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The Silent World    by Jacques-Yves Cousteau & Frederic Dumas order for
Silent World
by Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Order:  USA  Can
National Geographic, 2004 (1953)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

During the late 60s to late 70s, millions of international viewers were enraptured while watching the weekly televised series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. It won 17 Emmies. Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, colleagues, and crew pioneered ocean exploration on their ship the Calypso (a World War II minesweeper converted to a research vessel and diving platform). Songwriter/singer John Denver immortalized Cousteau and his ship in a melody by the same name. Denver also played an initial role in prompting TV mogul Ted Turner to back the series. And the rest is history.

The Silent World sold five-million copies in twenty-two languages, when first published in 1953. Three years later, Jacques-Yves Cousteau released a documentary film by the same name, and was awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award in the United States. Captain Cousteau narrates with grace, humility, and touches of humor, the progress of his love for underwater diving, and exploration, and how he became noted for his underwater photography and film. Born in a small town near Bordeaux, France in 1910, Cousteau co-invented the aqualung, and researched methods of diving. He relates his first dive with the aqualung, performing 'diving physiology research' to study cold-water diving.

Through the formation of the 'Undersea Research Group', colleagues (including wife Simone, Philippe Talliez, Jean Pinard, Frederick Dumas, Didi, and Emile Gagnon) joined Cousteau in diving for underwater mines, cave diving, and the investigation of sunken ships. The author describes shipwrecks 'taking on their own personalities - tragedy or comedy, full or adventuresome'. Divers risked not only their lives but health damage from 'raptures of the depths', 'caisson disease' (the bends), vertigo, and 'nitrogen rapture' (gas attacks on the nervous system). Cousteau relates an incident in which colleague Dumas had a close encounter with death, setting the precedent that divers would no longer explore individually but as a team.

Captain Cousteau describes the life of the undersea world featuring big moray eels, manta rays, 'dog teeth' (a razor-edged, venomous clam that clings to sunken vessels), sharks, the man-size 'liche' (a relative of the tuna), whales, and the 40 lb. 'merou' - speedy to avoid 'undersea hunters'. The crew discovered the supposedly extinct monk seals, the gentle trumpet fish (flute fish) with a head shaped like a horse, and creatures from mythology and demonology referred to as 'monsters of the deep', such as the octopus, which is believed dangerous but is actually very shy. Chapters in the book are separated by impressive black and white photos.

I highly recommend The Silent World to you as an informative and entertaining read about underwater exploration and oceanography. Though I hesitated at the technological inclusions, they did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. The author takes readers through both triumphs and ordeals. As Cousteau said, 'Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course ... It happened to me ... on that summer's day, when my eyes were opened to the sea.' Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau died in 1997. As the author of the introduction, Anthony Brandt says, 'Who will take his place?'

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