Life has imitated pop art in the case of best-selling author Cussler (Shock Wave, 1996; Sahara, 1992; etc.), whose avocation is locating great ships lost in deep waters. In his first nonfiction work, the venturesome writer offers engrossing briefings on more than a dozen of the 60-odd wrecks for which he has searched. Before getting into the self-depreciating particulars of the royalty-funded expeditions he mounts in the interests of preserving important pieces of the world's maritime heritage, Dirk Pitt's creator provides vivid accounts of the last voyages of the doomed vessels he and typically convivial associates have hunted. Although necessarily speculative, the immensely entertaining mininarratives are at least plausible and afford needed context. Among the submerged craft the author has pinpointed and identified are: the steamboat Lexington, a fast paddle-wheeler that burned and sank in Long Island Sound on a cold winter's night in 1840, with the loss of 151 lives; the Confederate submarine Hunley, the first underwater vessel to sink an enemy warship (the Union sloop Housatonic); WW I's U-20, which sank the Lusitania; and the Zavala, a gunboat once in the service of the Republic of Texas Navy. Covered as well is the fate of a Kansas Pacific Railroad locomotive swept away in an 1876 flood that destroyed the bridge over Colorado's Kiowa Creek; after painstaking research, Cussler concludes that he's uncovered a long-buried insurance scam in which the engine was recovered and put back in service under an assumed ID. Also worth the price of admission is the author's antic log of his close encounters with French officialdom while tracking the hulk of the Leopoldville, an Allied troop transport torpedoed off Cherbourg on Christmas Eve, 1994. Grand stories from the world's oceans, rivers, and tidal basins. The lively text includes a number of handsome, helpful maps, plus line drawings of designated vessels and the vanished locomotive.