Top positive review
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Fascinating, entertaining, filled with revelations
on October 27, 2009
To cut to the chase, Sea King is a wonderful fast-paced, very entertaining read, a lively unauthorized, carefully researched biography of a 20th Century world icon, warts and all, skillfully told by arguably the best author on marine topics writing today (Matsen's two most recent books: Descent and Titanic's Last Secrets, both terrific). With Cousteau, the author had his work cut out. The man was a complex, formidable personality: inventor, self-taught scientist, filmmaker, adventurer, explorer, visionary, charmer, canny marketer, environmentalist, and celebrated world citizen. With his pitch-perfect narrative voice, Matsen delivers in spades, revealing Cousteau was also a bit of a con, self-absorbed, not a little sociopathic, a tireless ladies man (reportedly he slept with 10,000 women), and oh so French. He also had a secret life: a second family with a devoted mistress who bore him children and who following his death, emerged as the controversial controller of the Cousteau estate.
What surprised me is that Cousteau's life story is only now being told-amazing considering Cousteau's decades-long celebrity and profound impact on both scuba diving and the conservation movement. Matsen plunges in with gusto. It's all here: the invention of the double-stage regulator (replete with near fatal experiments), the breakthrough documentary The Silent World, behind-the-scenes tales of the Calypso voyages (groupies and all), the tragic death of Cousteau's son Philippe, Cousteau's quirky successful partnership with media mogul Ted Turner, the meteoric success of the Cousteau Society and its long messy public unraveling.
Great stuff, all of it. Matsen never gets in the way, steering an even-handed course, allowing the darker revelations and less-flattering aspects of the man speak for themselves. A bonus: the book's photos, many provided by family members and never before published, are excellent. Highest recommendation.
John Grissim, author of The Lost Treasure of the Concepcion and Pure Stoke