COUSTEAU: A Biography by Axel Madsen

COUSTEAU: A Biography

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A fair, predictable biography of the famous undersea explorer who invented the Aqualung and brought the submarine world to television. Not introspective, Cousteau's energies are all focused on planning ever more elaborate expeditions into ever more remote corners of nature, and raising money for them; and if Madsen's biography is more a chronicle of Cousteau's dazzling array of accomplishments than a probing look at the inner man, this may simply be because, in Cousteau's case, there isn't much of an inner man: he's all, in the best sense, on the surface. The book is neither meanly gossipy nor overtly laudatory, but straightforward, starting with Cousteau's birth in 1910 in the Bordeaux region of France; continuing through his early years in the navy, his first dives, his first films, his marriage to 17-year-old Simone Melchoir (they are about to celebrate their golden anniversary), his invention of the Aqualung (which intrigued the French government for military reasons), his relations with his Nazi brother, his first expeditions and his purchase of the ship Calypso--right up through his quarter-century of international media stardom, from his handshake with President Kennedy in 1960 to his handshake with President Reagan in 1985. Increasingly through these pages, as the complexity and expense of Cousteau's activities increase, the book becomes less a portrait of a man than a portrait of the Cousteau Idea; but this, too, seems entirely appropriate, for it is an idea that the explorer, very effectively, has come to think of himself: a link, with all his fancy gadgetry and television equipment, between popular culture and science; a proponent of world peace, ecological awareness and nuclear responsibility who appeals to conservatives and liberals alike; a utopian with his heart, generally, in the right place. An irreproachable portrait that neither stirs nor disappoints.

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 1986
Publisher: Beaufort