William Phipps in 1687. Working from the research vessel Calypso, he found a wreck which he believed might be the treasure galleon. The book tells the story of the "excavation" of the wreck, and the subsequent discovery that the wreck concerned actually dates from 1756. This slim narrative is skilfully bulked out by masses of information obtained from the usual sources on Spanish treasure fleets of the seventeenth century, and photographs of existing museum treasures.

The story is told in the present tense, and the translation from the French is rather curious, Cousteau having been left at the literary mercy of his fellow-countrymen since the death of his American collaborator, James Dugan. Indeed, the book seems less a book than a television script expanded to book length—which is in fact what it is. The expedition was financed by American television as one of a series of wonderful television films. The book is less wonderful. It is attractive but has little nourishment. There are numerous misspellings and misused technical terms. One wonders whom the glossary was meant for. Ship terms are often either elementary or wrong.

It is a pity that the authors could not have taken a little more trouble both with the excavation and with the book.

"Up from the Bottom," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3653, March 3, 1972, p. 241.∗