Jacques-Yves Cousteau
By: Matthew Battles | Categories: Adventure, HiLo Heroes


In more than 120 television specials JACQUES-YVES COUSTEAU (1910–97) portrayed a floating utopia in which perfectly tanned, massively skilled argonauts roamed the seven seas in search of beauty and danger, supported by donations and calendar sales. With their silver lamé wetsuits, fur-trimmed parkas, and shipboard attire of speedos and insouciant red caps, Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso forged a style that can only be called nauticosexual. Behind the style, however, Cousteau displayed chops as a technologist, filmmaker, and environmentalist. During World War II he organized underwater commando raids against the Fascist forces of Italy; later, he helped develop the aqualung that made modern diving possible. He aided in underwater rescues, invented a submarine as graceful and otherworldy as a flying saucer, correctly guessed that dolphins use echolocation before scientists could prove it, and stopped nuclear waste dumping on the high seas. Wonder-struck and commandingly cool, he was a seamless blend of Arthur C. Clarke, Maurice Chevalier, and Captain Nemo.


ADVENTURERS as HILO HEROES: Katia Krafft | Freya Stark | Louise Arner Boyd | Mary Kingsley | Bruce Chatwin | Hester Lucy Stanhope | Annie Smith Peck | Richard Francis Burton | Isabella Lucy Bird | Calamity Jane | Ernest Shackleton | Osa Helen Johnson | Redmond O’Hanlon | Gertrude Bell | George Mallory | Neta Snook | Jane Digby | Patty Wagstaff | Wilfred Thesiger | Joe Carstairs | Florence “Pancho” Barnes | Erskine Childers | Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Michael Collins | Thor Heyerdahl | Jean-Paul Clébert | Tristan Jones | Neil Armstrong

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jacques-Yves Cousteau | Iain Sinclair | Dame Darcy

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).



Matthew Battles, Hilobrow's cofounder, has written about language, history, and the natural world for many publications. When he makes poems, he puts them here. A fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, he's also the author of Library, An Unquiet History.