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The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World
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The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  278 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
The beloved explorer Jacques Cousteau witnessed firsthand the complexity and beauty of life on earth and undersea-and watched the toll taken by human activity in the twentieth century. In this magnificent last book, now available for the first time in the United States, Cousteau describes his deeply informed philosophy about protecting our world for future generations. Wea ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 6th 2008 by Bloomsbury USA (first published March 1st 1998)
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The book start out promisingly, like a memoir, with tales from Cousteau's fascinating life. Most of the tales are about his close brushes with death. Then the book changes course, and goes into the predations of humans on our environment. Very preachy. No positive approaches to saving the environment. A long rant against nuclear energy, but no mention of what should replace it. Toward the end of the book is a segue into philosophy. I expected better.
Erica Leigh
Nov 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book on the bargain shelf and picked it up because I have fond memories of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau as a child and thought it would be interesting to read more about him. Though not the autobiography I was expecting, I found the book fascinating. It is part history, part nature conservancy, part political – it is at times prophetic (fifteen years ago Cousteau projected a catastrophic nuclear event due to plants in Japan being built on fault lines) and at ...more
Christine Crawford
Cousteau's message about conservation is interesting and important, but this book goes on a little too long. He is a really interesting guy who led an amazing life and a lot of the stories in this book are eye-opening (I now feel guilty for eating fish and am seriously concerned about a nuclear disaster), but he could have gotten his points across a lot more quickly.
Michael Cummings
Apr 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little dated in parts, this was my first foray into a Jacques Cousteau book. For me, Cousteau shined best in this book when recounting his own past. If I can find an autobiography by the man I'd love to read it - his life anecdotes read like a modern day Verne character. Active in WW2, then an explorer of the deeps and all the wonders therein.
Sep 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book but I think the manifesto part about pollution, etc. was too long and will be preaching to the choir for most readers of a book by Cousteau. The parts about Cousteau's life and the way he thought about things were very interesting.
Simultaneously depressing and important, Cousteau's book paints a picture of mankind's clumsy impact not just on the waters he explored, but the globe and its people.
Dave Forcucci
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not sugar coated with adventures but instead references Jacques adventures in relation to lessons he learned through his life. You have to read between the lines of his diatribes of environmental destruction by humans on the sea and earth. Examples include his huge effort to reduce risk to his men because of a young diver who perished on a solo dive early in Jacques' career. Recently watching his series "The undersea world of Jacques Cousteau" he had his engineers on board Calypso t ...more
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Stupendously depressing
Sean Wylie
Oh I wanted to like this book SO MUCH. Jacques Cousteau was an extraordinary person. He invented modern scuba diving (my favorite past time), he defined underwater exploration, created the first underwater cameras thus bringing the Ocean onto the TV screens of the world, and it would be hard to find someone else who has done more for the environmental movement.

I came into the book expecting a posthumous retelling of his many ocean adventures, I was disappointed. While there were occasional refer
Michael Bradham
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Potent, truth filled masterpiece from Cousteau and Schiefelbein. Contains many heavy, serious passages concerning how the world became what it is. Many personal stories of risk, along with tragedy, mixed with opinion of risk assessment. Stories of all kinds creatures from his travels. Cousteau lets us in on his ideal dream of the future (one of the wildest dreams I ever read).

“In managing those risks fearlessness helps keep our minds clear, but relying on fearlessness alone would amount to foolh
Karen Mead
Cousteau led a fascinating life, thus this is a fascinating book. I was expecting it to be all about his underwater dives, but there's actually a wealth of material here on many different subjects. Some of it deals with Cousteau's political life out of the water, as perhaps the most famous voice for ocean conservation, but it was all interesting (despite the occasional lack of sharks.)

My only criticism is that the section towards the end about the evils of nuclear waste seems to come a bit out o
Michael Treadway
Whether it's from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or the casual narration at the beginning of an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, most of what I know about Jacques Cousteau is just pastiche. He's been little more to me than a name and an affected French accent.

Yet, of all the things I've heard about the man, of all the things he's reported to have done for the conservation, exploration, and appreciation of the natural world, I figured it was worth checking out a book by the man.

This book i
Mark Victor Young
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating collection of anecdotes from the life of an amazing man takes a somber turn, as Cousteau first looks back on his life and then looks ahead to a dark future. He talks about the change he has seen in the world's oceans in the last 50 years and what's to come. He looks back on his years of opposition to nuclear energy and weaponry and all the mistakes that have been made which will be around to haunt us for 1000 years. And lastly he contemplates climate change and how that will aff ...more
Scott Taylor
Along with Marlin Perkins, Jacques Cousteau was one of the guys to spark my interest in the natural environment when I was a kid. So I cut him a little slack for this overly preachy book.

It seems to be Cousteau's answer to the question "what would you like your epitaph to read?" In that sense, it meets expectations - the book provides insight into the man as well as his message - think long-term and think of conservation of resources rather than short term gain. It is a good message, consistent
Aug 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Cousteau's last book (I believe) is also an excellent introduction to his beliefs and views when it comes to things like protecting the oceans, the dangers of nuclear power, and issue of politics versus science when it comes to making public policy. Although some may find this a bit too dry, I enjoyed Cousteau's sardonic but intelligent commentary--very well supported by facts and numbers--exposing the hypocrisy and shortsightedness of politicians. He also peppers his intellectual analysis with ...more
Important but way too preachy. This is much more like a text book on environmental science and policy than the memoir I was hoping for. It reminded me if Al Gores Earth in the Balance, for example.

Chapter 10 is a five-star must read. It's a visionary description of humanity in 1 billion years. It made me think and gave me hope.

The rest of the book was very downbeat and filled with typical environmentalist angst which in my opinion does not help the cause. While being well researched and well w
Jul 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Saw this in the bargain bin at Book People in Austin - a great store - and thought it'd make a great read for an upcoming work trip to Puerto Rico. I was not disappointed in the least either.

It was full of great little stories and insights into Cousteau's thoughts on managing people, risk, environmentalism, and surprisingly, his antinuclear advocacy. As a kid I remember his awesome underwater specials and Nat Geo spreads but did not know anything about his stance against nuclear waste, energy a
Carrie Naughton
Written back in the 90's just before Cousteau's death, this would have been a good soundtrack to my angsty sad teenage environmentalist years. It's kind of a mess - all over the place, not sure if it's a brief bio of Jacques (probably my favorite parts), a primer on humanity's sins against the planet, or a rambling collage of anecdotes. I don't have any bad feelings about it, and Stephen Hoye's narration of the audiobook version was of course top-notch. I just think I should have read something ...more
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-5, science
I have never been this moved by a book about conservation. Even though he was discussed tangentially here and there, I never really knew who Cousteau was during the course of my marine science education. This book showed the magnitude of his life, his work and his passion but more importantly it showed how big of an impact politics, economics and innovation have on the ocean and the publics perception.

This book was written to open eyes, touch hearts, and promote conservation on all levels. For
Dec 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm a big admirer of Cousteau. The book is a testament to the way an older generation went out into the world on behalf of humanity, for service instead of for personal gain. His own stories are fantastic and I wish there were more of them - I wasn't so taken with his more general discussions of things like nuclear power, for example. But still obviously such an inspirational man. Well worth looking at.
Isabella Burke
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am not a diver, couldn't put this one down. To sum it up - Jacques Cousteau invented underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA to me and you) - the sea is an incredibly hostile place and he is one of the greatest adventurers that ever lived. To be honest I think I was mostly jealous of what an amazing life he had led, the stories he had to tell and the amount of influence that he has had in conservation and diving politics, right up until the end of life! What a legend.
Ok, I admit this caught my eye because it has octopus in the title, but that's not the only reason. Besides, everyone knows that Jacques Cousteau is a total bad-ass, and we seriously could use some of his wisdom around here lately...Especially at that damn press conference. Where is the Captain when we need him?!
Jacques Cousteau was born in what he called "a lucky place in time," the dawning of a technological age in which lone explorers, scientists and researchers were limited only by their own imaginations.

Anything seemed possible then, and Cousteau himself was driven by relentless curiosity about everything around him.

read more ...
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I was a little upset that it didn't end up being more like "Silent World", jam packed with crazy adventures, but it ended up being a very eye opening experience. Now I just need to figure out what has happened in all the areas spoken about in this book since it was finished over twenty five years ago.
Deborah aka Reading Mom
closer to 4.5--almost perfect
fascinating insight into the character and thoughts of Jacques Cousteau. thought-provoking material. Interesting, though, to see mentions of God, creation, the miracle of life in one breath and all life coming from the sea through evolution in the next, "an orchestration of accidents".
Jan 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This memoir by the legendary scientist, explorer and environmental advocate speaks to both his passions. He captivates with stores of his pioneering exploration of the underworld, and he shocks with his accounts of the destructive impact humans have had on the once virgin seas. Both amazing and disturbing. The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus by Jacques Cousteau

Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am listening to it. The reader is fabulous. The book, so far, fascinating. Amazing person this Mr Cousteau !
I'm now finished, and I enjoyed every minutes...the stories, the facts, the thought provoking messages... I recommend it even though it is somewhat old.
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one time, my brother did a project on jacques cousteau, meaning i had to do a project on jacques cousteau (because i am only slightly more focused than he and my mom made me), but i didn't mind this one because jacques cousteau is really really cool.
Denise Main
The foreword was really good. The anecdotes from Cousteau throughout the book were fascinating, but the book wasn't very well organized.
Nov 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really good chapters on the fishing industry, "Catch as Catch Can" and the nuclear industry, "The Hot Peace."
We should have listened to Jacques Cousteau decades ago.
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Born in 1910, was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, and filmmaker, who studied the sea. Although he is most famous to us from his television programmes, he also co-developed the aqua-lung, and pioneered marine conservation as a political and scientific priority.
In the Calypso, an ex-Royal Navy minesweeper, Cousteau visited the most interesting waters of the planet. During these trips he
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“what motivated explorers? What inspired Magellan, battered by South America’s strange williwaw winds, to hold to his course through an unknown strait with no guarantee that it would lead to an untraversed sea? What makes adult and child alike feel so desperate at the prospect of abandoning their advance along shining rails, across shining seas, that lead beyond the boundaries of their familiar world? What inspires an explorer to undertake a voyage with no destination, to search with no objective, to travel with no itinerary other than the uncharted, the unfathomed, the unexpected?” 0 likes
“To enlarge the human perspective, to build on knowledge for future generations, to identify dangers, and to chart the course to a better world: If these are the goals of the explorer, then everyone—voyager, scientist and citizen, parent and child—is engaged in humanity’s momentous expedition.” 0 likes
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