I had Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sitting on my bookshelf and decided to read it. The story isn’t what I thought it would be, plus it moves too slowly for contemporary readers. Same with the Disney movie staring Kirk Douglas. But, the book changed the Science Fiction genre when it was published in 1870 and has some cool passages, too.

Here’s one when Professor Aronnax explains to the harpooner Ned Land the realities of atmospheric pressure.

Let us admit that the pressure of the atmosphere is represented by the weight of a column of water thirty-two feet high. In reality the column of water would be shorter, as we are speaking of sea water, the density of which is great than that of fresh water… it follows then that at 320 feet this pressure equals that of 10 atmospheres, of 100 atmospheres at 3,200 feet, and of 1,000 atmospheres at 32,000 feet, that is, about 6 miles… your 6,500 square inches [on the surface of your body] bear at this moment a pressure of 97,500 lb.

Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Tor 1995, page 22.

Here’s another one when Professor Aronnax explains how pearls form

…to the poet, a pearl is a tear of the sea; to the Orientals, it is a drop of dew solidified; to the ladies, it is a jewel of an oblong shape, of a brilliancy of mother-of-pearl substance, which they wear on their fingers, their necks, or their ears; for the chemist it is a mixture of phosphate and carbonate of lime, with a little gelatin; and lastly, for naturalists, it is simply a morbid secretion of the organ that produces the mother-of-pearl amongst certain bivalves.”

Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Tor 1995, page 155.

This, I admit, was fun stuff. However, the main driver of the story is not the giant underwater creature that Disney has led us to believe. Most people can skip reading Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea unless you like to study this stuff (like I do). And the ‘20,000 leagues’ thing refers more to distance traveled, rather than the distance submerged. A more accurate title could be, ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Traveled Through the Sea’, but of course, that’s less catchy.

Categories: Book Picks


Hi there. I'm a writer and reserve military officer with a day job. I write fiction, professional essays on military topics, and wax philosophical about books and movies. I live in Florida with my husband, two kids, and two cats.


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