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Dragon Sea: A True Tale of Treasure, Archeology, and Greed off the Coast of Vietnam Hardcover – January 8, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (January 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012075
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012077
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #801,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This intense look at the fierce competition in what first-time author Pope slyly calls "the extraordinary underworld of shipwrecks" focuses on the effort in the late 1990s to recover a hoard of precious 15th-century porcelain from the sunken Hoi An ship in the Dragon Sea, a stretch of "typhoon-torn" water off the coast of Vietnam. Pope is equally adept at illuminating "the peculiarly powerful allure of shipwrecks" that drives the Hoi An team as he is in explaining the larger and more difficult context of modern excavation efforts, where "maritime archeologists who were regularly leading excavations around the world could be counted on the fingers of one hand, but the number of looters, souvenir-seekers, and well-equipped treasure-hunters was in the high hundreds." But Pope's strength in detailing the Hoi An story comes from his fascinating in-depth portraits of the main players in what became an unprecedented and expensive recovery effort: Ong Soo Hin, a Malaysian businessman who helped launch the project; Mensun Bound, the director of Oxford's Maritime Archaeological unit; and Dilip Tan, the operations manager under "nightmarish pressure" to finish the project. Pope expertly shows how the same ocean that can terrify and enrich can also "lay bare the very nature of man." (Jan.)
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"... an engaging account that delves into the ethical conundrums of marine salvage, the deadly physics of the deep ocean and the roiling waters of professional subterfuge ... Pope''s impassioned, detailed reporting draws us into the story of ceramics and Vietnam ..."
(The New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 25 customer reviews
This book reads like a Cussler/Dirk Pitt adventure.
John Matlock
Author Frank Pope, who was actually involved in the Hoi An operation, weaves a quick moving story with wonderful characters.
Recommended reading for collectors and historians interested in Asian ceramics.
dennis reginald o'hoy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Vietnam has spent almost all its past under control of China, or under threat of such control. There was a brief "golden age" of eighty years in the fifteenth century when it ruled itself, and its art, including making and glazing ceramics, broke free from the traditions of its big northern neighbor. The years of independence descended into chaos when a civil war began, and the art of the period was largely lost, even the ceramics that were dispersed in trade and then were lost. The artistic production of the age of independence was gone, not enough of it remaining to be systematically collected or understood. One trove of ceramics, however, had lain undisturbed on board the wreck of the _Hoi An_ which had gone down off the coast of Vietnam five hundred years ago. The rediscovery of the hoard, and how it was released to the markets of the world, is the story in _Dragon Sea: A True Tale of Treasure, Archeology, and Greed Off the Coast of Vietnam_ (Harcourt) by Frank Pope. Pope was an immediate observer of much of what is described here; he was the archeological manager for the expedition, the most expensive underwater archeological excavation ever, involving scores of divers, archeologists, seamen, draftsmen, and support personnel like cooks. There is the suspense of working within dangerous depths here, but most of the book's well-narrated drama comes from the conflicting dual motives of the expedition.

The two main characters of the book neatly illustrate the dual motives. Ong Soo Hin is a Malaysian businessman. He might be described as a "smash and grab" salvager, with success in bringing up artistic treasures.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In describing the excavation of a junk which sank off the north coast of Viet Nam in the mid-fifteenth century, Frank Pope focuses on the people who engage in excavation work--the maritime archaeologist vs. the treasure hunter, the financiers who supply the funds that make underwater excavation possible, the looters (often fishermen) who damage sites, the academics who engage in fierce competition for recognition within the field, and the divers, who have to live underwater in small, pressurized containers for over a month at a time. He also includes the history of maritime archaeology, detailed descriptions of the equipment which has evolved to make deep dives possible, the status of current technology in the field, and the complex systems which support "saturation divers," who may be working at eight atmospheres of pressure.

The discovery of almost a million rare Vietnamese porcelain and ceramic artifacts from the fifteenth century represents less than half this book. Providing inside information about this excavation, the author sets up contrasts between this project, in which archaeologists map the site, set up grids, and record and label every object, and the plundering done by treasure hunters whose sole objective is to take out and sell as many valuable artifacts as possible. The tense relationship between the financier of the project, who wants to recoup his investment, and those managing the project, who want to discover as much new information as possible, plagues the endeavor from start to finish.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeannie Mancini VINE VOICE on September 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
In the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, author Frank Pope joins archaeologist Mensun Bound, and a large crew of divers and specialists as they locate the shipwreck of a 14th century cargo ship they dub the Hoi An.

Pope has the reader totally engrossed as he details one of the largest underwater archaeological finds to date. Step by step he brings you into the world of what it takes to begin a maritime recovery endeavor of this magnitude. As you start the early pages Pope pulls you down quickly into the unknown depths and new frontiers that the lure of the sea always brings. The magic realm of what lies beneath sun sparkled crested waves can soon turn into an abyss of danger if diving protocols and precautions are not adhered to.

Starting with a brief history of some of the pioneer divers and oceanographers such as Jacques Cousteau, and of the evolution of the technology and diving equipment they used and developed over the years, Frank Pope swims steadily along as he provides the reader with an up-front and personal look at the many tasks and challenges the crew encounters every inch of the way. From finally finding the Hoi An, and describing every gliche and conquest against what seemed like an endless amount of insurmountable odds, to the end result of finding a treasure that far exceeded what they had expected to unearth beneath the sea, this true story is a top-notch adventure ride. The intended hoard that is expected to be lifted topside is a large cache of close to one million pieces of Vietnamese ceramics. Thousands of hand painted dishes, ewers, pots, boxes, and other items of personal possessions that might have belonged to crew members, or passengers, were raised up to the surface day after day.
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