20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Wordsworth Classics)

by Jules Verne

Paperback, 1998

Status

Available

Local notes

PB Ver

Publication

Puffin Classics (2003), 279 pages. Purchased in 2003. $5.99.

Description

Retells the adventures of a French professor and his two companions as they sail above and below the world's oceans as prisoners on the fabulous electric submarine of the deranged Captain Nemo.

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

1869-1870 (serialised)

Physical description

279 p.; 4.98 inches

ISBN

0140367217 / 9780140367218

Barcode

748

User reviews

LibraryThing member atimco
In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne's 1869 adventure story, a strange creature has appeared in the world's oceans. It looks like a whale, but it is much larger and faster than any whale yet known to science. When international hysteria over the mysterious creature reaches its height, the U.S. sends a warship out to find and destroy it. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a famous French naturalist, is invited to come along and observe. Also on board are Conseil, Aronnax's faithful manservant and classification expert, and Ned Land, an expert harpooner. When they finally do meet the creature, they are astonished to learn that it is not a creature of flesh and blood at all, but a manmade ship that sails under the water. A submarine! Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are shipwrecked and taken aboard the Nautilus by its enigmatic and brilliant captain who calls himself Nemo (Latin for "no one"). Why has Nemo built this incredible submarine, and what has caused his intense hatred for the powers that reign on dry land? And — more to the point — will he ever let his prisoners go?

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea begs comparison to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, and Ray Bradbury's introduction to this edition explores each to illuminate the other (please note there are spoilers for both in this paragraph!). Bradbury says both Melville and Verne are "blasphemers" in their open questioning of God's dispensations. But while Melville is bleakly existential, Verne has a much more practical view of things. If Melville and Verne were building the Tower of Babel, Melville would write poetry about ascending the heavens while Verne would be busy trying to discover the best mixture for the bricks. Ahab goes down dramatically with the Whale to his death; Nemo builds a mechanical whale and plumbs the depths of the oceans to survive. Both stories end in a swirling vortex, but while Ahab's fate is certain, Captain Nemo's is left open.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with this book. It is evident that Verne did a lot of research for it — too much at times. In every ocean they visit, Monsieur Aronnax gives us detailed descriptions of the ocean life, telling us what each fish looks like (and whether it is good to eat). This is interesting some of the time, but as it went on and on, my eyes started glazing over. Often the characters ask questions that are obvious lead-ins to info dumps. This is fine to a point, but when it happens in every chapter it gets a bit old. I do see why Verne would go to such lengths (depths?) to describe everything minutely; his readers in 1869 would be thirsty for every word detailing the mysterious underwater realms of the ocean. Maybe it just doesn't work as well with modern readers who have already seen all kinds of underwater exploration footage and pictures. I do have to give Verne credit for thinking up halfway-plausible theories for how his submarine could operate (though several are not at all correct). Verne is a towering figure in the science fiction genre, and it's easy to see why.

Despite the slow parts, there are some iconic moments here that I remember from the Great Illustrated Classics edition I read as a child... the shadowy underwater graveyard, the giant squid attack, and the pearl-oyster beds of Ceylon. Verne does not dwell overmuch on the philosophical aspects of the story, but their undertones are very much present, and they come out strongly when someone dies. Gradually we come to see that Nemo is just as much of a fanatic as the more demonstrative Ahab; he really means it when he says he hates the human societies on the dry land. In this book Nemo's nationality and the specific injustices he suffered remain a mystery, though I understand that these are explored in the sequel, The Mysterious Island.

This book is thought provoking when read in our context of the modern environmentalist movement. In one place, it sounds like Nemo doesn't care about using nature responsibly; dugongs are becoming quite rare due to overhunting and yet Nemo allows Ned Land to harpoon one in a very offhand manner. But later, when Ned wants to kill some baleen whales, Nemo refuses to allow it because they would not use the meat; it would be for the sheer joy of killing, and those particular whales were already becoming rare. It is fascinating that Verne was so aware of the issues even then, and embodies these two opposing viewpoints through Ned Land and Captain Nemo. Neither, of course, can understand the other.

And yet Nemo has no problem killing a group of sperm whales that were going to attack the more benign baleen whales. The carnage is quite graphic. Nemo justifies this by saying that the sperm whales are vicious killers that the world can easily spare. It seems that Nemo equates the vicious sperm whales with a particular nation/political movement, the one that destroyed his family. He sees himself as judgment meted out upon them.

And randomly, I was also hugely amused at the brief mention of and explanation for global cooling (yes, you read that right). Interesting how we keep changing our mind on this topic. Maybe in the next century we will determine that the earth's temperature is remaining constant?

I can understand why this is a classic, and I am impressed at the breadth of its ideas. Underwater ships, batteries powered by sodium, pressurized diving suits, guns that shoot electric bullets, incredibly inventive ocean cuisine — all of man's creative forces focused on reaping life from the elements. Man is moving forward, conquering, exploring, classifying, and cataloguing every inch of the globe. But after all its underwater victories over the forces of nature, the Nautilus disappears in a raging whirlpool... or does it? If the Nautilus is a metaphor for scientific progress, there is an interesting parallel here; its implications are still too ambiguous to admit of a neat and tidy conclusion. Every reader will come away with a different perspective.

Just a note: I do not recommend the Tantor Media audiobook of this story. I tried to listen to it and had to turn it off because the narrator's voice (which was fine in itself) kept spiking and distorting even at a normal conversational volume level, resulting in a grating fuzziness. This really surprised me because it was recorded in 2003, presumably with decent equipment (?). But it was too annoying to be borne. I have not listened to the audiobook done by Naxos; perhaps it is better.

Overall, I would say this is a work I respect because of its landmark position as a classic of science and adventure fiction. But besides Captain Nemo, the characters aren't very compelling, and the long, frequent descriptions of ocean life impede the plot. It left me cold, and I don't think it is a book I will revisit.
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LibraryThing member jeffjardine
"Among the molluscs and zoophytes, I found in the meshes of the net several species of alcyonarians, echini, hammers, spurs, dials, cerites, and hyalleae. The flora was represented by beautiful floating seaweeds, laminariae, and macrocystes, impregnated with the mucilage that transudes through their pores; and among which I gathered an admirable Nemastoma Geliniarois..."

*flip flip flip*

"...carpet of molluscs and zoophytes. Amongst the specimens of these branches I noticed some placenae, with thin unequal shells, a kind of ostracion peculiar to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean; some orange lucinae with rounded shells; rockfish three feet and a half long, which raised themselves under the waves like hands ready to seize one. There were also some panopyres, slightly luminous..."

*flip flip flip*

"...phyctallines, belonging to the actinidian family, and among other species the phyctalis protexta, peculiar to that part of the ocean, with a little cylindrical trunk, ornamented With vertical lines, speckled with red dots, crowning a marvellous blossoming of tentacles. As to the molluscs, they consisted of some I had already observed--turritellas, olive porphyras, with regular lines intercrossed, with red spots standing out plainly against the flesh; odd pteroceras, like petrified scorpions; translucid hyaleas, argonauts, cuttle-fish (excellent eating), and certain species of calmars that naturalists of antiquity have classed amongst the flying-fish, and that serve principally for bait for cod-fishing. I had now an opportunity of studying several species of fish on these shores. Amongst the cartilaginous ones, petromyzons-pricka, a sort of eel, fifteen inches long, with a greenish head, violet fins, grey-blue back, brown belly, silvered and sown with bright spots, the pupil of the eye encircled with gold--a curious animal, that the current of the Amazon had drawn to the sea, for they inhabit fresh waters--tuberculated streaks, with pointed snouts, and a long loose tail, armed with a long jagged sting; little sharks, a yard long, grey and whitish skin, and several rows of teeth, bent back, that are generally known by the name of pantouffles; vespertilios, a kind of red isosceles triangle, half a yard long, to which pectorals are attached by fleshy prolongations that make them look like bats, but that their horny appendage..."

Zzzzzz....
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LibraryThing member kotwcs
I love this book. Anyone who wants to write sci-fi must learn from Verne. He makes it what it should be: man and nature in conflict, and the technology he envisions to unite them. But an undercurrent in this book of rousing, scientific, seafaring adventure is one of tragedy and a deep bitterness. Yes,I have a fondness Captain Nemo. I still like to think, as he sat alone in the half-light, playing his organ, he played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata...… (more)
LibraryThing member krazy4katz
This is the unabridged version. It was long — very long! But what language, what grace of phrase! And finally, what drama! I imagine the abridged version leave out the lengthy descriptions of the underwater animals and plants, but I think it was worth reading. I admit that part is tedious. Perhaps my 4 stars are too generous for all I have agonized over the ichthyology, but the ending is so dramatic, it probably skews my rating to more positive.
ETA: I just downgraded my star rating for the reasons stated above.
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LibraryThing member baswood
The french equivalent of the great American novel Moby-Dick? There are some striking similarities and reading through 20,000 leagues under the sea it was hard to get the idea of Moby-Dick out of my head. Moby-Dick was published in 1851 and 20,000 leagues appeared in serial form in 1869 and there is evidence that Verne had read Moby-Dick by his reference to the whale ship Essex and it's destruction which inspired Melville's novel. For French language readers 20,000 leagues had always been a literary masterpiece, but English readers had to wait until 1962 for a translation that did Verne's novel any justice. The original translation and the one that you are likely to read free on the internet, cut out over a quarter of Verne's novel and bowdlerised other sections and so for English readers Vernes novel had some catching up to do.

First of all the similarities: like Moby-Dick there are pages and sometimes chapters that read more like scientific research than an adventure novel, which has lead to shortened versions and films that leave out the boring stuff. Captain Nemo like Captain Ahab is a driven man that no one understands; exercising control by force of character as well as a knowledge that other people do not posses, also like Ahab he starts off by being mildly crazy, but ends up being completely insane. Most of the action takes place on the high seas or under the high seas. All of the protagonists are men, not a woman or love story anywhere. There are references to literature, to history and mythology strewn throughout the book. Verne like Melville as an author seems to be on a quest for knowledge. The protagonists are on a ship/submarine an enclosed space and are actual prisoners on the Nuatilus very similar to the crew signed up to serve on the Pequod. However it is the way the story is told that made this reader think he was reading such a similar book: interspersed with an adventure story are pages and sometimes chapters that focus on zoological or technical aspects of life in and under the oceans and on board the submarine. Much of this has little direct relevance to the storyline.

The big difference is that Jules Verne's is a science fiction story which has things to say about the future, whereas Melvilles book is mainly concerned with the here and now, (1850's) but also could be said to be looking backwards at an industry, the whaling industry which was looking at an uncertain future. A simple outline to the story in 20,000 leagues... is that Professor Arronax and his domestic servant (Conseil) are on board a frigate that has been sent to search out a mysterious animal that is believed to be doing damage to shipping. The frigate attacks what it believes to be a monster and in the battle Arronax, Conseil and the harpooner Ned Land are swept overboard. they manage to swim to what turns out to be the submarine Nautilus and reluctantly captain Nemo takes them on board. The terms of their rescue is that they must remain as captives of the captain because they become party to some of the secrets of the Nautilus and Nemo is interested in Professor Arronax knowledge of marine life. The Nautilus travels around the oceans of the world with a purpose that remains obscure, and on the voyages there are some notable events, which have become famous through more popular extracts from the novel. There are fights with various sea monsters, giant sharks, giant sea spiders and a kraken (giant octopus). The battle with the savages near an island in the south seas when the Nautilus is grounded. The discovery of the underground passage linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The rescue of a pearl diver off the coast of India, the visit to the lost world of Atlantis beneath the waves. Nemo and Arronax reaching the South Pole and the Nautilus stuck below the ice. The journeys on the ocean beds in full metal diving gear and oxygen equipment are some of my favourite sections of the book, because of Vernes descriptions of the world beneath the waves.

The tension in the story apart from the life threatening adventures is the relationship between the four men, Nemo remains a mystery, but Arronax is full of admiration for the man he recognises as a genius and is perfectly happy to carry out his own exploratory work as a marine biologist. Ned Land is hell bent on escape but realises he jeopardises the safety of the other two and Conseils hovers between his loyalty to Arronax and his friendship with Ned Land. Opportunities for escape are rare as Nemo has a hatred for landfall, preferring to have nothing to do with the race of men that inhabit the land. His crew remain a mystery speaking in a language that is foreign to Arronax and there are few clues as to where they come from and how they got to be part of Nemo's loyal entourage.

Science fiction in my opinion is all about a sense of wonder, and there is much of this in the novel, but there is also plenty of what could be termed as hard science fiction and then again there is much that is just plain descriptions of fauna and flora, perhaps the best parts of the book are when Verne manages to combine all three. His love and respect for the natural world is evident throughout his book, however a total lack of anything approaching a sense of humour is a drawback.

Embarking on a reading of either of these two classics calls for some determination to get to the end, there are highs and lows in both novels, perhaps the highs in Verne's book outweighs those of Melvilles, but the lows are certainly lower; the descriptions of marine life, the outlines of historical events can be little more than list making and some of them seem to be repeated. Some of Melvilles best writing is contained in the more technical chapters, but this is not always the case with Verne, although there is evidence of scholarly work to put it all together. His knowledge of geography, meteorology and chemistry is impressive, but this reader wonders if some of it is little more than a demonstration of knowledge, I do not get the same feeling with Moby-Dick. The fact that I am able to compare both books in the same review says much for their value as important books in the literary canon. If I was a member of the crew of the Pequod or the crew of the Nautilus and was given an ultimatum by their respective captains of re-reading one of the books or else! I know which one I would choose, but I also know which one I would prefer to read again. 5 stars of course.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
There's some unknown sea monster and it's destroying ships by gouging giant punture marks in them. Surmise is that it is a giant narwhal type creature and so the US Navy sends a boat out to chase it down. They do indeed find the creature, but it's not flesh and blood, it's a giant electric submarine. In the chase, our narrator, the french professor of biology, his servant and the Canadian harpooner get swept off the small boat and land on the submarine, where they are taken in and treated as captives, at least initially.
They meet the ships captain, the enigmatic Captain Nemo and so begins a circumnavigation of the globe by submarine. You could argue that the descriptions of the South Pole and the passage between the Red and Mediterranean seas are quite unrealistic - but this was 50 years before men went to the South pole, and so is nothing more than an amazing flight of fancy.
The descriptions of the fish became slightly dull after a while, (seen one & you've seen them all) but the story rolls along. Who Nemo is and what drives him to escape under the sea remains a mystery to me. A good read, and shows a hugely inventive mind at work.
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LibraryThing member jldarden
I had mixed feelings about this one. The narration was good but the content... I couldn't decide if the author was trying to write an action/adventure book or a textbook. There are so many descriptions of marine life and landscape using scientific terminology that I sometimes felt I was attending a lecture on marine biology. Many of the action scenes were lacking in action compared to today's novels. The handful of main characters were also shallowly drawn in my opinion. Nemo's reasons for what he did were not understandably explained. And where the financing came from for his extraordinary ship? Once he has it he claims undersea treasures, but before?
I don't know, it was ok but I had higher expectations going in.
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LibraryThing member CarlaR
I have tried reading this book before and never finished it. I thought that I would sit down, read, and not pick up another book until I finished this one. I now understand why I couldn't finish it the first time.
This book was by no means a bad book, in fact it is a wonderful book. The writing was pretty good and the story itself was pretty awesome. I am sure that if I had been able to read it in 1870 or even 1900 then it would have been a mind blower. Unfortunately I have not yet finished constructing my time machine, so here I am in 2007 reading it. What detracted from the story for me was the amount of description.. mainly because I have seen subs, I have seen what lays under the sea, and nothing is new to me (well that's not entirely true). It is quite remarkable that in the time that it was written that Verne would have so much insight though... truly remarkable.… (more)
LibraryThing member Shimmin
An interesting enough story to some extent, and an example of early "hard" sci-fi full of ideas and imagination. There are interesting and adventurous events in there, the kind I enjoyed as a lad in things like the X Adventure series by Willard Price. On the other hand, it's a bit of a slog. There are many, many sections where the protagonist simply lists the names of species - rarely saying anything about them, and even more rarely anything interesting, but simply listing them as though that should be interesting in its own right. There are little lectures here and there too, largely dry and unable to rouse my enthusiasm, and I say that as a biologist. On the other hand, I'll admit it's impressive that in 1870 Verne was already railing against the thoughtless havoc wrought on the natural world - and depressing to see how little effect it's had. I really do think, though, that it would have benefited from a kindly editor's hand to cut away some of the word-crust, leaving an interesting and adventurous book behind. As it is, I'm afraid I can't really recommend this book as the adventure story it seems to want to be, but only as a historical artefact for people with an interest in the genre. There are other books now that touch on similar content, lighter on the eye and the hand, and for most people I think they'd be a better option.… (more)
LibraryThing member aaronbaron
As often happens when I read a book that inspires countless movies, I found 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea much stranger than it’s legion of popular adaptations. Often cited as a pioneer of science fiction, it reads more like a brochure for underwater tourism. The book consists mainly of amazed sightseers following a rigorous underwater itinerary inside a steampunk submarine. I could sense Verne checking off his list as he devoted each chapter to a distinct marine trope: kelp forests, sunken ships, sunken cities, volcanoes, shark attacks, squid attacks, navel battles, deserted islands, swift currents, coral reefs, icebergs, whirlpools, and all the rest are represented. If I were considering an expensive vacation I would call Nautilus Adventures and book a seat.

Yet this aquatic amusement ride makes frequent stops for doggedly educational lessons. The “halt and explain” technique appears endemic of marine fiction; Moby Dick uses it famously, but whereas Melville inserted discreet explanatory chapters in his own voice, Verne has his characters break into learned discourse right in the middle of the action. The effect is usually comic. The characters will plummet down a dark underwater chasm, stop, discuss at length how atmospheric pressure can be withstood by reinforced glass, then plummet down some more. It’s like the cartoons of my childhood, where the cat and mouse would, at the sound of a bell, immediately stop their violent antics, sit down to high tea and discuss the weather, then, when the bell rang again, immediately resume their war. If Verne intended to do this as an ironic distancing device then he would be a genius akin to Brecht, but such is not the case. He intended to show how the seemingly impossible is in fact plausible. A noble goal, but he did it very clumsily.

In this maladroit oscillation between narrative and exposition, Verne is indeed a pioneer of science fiction, for it is common flaw of the genre. Verne had ideas galore, far, far more ideas than most mortals ever conceive, and he had a rich imagination that gave his ideas wonderful color, but like many an author of speculative fiction, he struggled to integrate his ideas smoothly into a story. His wooden characters do not help matters much: an officious professor, a deadpan manservant, a hothead whaler, and, most famously, the “enigmatic” Captain Nemo. The professor is mainly a vehicle for Verne’s lectures, the servant is a source of lame one-liners, the whaler is there solely to fight the sharks, and Captain Nemo behaves more or less like a brooding teenager throughout the story. These are not psychologically complex, well rounded characters. Nor are they, in the manner of Dickens, poignant caricatures. They are naught but empty narrative vehicles. A robot could have stood in for any of them, and perhaps should have done so, as it would have added yet another expository twist to the story.

This novel is tremendously influential and choc-a-block with images and ideas, but all in all this is not a fantastic work unfairly obfuscated by subsequent cinematic adaptations. In fact, some of those movies may actually be better than the book.
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LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
So help me, I have to classify this as ‘long-winded, boring and an unnecessary waste of time’. If I sound bitter, it’s only because, after the wonderful Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I really wanted to enjoy this, as well. It had a few good points – it began with an actual adventure (the writing simply failed to deliver anything remotely approaching excitement once our narrator and his two companions were on board the Nautilus), and for a while, the description and classification of the various marine life were atmospheric rather than the overdone and dull which it inevitably became. Nemo, however, the ocean-going hermit, was a cold, arrogant cardboard-cut-out of an anti-hero from the offset, and hardly appeared often enough to change that view. Perhaps it’s the translation, but I have noticed no such problem with other Verne adventures… this simply failed to deliver anything but an increasing desire to get to the end and come up for air.… (more)
LibraryThing member csayban
I am so divided on my feelings about Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Starting with the positive, it was a groundbreaking novel when it was published in 1870. It foretold many pieces of technology that didn’t even exist including portable electric lights, SCUBA equipment and the centerpiece of the story, the submarine. Verne really was a pioneer of what we now know as Science Fiction storytelling. He also captures the character of Captain Nemo by making him so multidimensional. He is a scientist and adventurer who loves his crew like children and is a gracious host. But he is also a vengeful, dark, brooding madman. Verne captures that conflict so well.

However, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in many ways is a burden to read. The lion’s share of the story involves listening to Pierre Aronnax catalog every animal, vegetable, mineral, island, sea or line of latitude or longitude he comes across. Page after page of zoological classifications and atmospheric observations slows the story to a crawl. In all honesty, the missing element of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a good editor. Half of the text could be cut out without losing one single element of the story.

I feel that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an important work that everyone should read, if for no other reason than to see the birth of a genre. But I can’t say that it is a really enjoyable story to read. It is a flawed execution of a brilliant concept.
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LibraryThing member www.snigel.nu
Jules Verne was my favourite author for a long time, mainly because my dad introduced me to him at an early age and transferred his enthusiasm to me. My favourite among his novels. Nemo is a brilliant character.
LibraryThing member Blenny
There are some really good ideas in this book - The ideal of Captain Nemo's freedom, travelling in a wonderful and (at the time when it was written) innovative contraption The Nautilus, exploring the globe and not conforming to society in any way.
The story was gripping in places but I had very high expectations of how fantastical this book was going to be, so I was a little bit disappointed at the lack of consistency regarding the excitement rating in the storytelling. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is much better!… (more)
LibraryThing member AngelaB86
I loved all the descriptions of underwater life, and the different places the characters visit. I wanted to become a marine biologist after I finished reading!
LibraryThing member GeraldLange
The story showed promise and I can sympathise with Nemo. Unfortunately, the author uses the whole thing as a vehicle to tell the world (or just France; I forget who he's trying to impress) how smart he is. Verne should have read more Wells before trying to write.
LibraryThing member scroeser
Somehow this manages to be quite fascinating, despite the fact that the plot is only touched upon and large sections of the book are nothing more than descriptions of various denizens on the sea. It is hard not to find the narrator's pompous arrogance ridiculous to the point of amusement.
LibraryThing member reading_fox
The bits without the sea/fish discriptions are quite good. Shame there are so many discriptive passages.
LibraryThing member GAW
I thoroughly enjoyed rereading this wonderful classic as an adult. The social commentary that Verne offered escaped me when I first read this book as a child. The Afterward provides a good discussion of the challenges to Verne that came about as a result of this work.
LibraryThing member chasegraham
this book is good but at times it can get boring.
LibraryThing member aiufjcf
I first read this book when i was about 12, and now it's all worn out. I love it!
LibraryThing member literarysarah
This nineteenth-century tale of a voyage under the ocean is widely considered to be one of the first works of science fiction ever written. As science fiction, it has not aged very well. The ideas of dependable electricity, a submarine, and scuba diving are not particularly exciting to the twenty-first century mind. As an adventure story, it also has failings. While the idea of a mysterious man with a mysterious mission under the sea is intriguing, Verne never lets us discover the secrets of Captain Nemo and instead tries to convince us that detailed descriptions of marine life and shipwrecks are more worthwhile. It's hard to judge the book as literature. It is often said that Verne's work has suffered from its translation to English. The ridiculous short-tempered backwoods Canadian character and the hideously faithful servant who doesn't even merit a last name reflect the prejudices of the time. After a recent re-read, I have to admit that I'm hard pressed to understand why this book has survived at all.… (more)
LibraryThing member sf_addict
This one me a while but that's more down to me than the book. It certainly was a slow read and nothing like any movie version I've seen. One might say that not much happens and its not really very 'SF' but on the whole I quite enjoyed the ride!
LibraryThing member manganerd
This book was amazing. I loved the way Jules described the Nautallis and it's power source, despite this taking plac in the age when gasoline was the only power source besides steam.
LibraryThing member hredwards
Awesome book!! I now understand why Verne is considered one of the Masters.
One of my favorites in my collection, an old old copy.

Pages

279

Rating

(2324 ratings; 3.7)
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