Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jacques Cousteau: Reflection & Review

The 100th anniversary of Jacques Cousteau's birth was June 11, and I am reminded of how much individuals shape the universe by inspiring those around them. As a role model, yes, the man made mistakes, but we must also consider the era in which his career developed and find it in our hearts to forgive those transgressions. The adventures on Calypso impacted, and still are affecting, the attitudes regarding the sea and its wonders. He was a filmmaker who even won an Oscar for the short film "The Golden Fish" back in 1960. This man developed the aqua-lung into the true predecessor of modern SCUBA (nitrox, etc. is excluded, of course). While many of the early practices, for instance, the keeping of multiple sea lion pups on deck in cages to compensate for mortality while filming, would be unacceptable now, in the end Jacques Yves Cousteau was a remarkable individual who managed to bring the ocean to a land-locked world. He eventually became a champion for the message of protection and education about our oceans. He is still inspiring new generations with his work, and I will always be thankful for the motivation his example provided for me as well. I do have the DVD collection of his films, which I will happily share in the future.

As for the book review... I found an old hardback copy of The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea written by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Cousteau. It was published in 1970, and Jaws didn't come out until 1975, so I was really interested to check this book out... plus, the extensive alliteration used in the title was amusing as well. Essentially, it is a compilation of shark encounters experienced along with details of how they filmed sharks and other underwater challenges. Both Phillipe and Jacques give narratives, and I found Philippe to be the more scientific and less charismatic of the two authors. There are some cool anecdotal stories, but if you get hung up on factual details matching the descriptive language- well, I would stick to the Philippe narratives.
The photos are almost laughable considering both basic photoshop and the capabilities of digital photography these days. But, hey, for the time this was really amazing stuff. I did find it interesting to compare some of my own photos taken with disposable underwater cameras to the high-tech images found in this book. Made me feel pretty good as a photographer, actually. My favorite part of the book is the Appendix B. Yeah, I know, sounds corny... but it is "Drawings of Ships, Sharks, and Sea-Going Equipment" and I think that stuff is really neat from a historical perspective. I wouldn't be surprised to find the illustration of a shark's eye still in modern textbooks- as our knowledge of sharks has grown, but still remains far short of where it could be.

If you are a marine-history buff, or a big Cousteau fan, it is totally worth the effort to check out this book at a local library. I wouldn't use it for a scientific paper, but if writing a biography on either Cousteau, then it is an interesting and useful work. I found my copy at a garage sale, so really have no suggestions on where to find it... so I looked it up on for fun. At this time there are 4 new copies for $13 and 40 used ones starting for less than $1. I was disappointed to see the 7 reviews for the book gave it an average of 4.5 stars. As for me...

RATING: ~~1/2 (2.5 Waves out of 5) Just because I have mad respect for the authors doesn't mean I've fallen off my rocker when it comes to writing, research, and accuracy. If it's out of date, and this one IS, I can't in good conscience highly recommend it.

Remember your heroes, even when they let you down. Know that we are all human and therefore fallible, but we are also capable of amazing -and positive- actions.
Go inspire somebody!
-Callie Sharkey

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