Clive Cussler has been one of the world's leading authors for more than 40 years. His records currently include 19 New York Times bestsellers with 125 million books published in over 100 countries in 40 languages.
The Dirk Pitt Novels
This was Cussler's first series of books and they are still his most popular today. It may sometimes be like popcorn for the mind, but these books have everything you could ever wish for from a fast-paced action adventure novel. They follow the exploits of the hero with the odd name Dirk Pitt1. Pitt is the Special Projects Director for NUMA, which is not a strange Internet craze but is actually the fictional marine equivalent of NASA. NUMA, short for the National Underwater and Marine Agency2, is responsible for protecting and exploring the world's oceans, seas and waterways. They also carry out scientific research and advise the government on all marine matters.
A typical Cussler novel would have the book opening with the back story of some mystery or event that happened years ago and that will crop up at some point later in the tale. The book will generally move on to Dirk Pitt's latest NUMA project being interrupted as he is forced to rescue some people from a calamity, usually caused by the chief villain. Dirk will then proceed to slowly unravel the villain's plans in a somewhat James Bond style. The end result, like in all good action stories, sees Pitt saving the world and usually getting the girl, too!
The Mediterranean Caper (published in 1973) - the first book Clive published in the US was actually given a different title for its UK publishing, where it was called Mayday.
Iceberg (published in 1975) - Dirk Pitt discovers a ship entombed inside an iceberg leading him to unearth a plot to destabilise the world's economy.
Raise the Titanic! (published in 1976) - this book was written before Robert Ballard discovered the wreck of the famous ocean liner and learned that it had split into two sections. In it Dirk Pitt gets caught up in a race against time to locate the ship and raise the Titanic back to the surface.
Vixen 03 (published in 1978) - Dirk Pitt discovers the wreck of an aircraft that was lost while flying a top-secret operation to transport a deadly biological agent.
Night Probe! (published in 1981) - in perhaps one of the most ridiculous plots in a Cussler book, Dirk Pitt learns that British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, sold Canada to the US government in 1914. However, the documents detailing the sale were lost. Back in the present day, the USA is on the brink of a financial crisis so the President sets NUMA the task of recovering the lost papers to allow the merger of the US and Canada into one country: the United States of Canada!
Pacific Vortex! (published in 1983) - although not published until 1983, this was actually the first Dirk Pitt story Clive Cussler wrote. It was very crude and remained unpublished until Cussler's publisher Bantam Books realised he had a 'mostly' finished manuscript just sitting on his shelf at home. They obviously jumped at the chance of another book so Clive re-wrote it and the book was finally published 19 years after it was originally written. The plot centres around the search for a missing prototype nuclear submarine while Pitt falls for the daughter of the evil genius.
Deep Six (published in 1984) - when the President of the US is kidnapped, Dirk Pitt becomes the man to save the country from a Soviet plot and a mad man with a deadly biological weapon.
Cyclops (published in 1986) - in typical Cussler fashion, Dirk Pitt must stop the Space Shuttle crashing, prevent an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro and find the legendary treasure of El Dorado... all while drinking Don Julio Tequila with salt and lime.
Treasure (published in 1988) - Dirk Pitt is on a race against time to discover the legendary Library of Alexandria, all the time dodging the attempts on his life by a would-be Aztec dictator.
Dragon (published in 1990) - this time around, Pitt is in Japan trying to prevent a maniac setting off nuclear bombs hidden in cars located at strategic positions all over the grand old US of A.
Sahara (published in 1992) - one of only two Dirk Pitt books to be given the full Hollywood treatment, this is classic Cussler: environmental disasters, crazy African dictators, maniacal billionaires and a lost Civil War Ironclad. It's just such a shame that Hollywood left out some of the real Cussler leaps of fantasy.
Inca Gold (published in 1994) - Pitt discovers the remains of a ship captured by Sir Francis Drake in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. The discovery leads him to an ancient Inca treasure.
Shock Wave (published in 1996) - it happens to everyone, they say... Pitt falls in love with Maeve Dorsett, the daughter of a billionaire, but of course nothing goes to plan. It turns out the billionaire is a maniac with a diabolical scheme...again.
Flood Tide (published in 1997) - Dirk Pitt gets up to all sorts of high jinks rescuing illegal immigrants from an evil Chinese warlord.
Atlantis Found (published in 1999) - when a mysterious chamber is found that seems to point to the location of a lost continent, who else is on hand to foil the tomb raiders but Dirk Pitt? Of course he's now on a collision course with the bad guys to discover the legendary lost continent and the origins of civilisation.
Valhalla Rising (published in 2001) - this time around, Pitt is up against an evil industrialist with plans on monopolising the world oil and gas reserves. In an interesting twist to other action heroes, Pitt's past comes back to bite him. Perhaps unsurprisingly for the man who always gets the girl, Pitt appears to have fathered two long lost and now grown up children! However, the kids turn out to be a chip off the old block and help their dad save the world.
Trojan Odyssey (published in 2003) - in this book, Dirk Pitt is joined by his son Dirk Pitt Junior and his daughter Summer and the siblings are soon off on an adventure with papa Dirk and Al. This can actually make this book a bit difficult at times, as it can be hard to work out which Dirk Pitt the book is following. The plot centres on more fiendish criminal masterminds, this time with the backdrop of Homer's Odyssey.
Black Wind (published in 2004) - is poor old Clive finally feeling his age? This was the first Pitt novel to be co-authored by Cussler's son, Dirk, and coincidentally, Dirk Pitt also gets the chance to settle down and retire like all good heroes should. However, luckily for the readers, he has a son also called Dirk Pitt who can take up his old man's mantle and save the world again. This time the fight is against dastardly villains intent on recovering a deadly virus stored on board two lost World War II-era Japanese kamikaze submarines!
The Treasure of Khan (published in 2006) - it's fossil fuels again as a Mongolian warlord attempts to take control of the world's petroleum market. Luckily, Dirk Pitt is the man to stop him and discover Kublai Khan's tomb on Hawaii along the way!
Dirk Pitt is Cussler's main hero. With his trademark black hair, craggy features and deep green eyes, Pitt is very much the hero. Pitt is the Special Projects Director at NUMA, responsible for arranging the various activities that NUMA gets involved in. He therefore is usually right in place for the adventure to unfold around him. Pitt's character changes through time; in the early books, he's quite a womaniser and chauvinist, but this mellows in the later books when he loses the love of his life, Summer Moran, and later while dating Congresswoman Loren Smith. Dirk is an accomplished diver and will not be found without his trusty orange-faced Doxa diving watch. Pitt lives in a converted aircraft hangar on a corner of Washington's Dulles Airport which also contains his classic car collection3 and some items he's collected from around the world on his adventures.
Al is Dirk Pitt's lifelong best friend and Assistant Special Projects Director at NUMA. They met at high school and went on to join the air force together. When Dirk left to join the newly-created NUMA, Al typically stuck with his friend and followed him into NUMA to become Pitt's right-hand man. Al is a short and stocky guy with traditional Italian looks; he's immensely strong but has a gentle soul and when he's not up to his arms trying to fix machinery, he's dropping a wisecrack to lighten a dark situation. Whatever the fix that Dirk finds himself in, Al is likely to be there standing resolutely next to him.
James Sandecker is the head of NUMA and Dirk Pitt's boss. An ex-captain of a guided missile frigate, Sandecker is a hard grafting boss regularly fighting the bureaucrats in Washington to get funding for NUMA's projects. Although he regularly drops Pitt and Giordino into tough situations, he is immensely proud of them and their achievements and will stand up for them whatever the circumstances. With a shock of red hair and a trimmed Van Dyke beard, Sandecker is a resolute bachelor, living in an expensive Brownstone house in Washington DC. He works from his office on the NUMA building's top floor where he keeps his hidden supply of especially rolled cigars, a cache which Giordino always manages to infiltrate without Sandecker's knowledge and much to his chagrin.
Admiral Sandecker's right-hand man Commander Rudi Gunn is the second in command at NUMA and comes across as a bit of a bespectacled nerd. He's a good guy, though, and has occasionally ended up in the thick of the adventure where he's proven himself just as able as Dirk and Al. Well respected by the duo, Rudi is a shrewd operator who will back up Dirk Pitt when the chips are down.
Congresswoman Loren Smith has been Dirk Pitt's on and off girlfriend from Vixen 03 onwards. She represents Colorado in Congress and is described as having cinnamon-brown hair with violet-coloured eyes. A thorough professional and independent woman, she is just as happy as Dirk to be in a casual relationship. However, as the novels progress, and especially in the later ones, it becomes obvious she wants more commitment from the hero. In a departure from the typical action hero-type, Dirk eventually succumbs to her desire for commitment and stops his daring antics...sort of.
Hiram is NUMA's resident computer genius. A true hippy throwback who grows his hair long and wears jeans to work, in reality Hiram is a true white collar worker living in an expensive area and driving a BMW. His greatest achievement is the creation of NUMA's supercomputer Max. An artificial intelligence like no other, Max displays itself as a 3-D holographic representation of Hiram's wife. As a supercomputer, Max is able to hack into remote servers or use its own database containing every piece of underwater and marine information known to the US government.
St Julian Perlmutter
While Max and Hiram Yaeger represent modern advanced technology, Dirk Pitt's friend represents lost and arcane libraries. St Julian Perlmutter is an enormous man weighing over 400 pounds4 and is described as a true gourmand with an exquisite taste in food and wine backed up by a near encyclopaedic knowledge of the sea and maritime matters. His Georgetown, Washington DC, mansion contains one of the world's largest libraries on the sea, shipping and all things maritime, a resource Dirk uses to trace lost vessels in his adventures.
One of the long-running jokes Cussler has with his fans is to write himself into the stories, usually at a point when Dirk and Al are in trouble or have followed a clue to a dead end and need a hand. All of a sudden, up pops a character who introduces himself as Clive Cussler and helps put Dirk and Al back on to the right path. The character of Cussler is always different: in one book he'll be a grizzly old prospector, in another he'll be a hard-bitten miner. Whatever his appearance, Dirk always leaves the encounter with 'this nagging feeling I've met that guy before somewhere!'
The NUMA Files and the Oregon Chronicles Series
Both these series of books are set in Cussler's Dirk Pitt/NUMA universe but they follow different characters. In the NUMA Files series, the books follow the head of the NUMA's Special Assignments Team, Kurt Austin, and his sidekick, Joe Zavala. The books were co-written with Paul Kemprecos and follow the Dirk Pitt format so closely that they may as well be Dirk Pitt books. The only notable difference between the two series is the names of the lead protagonists. The Kurt Austin character is almost identical to Dirk Pitt, although Austin is somewhat more introspective and has a passion for antique duelling pistols instead of antique cars.
The next series, the Oregon Chronicles, follows the adventures of the captain and crew of a ship called the Oregon originally introduced in the Dirk Pitt novel Flood Tide. This group of semi-mercenaries called the 'Corporation' is run by the character Juan Cabrillo and hires itself out to whichever US government agency needs its services. The Oregon is designed to look from the outside like a rusty old tub whereas in fact she is bristling with state-of-the-art weaponry and technology. This enables the US to reach into areas it would not normally be able to affect without this deniable resource.
- Numa Files - Serpent (published in 1999)
- Numa Files - Blue Gold (published in 2000)
- Numa Files - Fire Ice (published in 2002)
- Numa Files - White Death (published in 2003)
- Numa Files - Lost City (published in 2004)
- Numa Files - Polar Shift (published in 2005)
- Numa Files - The Navigator (published in 2007)
- Oregon Chronicles - Golden Buddha (published in 2003)
- Oregon Chronicles - Sacred Stone (published in 2004)
- Oregon Chronicles - Dark Watch (published in 2005)
- Oregon Chronicles - The Skeleton Coast (published in 2006)
Cussler is a prolific author and now appears to write a new novel each year, alternating them between the NUMA Files and the Oregon Chronicles with an occasional new Dirk Pitt book.
The Sea Hunters (published in 1996)
This book details Clive Cussler's exploits with his real-life charity organisation, NUMA, and tells the true story of some of their most important discoveries.
Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed (published in 1998)
This is Cussler's autobiography. It details his life story and also goes through a basic outline of each character and the plot of each book in the Dirk Pitt series - a more detailed alternative to this Entry!
The Sea Hunters II (published in 2002)
A sequel to the original Sea Hunters book, this one continues the adventures and exploits of Cussler's real world NUMA team.
At the Movies
Raise the Titanic (released in 1980)
Cussler's Dirk Pitt books have always cried out for the Hollywood treatment; they read just like James Bond films and are packed with all the thrills and spills and action any studio would kill for in a summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, the first of his books to be turned into a film killed the possibility of any future releases for a long time. The movie of Raise the Titanic was absolutely dreadful. After going through as many as ten major script rewrites it didn't appear to follow the story of the book in any way, shape or form. Even with heavy hitters like Alec Guinness in the cast, it was doomed to die at the box office; placing Guinness up against himself by releasing it at the same time as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was probably not the smartest thing the studio could have done. Cussler swiftly distanced himself from the production and it sank like the ship5...
Sahara (released in 2005)
It took 25 years for the horrors of Raise the Titanic to die down and to allow the studios to attempt another Dirk Pitt book. The novel Sahara was a good choice to revisit Dirk Pitt and it did become the big budget summer blockbuster movie that the story deserved. The film starred the heartthrob Matthew McConaughey as the hero Dirk Pitt and Penelope Cruz as the love interest and was a reasonably good summer film. However, as far as Cussler was concerned, it was a disaster and deviated from the plot so much he filed a lawsuit against the production company6. With Cussler's reservations aside, Sahara was critically quite well received. It was never going to be a hugely cerebral film, but as an Indiana Jones-style action movie it was quite successful as an enjoyable movie. While the film did reasonably well compared to others at the box office, making a total of $122million, Sahara was dogged with high production costs which totalled $281.2million making the film a loss in the end compared to its total revenue of $202.9million.