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Book Review: "The Silent World" J. Cousteau

Discussion in 'Basic Scuba Discussions' started by gcbryan, Jan 22, 2010.

  1. gcbryan

    gcbryan One Bad Hombre

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Seattle
    I just finished reading "The Silent World" written by Jacques Cousteau and originally published in 1953. I'm sure many of you have read it but for those that haven't be sure to add this to your book list.

    I'm sure it was written with the non-diver in mind but I think it's even more interesting to read as a diver and the more experience you have I think the more you will appreciate it. Not because it's a difficult read. It's the opposite but the more you know the more of the finer details you will appreciate.

    One review mentioned that it was a classic but that one would not learn the mechanics of diving from this book and that it was more poetic than hands on. This is true but I don't think anyone reads a book written in the 50's to pick up dive tips for today. The more you know about diving however the more you will appreciate what was and was not known in those days. Much was known.

    One interesting aspect to the book was that Cousteau was told it was OK to use an oxygen rebreather to 45 fsw or something like that. He did and almost passed out.

    However, when they dove on air to 300 fsw and almost passed out and one team member did pass out and died ...the lesson that they took from this was that at 300 fsw nitrogen narcosis was so bad that a man could relax and let go of his mouth piece.

    They didn't seem to know about oxygen toxicity even though the science world probably did know about it (I haven't done any research for this book review so I don't know for sure):D

    I do remember reading before I got this book that the limiting factor for diving in the early days wasn't the regulator but rather the technology to make higher pressure tanks. This was apparent when reading the book since Cousteau mentioned that each of their three tanks held enough air for the air to weigh about 3 lbs. So since we know that an aluminum 80 holds 6 lbs...they were using 40 cu ft tanks.

    They used 3 of them however so they, like us, were diving with 120 cu ft!

    It's amazing that any of them survived their "experiments". They wanted to determine how close a diver could get to a charge (mine) that was being detonated...you can see where this is going...they practically killed themselves finding out.

    They learned about caves, depth, and nitrogen narcosis the hard way as well.

    There was a lot that they did know and I won't recount all that here. It is interesting that, at least as of 1953, with all of their many hundreds of dives that they never saw any larger animal in the process of eating while underwater including octopus, eels, and even most fish. Even I have seen those things.

    They did say that the more they learned about sharks the less they really knew. For a long time they never encountered any that were aggressive until one day they did and almost weren't able to get out of the water to tell about it.

    The hardcover version of this book is only about $16 so it's very affordable and I think anyone would enjoy reading it.
  2. Rick Inman

    Rick Inman Advisor ScubaBoard Supporter

    I've read the book twice - once in 1971 when I first started diving, and then again about a year ago. Good read both times from two wildly different perspectives. Those were the good old days when you could walk on the reefs, take a ride on a turtle right before you turned him into soup, solo dive deep on air, and walk around in your speedo on the boat all day without everyone laughing at you. :wink:
  3. gcbryan

    gcbryan One Bad Hombre

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Seattle
    It was also the days when you could write a book about how intelligent dolphins are with brains as developed as ours...and in the next paragraph harpoon one as bait for sharks!
  4. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
    This book was certainly one factor in my first use of SCUBA back in 1961. It was an eye opener in my youth as was the film. Yes, there is much they didn't know back then, especially about human impacts on the environment. By the way, I still do deep dives on air, but gave up walking around in my Speedo about 35 years ago!
  5. fnfalman

    fnfalman Orca

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southern California, USA
    I thoroughly enjoyed that book as well.

    The part about how on Jacques's first dive, he went into a little ledge/cave and just simply plucked lobsters off the ceiling.
  6. highdesert

    highdesert ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: None - Not Certified
    Location: SW USA
    It's the inspiration that started me on the road to diving. I think I'm due to read it again.
  7. Ze_Abron

    Ze_Abron ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: London
    Ok, you guys have inspired me to read it. You can buy a 1st edition hardback off Amazon for less than 2 bucks!
  8. DaleC

    DaleC Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Leftcoast of Canada
  9. GrandpaScuba

    GrandpaScuba Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: Seattle, Puget Sound
    There were a lot of influences in the popular media of the day that got many of my generation to get interested in diving. There was this book as well as the "Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau" television series. "Sea Hunt" added to the mystique. And I wouldn't want to discount the influence of "Flipper" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", as corny as they were.

    The current generation doesn't have any of these kinds of shows and I think we see it as the number of new divers decline. There was that show "Sea Quest" but it did little to entice people to diving. If they didn't keep reminding you that they were underwater, you'd never know. Their submarine was more like a space ship and their plots were too Star Trek'y.

    Some of the "Planet Earth" stuff on the History Channel is good. But "shark week" on Discovery has morphed into just a series of sensationalized shark-bite videos. The original Shark Week had many very educational stuff. But apparently the shark bite shows got all the ratings, so they dropped anything actually educational in lieu of "When Sharks Attack!!" etc.

    When I encounter people who claim that they have no interest in diving, the number one excuse they give is fear of sharks. (number 2, BTW is "I'm claustrophobic". And number 3 is "Fish are too slimy".)
  10. humanbeing

    humanbeing Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Massachusetts
    This book started me diving as well.

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