Raise the Titanic

by Clive Cussler

Year published: 1976
Category: classic thriller; series (Dirk Pitt)

SUMMARY {adapted from the back cover}:

A priceless ore inside an undersea wreck…
A U.S. missile project leaked to the Soviets…
A desperate salvage mission…in a deadly hurricane!

The President’s secret scientific task force is ready to build an impenetrable missile defense system, but they need byzanium, an element so rare an adequate quantity has never been found. But a frozen American corpse on a desolate Soviet mountainside, a bizarre mining accident in Colorado, and a madman’s dying message lead Dirk Pitt to a secret cache of byzanium. Now he must raise the shipwreck of the century!


Like Cussler’s hero, oceanic adventurer Dirk Pitt, Raise the Titanic! is testosterone-driven and chauvinistic. And you’ve gotta love them both.

Raise the Titanic is a thriller masterpiece. The prelude, featuring a lunatic on the sinking ship, is in my opinion one of the best thriller openings ever. Flash forward to a top-secret military science scheme sponsored by the President, the nail-biting rescue of an American on a frozen island in Soviet territory, and the mystery of the lost element byzanium which is critical to American security. You better clear your schedule now because you won’t be putting this book down anytime soon.

The first one-third of the book is a wonderfully constructed detective story into the truth about a band of Colorado miners from the 1910’s. The reader also learns more about the secret research project, and the USSR’s involvement. Once the decision is made to find and exhume theTitanic, the tone of the book shifts to action. Dirk Pitt assumes center stage as the action is almost entirely at sea.

Pitt is a man’s man: rugged, handsome, confident and capable, brave, good with machines, and unencumbered by any permanent relationship with a woman. But of course he is so irresistible to women that he has his pick at any time. He’s a man of few words and has a passion for collecting cars. His life is the sea, working for a semi-military federal marine organization. He spends most of his time on or under the ocean, saving the world and getting the girl. When it comes to Dirk Pitt, never ask, “How the heck did he pull that off?” Merely accept that he can do anything.

In Raise the Titanic, tension builds with one obstacle after another: how to find the wreck; how to raise it; how to keep secret the real reason for the salvage; how to keep the Russians out; how to get the job done before a hurricane hits; and ultimately, how to escape the Soviet trap.

Obviously there are more characters in this story than Dirk Pitt, and several of them are (to me) far more interesting. The only one I’ll mention is Dana Seagram, an educated woman literally married to the missile project. She’s a 1970’s man’s idea of a liberated woman: a sex object with an advanced degree. It’s almost a study in sociology to compare Dana Seagram to the female protagonists of more contemporary thrillers such as those by James Rollins.

The story concludes with a missile countdown aborted at 4…3… (close enough for ya?), a satisfying victory for the good guys, and an ending worthy of the beginning.

Thriller trivia: what government agency does Dirk Pitt work for?

One of many Dirk Pitt novels written by Clive Cussler

ANSWER: NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency

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