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5.0 out of 5 stars gripping - brilliant, 21 Aug. 2007
Olivia Walter (London, UK) - See all my reviews
I read Dragon Sea when I had just given birth to my daughter Scarlett. The unfolding dramas that go with working in salvage in SE Asia kept me looking forward to the next feed in the middle of the night. Some parts were so gripping that I even gave up precious sleeping time in order to find out what happened.

In addition to adventure (pirates, treasure hunters, suspect business transactions, altruistic accademics), Dragon Sea has a more accademic component to it. I have no background in ceramic history and a little in the history of Indochina but found this side of the book highly engaging.

Frank Pope has found the right balance between adventure narrative and the more accademic side of the ceramics they were extracting from the sea floor. Something I have found other adventure travellers/writters have not managed to do.

I thoroughly recommend this book to all those with an interest in real life adventures and/or an even mild interest in the Indochinese region.

A caveat - I am unsure as to how much uncontrolable hormones and lack of continuous sleep had in determining what I thought of this book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars I felt 11 again, 21 Aug. 2007
This, above all else, is a great read. I started it on a squashed airplane, overnight, while people snored, gamed, watched movies and stuffed themselves around me. But, I was riveted - lost in a world I had never encountered before.

There are fascinating subjects here - I knew nothing of ceramics, marine excavation or de-compression strategies before this book. Yet I soaked every detail and description up, which says something for the skill of Frank Pope's writing and the knowledge and passion for his subject that so clearly seeps through.

But the real themes are universal - greed, reputation, pride - and its ultimately a book about human nature told through two men's struggle with each other, their own desires and the natural world they are working in.

Yet, the best way I can think of to recommend this book is to say that I felt like an eleven year old boy again when reading it. It was exciting and thrilling to be taken into an undiscovered world and have my own sense of adventure re-awakened so powerfully.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding true story about commercial marine archaeology, 25 Sept. 2007
N. Sandizell - See all my reviews
An outstanding true story about commercial marine archaeology
An excellent, exciting and very realistic book giving a first hand account on the difficulties trying to blend science and commerce. The two main protagonists, unable to look over the rim of their plates, are jeopardizing a wonderful project, which almost by miracle is brought to an end without harming OPS team and crew. Finally a very high price must be paid as neither the entrepreneur, nor the archaeologist will meet their goals.
A MUST for any shipwreck aficionado!
N. Sandizell

N. Sandizell
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great interesting read!, 5 Oct. 2012
Arne Kuilman (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dragon Sea: A Historical Mystery. Buried Treasure. An Adventure Beneath the Waves (Paperback)
The books has a nice and good flow to it, making it an easy read. The background information about diving archaeology and diving for treasure are well introduced and then the book describes the history of the find and retrieval of the Hoi An, one of the most famous porcelain wrecks from Vietnam. The book is very factual, but reads like a novel too with a great cast of characters. Well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars dragon sea by frank pope, 8 April 2012
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this is a great read for anyone who is interested in the history of voyages from long ago and in particular the south china seas where there were very rough seas to overcome in order that the ships could get to their final destination
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dragon Sea: Collection of Reviews from Amazon USA, 17 Aug. 2007
I just LOVED this book! Better people than I have reviewed it already on the USA Amazon site so I've compiled the USA reviews here. Congratulations to Mr Pope for a book of depth and integrity.


Rated: **** (4/5 stars) - Dragon Sea - Review by P. Suwanwatana "Pris" (New York) - July 23, 2007 - It is a rare writer that can document without dryness, dramatize without histrionics. Frank Pope has managed to span the gap. Dragon Sea provides both an intellectual discussion of marine archeology and artifact without getting bogged down in academic quicksand. He also provides enough on-scene sweat and nerves to keep the reader wondering what's around the next corner from beginning to end. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book and a wealth of information for diving and archeological punters like myself. I had always wondered about the DB29 disaster. Mr. Pope opened a window on it for me without veering off topic.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - A book like this should have been written earlier - Review by PA1120 - April 23, 2007 - I thank Frank Pope for writing such a powerful book on the tragic fate of the Hoi An Hoard. Judging from the dearth of book on this important archaeological discovery and the fascinating aspects of Vietnamese ceramics, the book is indeed very timely and does some justice those treasures. I picked up this book by accident and was riveted for the whole afternoon, until the very last sentence. Pope had a unique perspective on the whole project, and the book has a great balance between more action-based narrative and probing thoughts on the dilemma of money vs. knowledge, as the reader is drawn into the tumultuous months in the sea during the excavations. I just hope that everyone reading this will appreciate such discovery, and also the importance of preserving the treasures of humankind varied past.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - A top pick for a wide range of collections - Review by Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) - April 12, 2007 - DRAGON SEA: A TRUE TALE OF TREASURE, ARCHAEOLOGY, AND GREED OFF THE COAST OF VIETNAM comes from an archaeologist dubbed the 'Indiana Jones of the Deep' by popular TV, who teamed up with a financier to salvage sunken treasure in Vietnam's Dragon Sea. No small venture, this required a fleet of ships and a crew of 160: their efforts would not only result in success but would change thinking about Vietnamese arts. Readers needn't be archaeology students to appreciate this: epic action and adventure reads with the drama of fiction but includes all facts - including insights on Vietnamese culture and arts - making it a top pick for a wide range of collections.

Rated ***** (5/5 stars) - A Real Page Turner - Review by SeldomSeenSmith - March 8, 2007 - Some years ago, I happened on several Ebay auctions of blue and white covered jars and bowls which were part of the Hoi An Hoard. The description said they were 500 years old and had been recovered from the bottom of the South China Sea. I did some quick Internet reading on the Hoi An Hoard and my interest was sparked. I bought several lots of the beautiful pottery which had rested on the sea floor since before Columbus came to the New World. (From reading Dragon Sea I now know that they are pieces of lesser interest and beauty!) I recently read that a book had been written about the salvage operation. I quickly ordered Dragon Sea. I read it just as quickly. The story of the Hoi An Hoard is a well written, fascinating tale full of bad guys, good guys and really over worked guys. It is the tale of fortunes won and fortunes lost by gambling on the sea and its hidden treasures. Author Frank Pope, who was actually involved in the Hoi An operation, weaves a quick moving story with wonderful characters. The best part is that those characters are real people -- each with an agenda of his own. The book is filled with wonderful detail -- from the spraying of the beer girls to the skin conditions of the saturation divers who worked for more than a month at incredible depths. But Pope's very best descriptions are of being caught at sea when the Dragon Strikes and the crew and barge are caught in the teeth of a major typhoon. You feel as if you are really there -- and are glad you're not. Pope teaches about sunken treasure, saturation diving,archeology and the politics of academia with ease. I no more than put the book down than my husband snatched it up. He read deep into last night and awoke this morning with his glasses still perched on the end of his nose. Two thumbs up from our household! P.S. I treasure my 500 year old jars from the bottom of the South China Sea even more now that I know the amazing story of suffering, intrigue and greed which brought them to me

Rated; ***** (5/5 stars) - A Diving Adventure and It's All True - Review by John Matlock "Gunny" (Winnemucca, NV - Feb 21, 2007 - As best I can tell, this is Frank Pope's first book. And as best I can tell, he is likely to become known as Clive Cussler's heir. He works (in real life) for MARE (Maritime Archeological Research and Excavation) organization. Cussler's characters, of course, work for the mythical NUMA. On one of Pope's projects he worked on recovering Chiness porcelain in an excavation off the coast of Vietnam. This book reads like a Cussler/Dirk Pitt adventure. But it has a real advantage, it's all true. This book describes a real project. This was a huge project, saturation diving, a crew of 160 and a small fleet of ships. It was a project requiring the training of the divers to work to architectural rules of recording findings and being extremely careful with the delicate porcelain. And in the latter third of the book, the old argument of science vs. money comes up. Mr. Pope holds off describing the result, just like in a spy story where the bad guys are coming on fast.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - Dragon Sea - Review by magnus Dennis "magnus Dennis" (london, uk) - Feb 16, 2007 - a great read i could not put it down, by the end i almost felt as though i had been there. highly recommended

Rated: **** (4/5 stars) - When Human Nature and Mother Nature Conspire - Review by Carl Lundblad (Southwest, USA) - Feb 15, 2007 - Dragon Sea was recommended and sent to me by a dear college friend who happens to know the author and the main character of the book, Mensun Bound the marine archaelogist. It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of marine archaelogy and the quest for historical and cultural knowledge that the sea only begrudgingly relinquishes. The manpower, resources, commitment, courage and expertise required to undertake an archaelogical excavation and recovery effort seems akin to the Apollo moon missions. The regrettable reality is that as so often happens, man's lust for money and notoriety often conflicts with his admirable quest for knowledge. A great read and a compelling lesson.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - Treasure versus History - Review by R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" (Columbus, Mississippi USA - Feb 13, 2007 - Vietnam has spent almost all its past under control of China, or under threat of such control. There was a brief "golden age" of eighty years in the fifteenth century when it ruled itself, and its art, including making and glazing ceramics, broke free from the traditions of its big northern neighbor. The years of independence descended into chaos when a civil war began, and the art of the period was largely lost, even the ceramics that were dispersed in trade and then were lost. The artistic production of the age of independence was gone, not enough of it remaining to be systematically collected or understood. One trove of ceramics, however, had lain undisturbed on board the wreck of the _Hoi An_ which had gone down off the coast of Vietnam five hundred years ago. The rediscovery of the hoard, and how it was released to the markets of the world, is the story in _Dragon Sea: A True Tale of Treasure, Archeology, and Greed Off the Coast of Vietnam_ (Harcourt) by Frank Pope. Pope was an immediate observer of much of what is described here; he was the archeological manager for the expedition, the most expensive underwater archeological excavation ever, involving scores of divers, archeologists, seamen, draftsmen, and support personnel like cooks. There is the suspense of working within dangerous depths here, but most of the book's well-narrated drama comes from the conflicting dual motives of the expedition.
The two main characters of the book neatly illustrate the dual motives. Ong Soo Hin is a Malaysian businessman. He might be described as a "smash and grab" salvager, with success in bringing up artistic treasures. He was no archeologist, but realized that there was some worth in keeping an academic arm to his researches; archeologists documenting his finds could well increase the value of them because of giving them credible context and history. He teamed up with Mensun Bound, an academic who was the director of the Maritime Archeology unit at Oxford University (the author is one of his protégés). This was a risk for Bound, since it was unseemly for a professor to break ranks with academia and join in a commercial venture. The difficulties in Bound's position are clear. He would provide an only chance that the contents of the wreck could yield historical information rather than just profit, and if he did not do so, then the wreck would be sacrificed to mere profiteers. The _Hoi An_ was already a target for unsystematic dredging by fishermen who were not only pulling up finds but damaging many by the way they were doing so. There was no way such a difficult excavation could be funded just by, say, Oxford University, and Bound felt he was making the best of what could have been an archeological disaster otherwise. Throughout the excavation, partners Bound and Ong repeatedly bothered one another in ways both rational and puerile, and the duel is fascinating to watch. It takes place in the middle of the most advanced technology for such salvage, and Pope's description of technical aspects of diving, and of the dangers connected to it, is excellent.
It isn't surprising that with competing motivations that interfered with each other, the dive should not be a success. The problem was not that there was limited treasure; over a quarter of a million items were successfully brought up. Indeed, part of the problem may have been that because Vietnamese ceramics from this period are rare, there are few knowledgeable collectors of it and the _Hoi An_ finds represented a huge glut in a small market. That the losses were in the millions meant that the proposed academic reports were delayed, perhaps forever, and also there was an ugly academic squabble about the dating of the finds. All that money and effort went for little real gain, and so to read Pope's book is to be reminded of the frequent futility of human planning and endeavor. Pope ends with the reminder that there are countless other valuable wrecks out there and with the hope that somehow we will find a way to appreciate both their financial and their historic value, but this fascinating and pessimistic book itself gives little hope.

Rated: **** (4/5 stars) - Underwater treasure lost and found - Review by David R. Jeane (Louisiana) - Feb 4,2007 - Very good read but really could have used photos. I understand that maybe legal rights were involved but photos really would have helped.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - X marks the spot! - Review by Ben Friedman - January 30, 2007 - Can't recommend this enough! A first rate pot boiler! Proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction! This is a swashbuckling tale of action and adventure that takes the reader from the hushed corridors of Oxbridge academe to the cramped confines of a saturation bell at the bottom of the South China Sea. The book is populated by a quality of villains and dragons that would make Harry Potter blush. It is a page turning roller coaster ride from beginning to end, full of fascinating information on all manner of topics, archaeological, technological and oceanographic.

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars) - Gripping real life tale - great holiday read - Review by C Luxton (Bedford, UK) - January 30, 2007 - A heady mixture of the sea, treasure and shady characters lend this real life tale the air of a quality thriller. The background story of the various protagonists is engagingly woven together leading to up to "main event" and makes the story thoroughly engrossing and amazing to think this actually happened - one of the characters especially seems almost like a Bond villain! It also has interesting explanations of the history and dangers of diving along with an insight into the conflicts between archaeology and treasure hunting.
It made a great holiday read that I found hard to put down and would thoroughly recommend even if, like me, you tend to stick to fiction.

Rated: **** (4/5 stars) - "Just as the moon lures the tides, the ocean tugs at a man's mind." - Review by Mary Whipple (New England) - January 18, 2007 - n describing the excavation of a junk which sank off the north coast of Viet Nam in the mid-fifteenth century, Frank Pope focuses on the people who engage in excavation work--the maritime archaeologist vs. the treasure hunter, the financiers who supply the funds that make underwater excavation possible, the looters (often fishermen) who damage sites, the academics who engage in fierce competition for recognition within the field, and the divers, who have to live underwater in small, pressurized containers for over a month at a time. He also includes the history of maritime archaeology, detailed descriptions of the equipment which has evolved to make deep dives possible, the status of current technology in the field, and the complex systems which support "saturation divers," who may be working at eight atmospheres of pressure.
The discovery of almost a million rare Vietnamese porcelain and ceramic artifacts from the fifteenth century represents less than half this book. Providing inside information about this excavation, the author sets up contrasts between this project, in which archaeologists map the site, set up grids, and record and label every object, and the plundering done by treasure hunters whose sole objective is to take out and sell as many valuable artifacts as possible. The tense relationship between the financier of the project, who wants to recoup his investment, and those managing the project, who want to discover as much new information as possible, plagues the endeavor from start to finish.
The author is quite lyrical at the beginning of the book, explaining his own fascination with the undersea world and telling an imaginary story of the sinking of this ancient junk, but he soon begins to describe in great detail every aspect of this recovery project--and many other projects in which he and other members of the archaeological team previously took part. While this, and technical information, such as the photoluminescent testing of ceramics for dates and the history of diving helmets, will interest many readers, it delays the story of the excavation itself until halfway through the book, and readers expecting excitement may become impatient.
The excavation itself is fascinating and filled with danger as a result of the financier's refusal to use the safest (more expensive) equipment. A complete account sure to interest serious marine archaeologists, art historians, and those seeking the inside story of how one plans and conducts major maritime archaeological projects, the book is longer on detail than action. With its focus on the conflicting views within the field of preservation, however, Pope raises serious questions which the ironic conclusion intensifies. n Mary Whipple

Rated: ***** (5/5 stars)- Dragon Sea - Review by The Wik "The Wik" (LA, CA) - January 15, 2007 - Pope's, "Dragon Sea" is the real deal. Being an avid diver I couldn't wait to read this story. The events that unfold are thrilling and fascinating. It's a true history lesson as well. Anyone seeking adventure, this is a must read!


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