Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Mind That Wants To Know . . .

Clive Eric Cussler (born July 15, 1931 in Aurora, Illinois)is an American adventure novelist and successful amateur marine archaeologist. Clive Cussler began writing in 1965. His most famous creation is marine engineer, government agent and adventurer Dirk Pitt. The Dirk Pitt novels frequently take on an alternative history perspective, such as "what if Atlantis was real?", or "what if Abraham Lincoln wasn't assassinated, but was kidnapped?"

The first two Pitt novels, The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg, were relatively conventional maritime thrillers. The third, Raise the Titanic!, made Cussler's reputation and established the pattern that subsequent Pitt novels would follow: A blend of high adventure and high technology, generally involving megalomaniacal villains, lost ships, beautiful women, and sunken treasure.

Cussler's novels, like those of Michael Crichton, are examples of techno-thrillers that do not use military plots and settings. Where Crichton strives for scrupulous realism, however, Cussler prefers fantastic spectacles and outlandish plot devices. The Pitt novels, in particular, have the anything-goes quality of the James Bond or Indiana Jones movies, while also sometimes borrowing from Alistair MacLean's novels. Pitt himself is a two-dimensional, larger-than-life hero reminiscent of Doc Savage and other characters from pulp magazines. Clive Cussler has had more than 17 consecutive titles reach the New York Times fiction best-seller list.

As an underwater explorer, Cussler has discovered more than 60 shipwreck sites and has written non-fiction books about his findings. He is also the founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), a non-profit organization with the same name as the fictional government agency that employs Dirk Pitt. Cussler owns a large collection of classic cars, several of which (driven by Pitt) appear in his novels.

Cussler's web site claims that NUMA discovered, among other shipwrecks, the Confederate submarine Hunley. This claim is disputed by E. Lee Spence on his web site. Both claims appear to have some element of truth. Although Spence described finding the Hunley with a magnetometer back in the mid 1970s, the first expedition to bring back conclusive proof was the 1995 H.L. Hunley expedition that was partially financed by Cussler. The 1995 expedition appears to have relied, at least to some extent, on Spence's earlier work.

Cussler's work in marine exploration has often raised eyebrows and tempers alike. Not the born diplomat, he often steps on the collective toes of the academic community, local and national governments and at one point, as can be read about in his first non-fictional work, "Sea Hunters", the British Secret Service, Mossad and the CIA. Many have disputed the work of Cussler and NUMA, and while some of his finds do have their controversy over "who really got there first", Cussler has been the first to provide conclusive evidence of the location of several ship wrecks.

Following the publication in 1996 of Cussler's first nonfiction work, "The Sea Hunters", he was awarded a doctor of letters degree in 1997 by the Board of Governors of the State University of New York Maritime College who accepted the work in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis. This was the first time in the college's 123 year history that such a degree had been awarded.

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