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4.7 out of 5 stars
Silent World (National Geographic Adventure Classics)
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
What can be said about Jacques Cousteau and his groundbreaking book that hasn't been said a thousand times? He is undoubtedly the defining figure of modern scuba diving, his books, films, and documentaries known to millions or billions. Even the name of his ship, the Calypso, is known the world over. It's a small volume, this book, just 160 pages, yet it's absolutely mandatory reading for anyone interested in what Cousteau termed "the silent world" under the surface of the water that covers 71% of our planet. The Silent World is the bible of modern scuba diving.

Jacques Cousteau himself died in 1997 at the age of 87, but the legacy of his pioneering work with diving and diving physiology lives on. It is all well documented and disseminated worldwide, thanks to this French explorer's unique combination of instinctive understanding of the world under the surface and his equally unique knack of spellbinding the world with his words and images. A total master of public relations and getting the word out, Cousteau managed to grab attention and media coverage wherever he went. Critics went so far as suggesting his media talents exceeded his actual contributions to understanding the seas.

At first it's hard to figure out why this slim volume became such a success. It's not a textbook, it doesn't cover the history of diving or even much of Cousteau's own research, and it's not an adventure book. Though Cousteau was French, he wrote The Silent World in English as he had attended American schools in his youth, widely traveled the US, and, of course, extensively lectured in his enchanting French-accented English. Yet, The Silent World clearly reveals its author's non-English origin and decidedly "non-English" thinking. The writing, while precise, often suggests that Cousteau frequently described a word or concept that existed in his native French, but did not directly translate into English. As a result, the writing at times seems a bit flowery and, well, foreign, and you need to read a sentence or paragraph two or three times to figure out what it actually means. Cousteau's liberal use of metaphors, artistic nuances, poetic concepts and words that have since fallen out of currrent language only serve to make The Silent World even more unusual of a literary treat.

Anyone looking for technical explanations, precise history, a logical flow of events, or anything one might expect from a world-famous documentary maker and researcher will not find it in this book. The Silent World is a totally unique, very compressed tale flowing from Cousteau's mind. Read half a chapter and you know the man; he's a unique combination of inspired philosophical observer and gifted researcher with uncanny intuition. While others conducted their research methodically and ploddingly, Cousteau always just seemed to know what to expect, how to behave, and what to seek and avoid to make it all seem easy. He and his close associates and friends Phillipe Tailliez and Frederic Dumas used their "aqualung" to experient liberally in sort of a "Hmmm.... this is probably what will happen, let's go check it out!" approach.

Using this, Cousteau describes the difference between "helmet divers" and the newly liberated users of their "aqualung" -- what we now know as air tanks and regulators. The book casually touches on all the principles of diving physics and physiology, the stuff we learn in our PADI and NAUI classes. He describes sea life, how it reacts, where it lives, how it behaves, and what is dangerous and what is not. They see just how deep they can go. They check how colors change. What nitrogen does and why we need recompression chambers. He offers his views on treasure hunting (not worth it; if you find real treasure authorities and hordes of lawyers will soon apprehend it). He reports on atrocities he witnessed underwater, like the needless destruction of corals and cruel killing of fish. He debunks myths of sea monsters, seeks answers to geological phenomena such as the Fountain of Vaucluse near Avignon, one that almost cost him and Dumas their lives in a pioneering effort at extreme cave diving. He describes what fish do and how they react. And sea mammals and other sea critters. Sharks remain an enigma to Cousteau as his conclusion is that you simply cannot understand or predict them.

So The Silent World relates, in 14 fascinating self-contained chapters, pretty much everything we know about diving today, 60 years after Cousteau began researching as a "manfish," all the principles we know, and it's all neatly and attractively presented in tales that always mix research with adventure. Cousteau never preaches or lectures. He just explores, pushes, interprets, and reports. Maybe Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a showman as much as a researcher. If so, good for him as otherwise we may never have had the opportunity to learn from him and enjoy his remarkable insights. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
I first read this book when I was about 15. I begged my mother to sign me up for a SCUBA class shortly after and I am still diving 25 years later. I have re-read it about 3 times since then and still keep a copy on my shelf. There is still something very captivating about the early days of diving and Cousteau's descriptions of the silent world. The explorers in his book indulged in a pioneering activity under the nose of the occupying Nazi regime and set in motion the evolution of underwater adventure that millions enjoy today.
The Silent World is easy and enjoyable to read. Most of the photographs are hard to see compared with the vast amount of underwater shots available today. However, when you consider the time period these photos were taken combined with the daring of these early pioneers, you can't help but be impressed.
This book produced an enjoyable influence on my life and I am sure it will on anyone willing to learn about the early history of underwater exploration.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you grew up watching the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau one night a week, you must read this book by Mr. Cousteau. I read the first chapter of this delightful little book in a diving collection and was instantly drawn to Cousteau's narrating style. Modest and touched with humor, he describes the creation of the aqualung (scuba) and his early exploits with it. Early photos of underwater creatures are amazing. My copy is from the late 1950s and I hold it carefully. It is a physical and figurative jewel to me.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This griping tale of the early period of under water exploration begins in late WW II and is set of the most part in the south of France and Mediterranean Sea. Most clearly it is not a NOVEL (see previous review). In it you will find Jacques' characteristic outlook in the germination stages. Especially interesting to observe is the beginnings of environmenal concerns in his misc. comments about mans impact on the health of the Mediterranean Sea. There are accounts of the effects of Coral dredging and drag netting clearing documenting the destructiveness of these technques coupled with descriptions of his own crew on his aboard the French Naval vessel he commanded harpooning of sea mammals for questionable "scientific" experiments.
All in all it is a good read for individuals interested in the history of exploration of new worlds by this sensitive innovative explorer. Not to be missed are the numerious accounts of early ship wreck exploration. My copy was published in 1953 and includes some of the earliest published color underwater shots. Highly recommended.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
An adventure of heroic proportions. How mankind began the exploration of the underwater world and how Captain Cousteau and his team of aquanauts undertook a mission on the scale of the Mercury Seven Astronauts. Told by the men who went through the triumphs and the ordeals. This novel will provide a new understanding of how it all came about for those who scuba dive today. Some of Cousteau's team died in their brave efforts to investigate the mysteries of the deep for the rest of the world to see. Contains photographs of the liquid world taken with the first underwater cameras.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As great a read today as it must have been over 50 years ago. Being a modern day technical and recreational dive instructor I still find this book a fascinating read and would recommend it to all ages to divers and non divers alike.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As promised in the title, in this book Jacques Cousteau reveals a new world of unanticipated beauty, fittingly described in his charming, French-influenced English phraseology. C. Blickenstorfer has done a fine job explaining the contents of this book, particularly as it relates to divers or those interested in diving history. However, The Silent World, read as a frontier narrative, also has relevance for anyone interested in our current and historical treatment of the ocean.

Humans have interacted with the ocean for ages, but before divers like Cousteau it was a blind interaction, a grasp at resources based on guesses and historical results. Cousteau's underwater observations of trawl-net fishing make clear the change of ideology his "aqualung" opened to humans. Watching the net destroy grasses on the ocean floor, Cousteau reports "Man's method of undersea farming seemed to consist of blighting the acre while reaping a small part of the crop" (48). As opposed to a history of blind grabs at ocean creatures, Cousteau's aqualung gives him the capacity to see without touching, and his narrative provides a chance for our knowledge to begin catching up to our know-how.

Another epiphany facilitated by the aqualung is a completely new set of fears and a new evaluation of old "monsters." The killers of which Cousteau writes are nitrogen in his blood and clams with shells sharp enough to sever air pipes. On the contrary, the octopus, demonized by Victor Hugo as a monster who will suck out a man's innards, shows itself as harmless and shy. Cousteau concludes his chapter "Monsters We Have Met" with a jocularity that is persistent in the work: "If none have eaten us, it is perhaps because they have never read the instructions so generously provided in marine demonology" (222).

Cousteau's reinterpretation of the ocean brings readers to the fundamental questions of humans and their environment. How are we going to think of this new space? Should we sell it as new realty? Militarize it? Farm it? Should we simply Keep Out in a quest to guard some portion of the earth against ourselves? Those from my generation who have mythologized Cousteau as a heroic conservationist might struggle with Cousteau's narrative. This is not the work of a dolphin-hugger. Cousteau writes of his exploits kidnapping an endangered monk seal pup in his desire for an aquatic hunting dog (the seal almost dies and is given to a zoo) and bludgeoning most large sea creatures who get close enough. This includes wounding a captured porpoise to watch sharks eat it alive, an act which he justifies with "It was cruelty to an animal but we were involved in a serious study [. . .] and had to carry it out" (234).
In his conclusion, Cousteau asserts "Obviously man has to enter the sea. There is no choice in the matter. The human population is increasing so rapidly and land resources are being depleted at such a rate, that we must take sustenance from the great cornucopia" (266). Both those who would agree with this 1950s assumption and those who believe this "cornucopia" has been already overexploited can gain insight from this book as a well-written record of human reactions to the new world under the waves.
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on March 30, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Since I'm a diver I'm biased by Jacques , a Christopher Columbus if you will of the ocean . While this book was published early in his career.It gives you a start of his explorations and experiments of diving with Fredrick Dumas and why this man was so dedicated to the ocean.Together they were intrumental in developing many of the scuba equipment we now use today. He truely loved the ocean and wanted us to respect it.This is a book to be cherished on ones shelves.
I would offer suggestions to follow up with , "My Father the Captain" by his son Jean Michelle and & "Frogman" by Richard Hyman.Both authors give you a look into what they did while on their explorations on the Calypso , to various parts of the world.
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on March 18, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It is absolutely an amazing book. As a fairly new diver it is awesome that many of the initial reactions I had with those first moments underwater were the same as a legend like Jaqcues Cousteau. This book has inspired me to follow my dreams no matter how rough the seas that lie ahead may be.
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on February 14, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I purchased this book for a biography-lover and ocean enthusiast, and she couldn't have been more thrilled! I would definitely recommend this for the adventurous spirit in your life who loves to read.
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