Mysteries of the Deep

Share Button

All you need to know about lost continents and sea monsters.

By David Wicinas

By Richard Ellis, C’59.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. 352 pp., $27.50.
Order this book


By Richard Ellis, C’59.
New York: The Lyons Press, 1998. 368 pp., $35.00..
Order this book

When I applied to Penn in 1971, the application form asked me to identify the most influential books in my life. I cited Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island. As a young man, I admired Verne’s penchant for exploring realms beyond the accepted boundaries of civilization.
   Those same sorts of literary forays still fascinate me as a middle-aged man, so I leapt at the chance to review two new books by author and painter Richard Ellis: Imagining Atlantis and The Search for the Giant Squid. Lost continents and legendary sea monsters? Sounded like a plot summary for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
With these painstakingly researched books, Richard Ellis explores two of the sea’s great puzzles. Atlantis has fascinated western civilization since the fourth century B.C. when Plato wrote the Timaeus and the Critias and spun his tale of a fabulous land once shimmering with wealth but now lost beneath the waves. Since Plato, as many as 10,000 books have attempted to dredge up plausible explanations for Atlantis.
   Fewer works have focused exclusively on giant squid. But sea monsters with arms “curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas,” as Herman Melville wrote in Moby Dick, have inspired writers from Homer to Peter Benchley. And who can fault them? Although the kraken, as ancients called the giant squid, spends most of its life in the ocean’s icy depths, we know from isolated sightings that it can grow longer than a tractor trailer, grab victims with two elongated whip-like tentacles, clutch them inside eight more arms studded with toothed suckers, and see through unblinking eyes bigger than dinner plates. The giant squid, writes Ellis, “is the only living animal for which the term sea monster is truly applicable.”
   A noted painter of undersea themes, Richard Ellis has also authored many encyclopedic studies on marine natural history. But as anyone who has ever sat down to read a World Book knows, encyclopedic is an adjective that cuts two ways. Imagining Atlantis and The Search for the Giant Squid deliver oceans of detail, but the sheer amount of data may daunt all but the most motivated readers.
   For example, history records less than 200 encounters between Homo sapiens and Architeuthis, the Linnean classification for the genus of giant squid. Yet one chapter in The Search for the Giant Squid recounts almost 30 such incidents. Few seem to merit the spotlight. Probably the most sensational occurred in 1873 when a giant squid wrapped its tentacles around the boat of some Newfoundland fishermen. Most sightings of the kraken generate far less drama. The squid is usually about to expire, if not long dead. Only the most ardent admirers of enormous cephalopods will not find themselves nodding after two dozen decayed carcasses have washed up on beaches or become entangled in fishing trawler nets.
   Imagining Atlantis suffers from a similar overload of detail. I devoured Ellis’s introduction to Plato’s Atlantis and the Egyptian roots of the story. But then Ellis trudges out a comprehensive examination of Atlantean literature. Regrettably, most writers who theorize about the lost continent are charlatans, mystics, or “scholars setting sail in quest of Atlantis with a more or less heavy cargo of erudition, but without any compass except their imagination,” as the French classicist T. Henri Martin once wrote. Their fantasies place Atlantis in the Arctic, the Caucasus, the Sahara, the Netherlands, the Bahamas, you name it. Most make for flat reading.
   Ellis’s shifting arguments also proved frustrating. Throughout The Search for the Giant Squid he takes pains to refute the most sensational qualities attributed to Architeuthis and sticks to facts like a scientific Joe Friday. No giant squid has ever surpassed 55 feet in length, he asserts, nor do they gather in schools. But in the last few pages Ellis takes a new tack, writing that “instead of clinging categorically to the closed system I have worked so hard to establish, I ought to end this book with an open mind.” He unveils two gripping eyewitness accounts. In one, a U.S. Marine aboard a naval vessel off the coast of Puerto Rico sights a live squid that appears to measure at least 100 feet. In another, a ship captain describes a school of giant squid 200 strong — truly a mind-opening prospect.
   Imagining Atlantis leads the reader through similarly abrupt course changes. In his introduction Ellis writes, “I offer no new or revolutionary explanation.” Yet he devotes a hundred fascinating pages to what may be the most plausible explanation for a real-life Atlantis — a massive volcanic eruption and seismic sea waves destroyed part of the ancient Minoan civilization. After celebrating the accomplishments of the Minoans, an advanced culture that flourished a thousand years before Plato but collapsed long before the heyday of classical Greece, Ellis focuses on Minoan archaeological remains discovered on the island of Thera, now known as Santorini. Around 1500 B.C. a volcanic explosion, possibly the second largest in history after Tambora in 1815, obliterated most of Thera. Ellis scrutinizes the destructive force of volcanoes, delivering a cavalcade of volcanologic tidbits. (When Krakatau blew, “debris from the blast, some chunks eight feet around, fell over an area larger than France.”) Finally, Ellis examines tsunamis, which almost surely inundated the Mediterranean after the Theran eruption and may have conveniently parted the Red Sea for Moses.
   Imagining Atlantis seems to argue persuasively for the Thera-as-Atlantis hypothesis. But instead Ellis concludes his book by theorizing that Plato fabricated the tale of Atlantis, synthesizing Egyptian impressions of the Minoan disaster and contemporary accounts of an earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Greek city of Helice. I finished the book confused and somewhat irritated.
   Readers of Imagining Atlantis and The Search for the Giant Squid who yearn for voyages of discovery should be forewarned that although thrills await them in these books, so do many long passages of flat water. Scholars and students, however, should value these volumes as well-documented overviews of two enduring mysteries of the deep.

David Wicinas, C’75, author of Sagebrush and Cappuccino: Confessions of an LA Naturalist, writes about natural history in California.

A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.

WHAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT DIVORCE AND CUSTODY: Judges, Lawyers, and Therapists Share Winning Strategies on How to Keep the Kids, the Cash, and Your Sanity
By Gayle Rosenwald Smith, CW’72, and Sally Abrahms.
New York: Perigree, 1998. 340 pp., $14.95.
Order this book
   Here is an insider’s guide to divorce and custody issues with advice from judges, lawyers, therapists, and mothers who have gone through this challenging legal process. Designed for women at every stage of divorce, it covers a wide range of legal strategies, as well as financial and psychological issues, from the pros and cons of various custody arrangements to what to tell the kids. Smith is a Philadelphia lawyer and Abrahms is the author of Children in the Crossfire.
OVARIAN CANCER: Controversies in Management
Edited by David M. Gershenson, C’67, and William P. McGuire.
New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998.
463 pp., $75.00.
Order this book
   Believing that a dissection of the important controversies will help advance ovarian-cancer research, physicians Gershenson and McGuire assembled the world’s leading authorities to address some 20 different aspects of the field of ovarian-cancer management, including prevention, early detection, and therapy. In addition to the conventional topics of surgical, radiotherapeutic, and chemotherapeutic interventions, the editors included chapters on the current status of screening, prophylactic oophorectomy, palliative care, quality of life, post-therapy surveillance, and the clinical relevance of laboratory investigations. Gershenson is the Anderson clinical faculty chair for cancer treatment and research, as well as the director of the Sandra G. Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS: Letters and Personal Writings

Edited by George S. Claghorn, Gr’53.
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. 896 pp., $80.00.
Order this book
   This volume gathers together for the first time all known extant letters and major personal writings of Colonial theologian (and former president of what would become Princeton University) Jonathan Edwards. For more than three decades, Claghorn, professor of philosophy at West Chester University, has scoured America and Great Britain for letters and documents by and about Edwards. The resulting compendium of 235 letters and four autobiographical texts reveals the private man behind the treatises and sermons. They trace his relations with parents, siblings, college classmates, friends, and family, as well as with political, religious, and educational leaders of his day. New documents include Edwards’s only known statement on slavery and letters on the Indian mission in Stockbridge, Mass., that display his interest in native Americans and his efforts on their behalf.
POLLUTION MARKETS IN A GREEN COUNTRY TOWN: Urban Environmental Management in Transition
By Roger K. Raufer, Gr’84, Faculty.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. 288 pp., $59.95.
Order this book
   The brave new world of environmental economics — complete with pollution markets, emission brokers, and commodity allowances — has been developing in the United States for several decades. This book traces the evolution of such environmental management techniques in industrial Philadelphia. Initially a “Green Country Towne,” the city’s development led to significant pollution concerns, including rivers filled with sewage, typhoid deaths, and smoky plumes from coal combustion. Technological pollution controls improved conditions, but blunt regulatory tools eventually evolved into more refined economic approaches. This book describes that transition and the economic mechanisms that have emerged in recent decades, as well as prospective markets for ozone precursors, greenhouse-gas emissions, and environmental risk. Raufer is an independent consulting engineer and an adjunct professor of city and regional planning in the Graduate School of Fine Arts. He is currently assisting the United Nations with pollution control in four Chinese cities.

Edited by Linda Troost, G’80, Gr’85, & Sayre Greenfield, G’79, Gr’85.
Lexington, Ky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1998. 232 pp., $27.50.
Order this book
   In 1995 and 1996 an unprecedented six film or television adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels were produced, and all were critical or box-office successes. What accounts for this explosion of interest? Much of the appeal of these films lies in our nostalgic desire at the end of the millennium for an age of greater politeness and sexual reticence. Austen’s ridicule of deceit and pretentiousness also appeals to our fin-de-siecle sensibilities. The novels were changed, however, to enhance their appeal to a wide popular audience, and the revisions reveal much about our own culture and its values. These recent productions espouse explicitly 20th-century feminist notions and reshape the Austenian hero to modern expectations. Troost, associate professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., and Greenfield, associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, present 14 essays examining the phenomenon of Austen as cultural icon, providing insights on the films through a variety of critical approaches.
By Jonathan R. Aspatore, C’97, with H.S. Hamadeh, L/WG’97, Samer Hamadeh, & Mark Oldman.
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 296 pp., $14.00.
Order this book
   Have you dreamed of owning your own company since you were a little kid selling five-cent lemonades? This book takes readers through the challenging yet rewarding process of starting your own business, divulging the trade secrets of more than a dozen successful entrepreneurs, offering checklists to consider before taking that first step, and showing how to attract investors and employees to a new firm. Aspatore, who currently works for the investment bank Wallace Willmore Cromwell & Co., has founded two product companies and an entrepreneurial-consulting firm. H.S. Hamadeh is co-founder and managing director of Vault Reports, an electronic-recruiting company which also publishes employer profiles and industry guides.

BE PREPARED: The Complete Financial, Legal, and Practical Guide to Living with a Life-Challenging Condition
By David Landay, W’61.
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. 544 pp., $29.95.
Order this book
   Intended to be a resource to anyone touched by a significant illness or disability, this book offers advice on such matters as how to minimize taxes while ill; evaluate and maximize use of health and life insurance pensions; invest and use assets and government entitlements to meet life goals; and choose a home- care company, nursing home, or hospital. Landay, a theatrical attorney, founder of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and a board member of the National Association of People with AIDS, was motivated to research and write this book following the death of his partner due to AIDS in 1992.


By Mark J. Rozell, Faculty, and Clyde Wilcox.
Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1999. 186 pp., $19.95
Order this book
   Interest groups are — and always have been — controversial yet necessary players in the American electoral process. To their detractors, groups distort the process in favor of the better-organized and better-funded, subverting true democracy. To their defenders, groups embody the Madisonian notion of a competitive pluralist system and are the bulwark of our democracy. In this era of weakened parties and the waning partisan attachments of American voters, interest groups are playing an increasingly important role in elections by performing many of the functions traditionally carried out by the parties, including organizing activists at the grassroots, training them, and giving them the skills to participate in politics. Rozell, a political scientist and associate director of the Washington Semester Program in Penn’s political-science department, and Wilcox, professor of political science at Georgetown University, have drawn upon their own research and interviews with interest-group leaders, campaign-finance filings, and election surveys to write this book focusing on the role of interest groups in federal elections.
COOKING TO BEAT THE CLOCK: Delicious, Inspired Meals in 15 Minutes

By Sam Gugino, C’70.
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999.
156 pp., $16.95.
Order this book
   Which sounds more appealing for dinner — cold pizza or Provencal mushroom ragout over polenta? A can of soup or pork medallions with cider and mashed sweet potatoes? James Beard Award-winning food journalist Sam Gugino demonstrates in his new cookbook that it doesn’t take much time to produce a delicious meal. He has devised a host of secret strategies for getting organized so cooking dinner is quick and painless. He approaches the overall kitchen scene with four key principles in mind: flavor, organization, focus, and creativity. To this he adds time-saving techniques that drastically cut the preparation time for meal-sized entrees to 15 minutes or less. Gugino is the “Tastes” columnist for Wine Spectator magazine.
CAPE MAY, QUEEN OF THE SEASIDE RESORTS: Its History and Architecture

By George E. Thomas, Gr’75, Faculty, & Carl E. Doebley, C’74.
Cape May, N.J.: Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1998. 254 pp., $40.00.
   Cape May is the best-preserved, late-19th-century seaside resort remaining in America. Somehow its small wooden Victorian buildings have weathered a century of storms, braved fires, outlasted changes in taste, and even now remain despite increasing commercial pressures. Within a few square miles stand literally hundreds of late-19th and early-20th century cottages, mansions, stables, rooming houses, and commercial establishments. Thomas, a lecturer in historic preservation and urban studies at Penn and the head of George E. Thomas Associates, an architectural preservation firm, has updated with new essays and color photography his 1976 book detailing the history and architecture of Cape May, tracing its evolution over a quarter of a century “from a white painted village to a flamboyant and colorful paint-chart of a town.”

Edited by Hugh C. Miller, Ar’55, and Charles E. Fisher.
New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998. 265 pp., $39.95.
Order this book
   Written for owners of historic houses and managers of historic-house museums, this illustrated guide contains 22 essays by leading preservation practitioners with the overriding theme of “caring now with proper maintenance, not restoring later.” The essays offer detailed information on such tasks as cleaning wallpaper, choosing exterior paint, and repairing plaster cracks as well as discussions of how to get to know your house and where to get help. Miller, adjunct professor of preservation technology at the Goucher College Master of Arts in Historic Preservation program, shares his experience in historic-building preservation in his lead essay, “Why Care for Your Historic House.” Miller equates the care of a historic house to the practice of geriatrics. “The intent is to understand the house’s ills and treat them so that the whole house continues to function.”
By Arnold Blumberg, Ed’47, GEd’48, Gr’52.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. 264 pp., $35.00.
Order this book
   This survey takes the non-specialist from ancient Israel to the modern state, with emphasis on the struggles which the only Jewish sovereignty in the world has surmounted in the last century. It explores the nature of Israel’s government and the unique character of its society. It examines everything from its educational system, economic life, military structure, religion, and changing economic reality to its social system and even its passion for athletics. The author plunges directly into what he views as the churning dilemmas posed by the peace process, making it plain that he mistrusts Yasir Arafat. He offers some suggestions on the means whereby peace may be achieved someday, but is basically doubtful of their realization in the near future. However, this book is fundamentally optimistic about Israel’s future success in weathering the storm. Blumberg is a professor emeritus of history at Towson University in Towson, Md.
MONEY MATTERS MADE EASY: The Q & A Reference for Everything from Asset Allocation to Zero-Coupon Bonds
By Steven C. Camp, W’63.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Trunkey Publishing, 1998. 166 pp., $12.95.
Order this book
   Camp, a financial author, lecturer, and consultant, answers questions about money topics ranging from paying for children’s college education to measuring the risks of overseas investing, to evaluating the benefits of no-load mutual funds. He is a financial consultant with a major brokerage firm in Fort Lauderdale who has given seminars across the country; a frequent guest on radio and TV talk shows; and the author of another personal-finance book, Money: 127 Answers to Your Most-Asked Financial Questions.
LIKE IT IS: A Teen Sex Guide

By E. James Lieberman and Karen Lieberman Troccoli, C’86.
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998. 216 pp., $25.00.
Order this book
   A tool for young adults coming to terms with their sexuality, as well as parents and educators, this book describes itself as a “comprehensive, straightforward” information source about sex, relationships, and birth control, emphasizing informed consent and mutual respect. It includes a curriculum guide that provides questions for discussion and background history on various topics, plus an appendix of resources for additional information. Troccoli has worked in the public-health policy field for a decade — most recently serving as primary editor on reports on maternal and child health and teen pregnancy at the Southern Regional Project on Infant Mortality. Lieberman is a psychiatrist in private practice and clinical professor at George Washington University School of Medicine.

Share Button

    Related Posts

    Good Grief
    For My Oldest Friend
    Into the Dark