The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- January 2000

Blue Meridian

The Search for the Great White Shark

by Peter Matthiessen

In the blue depths of the ocean, all over the world, swims the most formidable predator known. The great white shark, made most famous in the movie Jaws, is the subject of this documentary book. Matthiessen embarks on a 1969 expedition to film this shark in the most intimate situation possible. This project, the brain-child of Peter Gimbel, a diver famous for his dive on the wreck of the Andrea Doria only 28 hours after it sank, was to result in the movie Blue Water, White Death. His plan was to seek out the great white and to make a film whether he succeeded or not. Peter Matthiessen went along as a chronicler of the journey. Opening with some harrowing details of the whale hunt off of South Africa, the story follows the crew of the movie as they move around the Indian Ocean looking for the great white. Matthiessen is a very good author, and though this is more reportage than literature, he manages to imbue the story with his compassionate vision of wildlife and human character. The one weak point, though, is that for much of the action described, Matthiessen wasn't present. For these passages, he relies on diaries and letters from the crew. When he is on the scene, though, his telling is fascinating. The frustrations of a hunt that takes these adventurers thousands of miles, the tension of swimming with dozens of hungry sharks as they tear a whale carcass apart, and the excitement of the approaching realization of a dream. Perhaps not among Matthiessen's best work, but certainly a well-told adventure.

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Also by Matthiessen: [Killing Mr. Watson] [At Play in the Fields of the Lord] [East of Lo Monthang] [Far Tortuga]