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  • ISBN-13: 9781596914179
  • ISBN-10: 1596914173

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 177.
  • Review Date: 2007-08-06
  • Reviewer: Staff

Written by renowned ocean explorer Cousteau in the 10 years before his death, this book strikes a note of caution as it celebrates the natural world: as the seas are plundered, the biosphere is polluted and the hazards of nuclear power are imposed upon nature, the human race is “unraveling complexities it took eternity to create.” As a scientist and an explorer, Cousteau laments the government's use of science as a handmaiden to profit, reproaching technocrats and military and industrial leaders who, in pursuit of power and money, make decisions and leave the rest of the world, and its ecosystems, to live with their mistakes. An informative introduction and epilogue by Schiefelbein, a former editor at the Saturday Review, updates this account with developments since Cousteau's death, including the continuing depletion of the oceans and the persistent shift of funds from scientific research to economic “priorities.” Cousteau's reverence for life's miracles—embodied by the evolutionary wonders of the human, the orchid and the octopus—shines through in this eloquent testimony on the importance of pursuing higher ideals, particularly the preservation of the oceans and the natural world for future generations. (Nov.)

BookPage Reviews

One last great work from Cousteau

If there is a heaven, I'll be surprised. If I wind up there, even more so. But if, at the pearly gates, I see Jacques Cousteau, seated just to the right of Saint Peter, helping that apostle mete out justice, I won't be taken aback.

Cousteau's book, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus, newly available in an English translation, spans a magnificent life of thought and adventure. Readers who are familiar with Cousteau only through his work as an undersea television star will learn that he was also an important inventor—of scuba gear—an outspoken conservationist and a World War II fighting veteran. His book shepherds readers through a number of problems that occupied Cousteau for much of his life, and a note of warning ties the various chapters together. Whether writing about the importance of pure science, deploring the destruction of coral reefs, or predicting the near immortality of future humans, Cousteau calls for caution, responsibility, action suffused with thought.

In a book filled with gems, it can be hard to isolate one to talk about, but the chapter titled "Catch as Catch Can," which explores the problem of unsustainable fishing practices, is arguably the most important. When rich nations feed fish to livestock and bolster gourmet restaurants with exotic catches, he notes, they're taking food away from poorer countries where fish isn't just a menu option—it's often the only available protein. Although politicians hesitate to confront the fishing industry, Cousteau comes right out and says that most fishing professionals are in it for a quick buck—at the expense of the industry's future.

Just in case you're thinking a 10-year-old book must be out of date, let me tell you that, in addition to being an inventor, fighter and conservationist, Cousteau was also a prophet. His predictions that terrorism and genetics would preoccupy the 21st century were eerily right on the money. The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus will top must-read lists for people who want to understand the 20th century from the viewpoint of one of its greatest titans.

BAM Customer Reviews