Clive Cussler

Clive Eric Cussler (born July 15, 1931) is an American adventure novelist and underwater explorer. His thriller novels, many featuring the character Dirk Pitt, have reached The New York Times fiction best-seller list more than 20 times. Cussler is the founder and chairman[1] of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), which has discovered more than 60 shipwreck sites and numerous other notable underwater wrecks. He is the sole author or lead author of more than 80 books.

Clive Cussler
Cussler in 2011
BornClive Eric Cussler
(1931-07-15) July 15, 1931
Aurora, Illinois, U.S.
Notable worksDirk Pitt series
RelativesDirk Cussler (son)

His novels have inspired various other works of fiction in the form of films, TV, other novels and even video games.

Early life

Clive Cussler was born in Aurora, Illinois, and grew up in Alhambra, California. His mother Amy's ancestors were from England and his father Eric was from Germany.[2] He was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout when he was 14.[3] He attended Pasadena City College[1] for two years and then enlisted in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. During his service in the Air Force, he was promoted to sergeant and worked as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer for the Military Air Transport Service (MATS).


After his discharge from the military, Cussler went to work in the advertising industry, first as a copywriter and later as a creative director for two of the nation's most successful advertising agencies.[1] As part of his duties Cussler produced radio and television commercials, many of which won international awards including an award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

Following the publication in 1996 of Cussler's first nonfiction work, The Sea Hunters, he was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree in 1997 by the Board of Governors of the State University of New York Maritime College who accepted the work in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis. This was the first time in the college's 123-year history that such a degree had been awarded.[1]

In 2002 Cussler was awarded the Naval Heritage Award from the U S Navy Memorial Foundation for his efforts in the area of marine exploration.

Cussler is a fellow of the Explorers Club of New York, the Royal Geographical Society in London, and the American Society of Oceanographers.[4]

Literary career

Clive Cussler began writing in 1965 when his wife took a job working nights for the local police department where they lived in California. After making dinner for the children and putting them to bed, he had no one to talk to and nothing to do, so he decided to start writing.[5] His most famous creation is marine engineer, government agent and adventurer Dirk Pitt. The Dirk Pitt novels frequently take on an alternative history perspective, such as "what if Atlantis were real?" or "what if Abraham Lincoln wasn't assassinated, but was kidnapped?"

The first two Pitt novels, The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg, were relatively conventional maritime thrillers. The third, Raise the Titanic!, made Cussler's reputation and established the pattern that subsequent Pitt novels would follow: a blend of high adventure and high technology, generally involving megalomaniacal villains, lost ships, beautiful women, and sunken treasure.

Cussler's novels almost always begin with a chapter taking place in the past. These contain none of the novel's main characters and often seem disconnected from the plot until the main characters discover a mystery or secret connecting the events in the first chapter to the rest of the story. This almost always comes in the form of a long-lost artifact which holds the key to the villain's or hero's objectives. Often in the first chapter, a ship or plane carrying a top-secret, important, or dangerous cargo is lost and never found, until it is recovered by a modern character later in the book.

Cussler's novels, like those of Michael Crichton, are examples of techno-thrillers that do not use military plots and settings. Where Crichton strove for scrupulous realism, however, Cussler prefers fantastic spectacles and outlandish plot devices. The Pitt novels, in particular, have the anything-goes quality of the James Bond or Indiana Jones movies, while also sometimes borrowing from Alistair MacLean's novels. Pitt himself is a larger-than-life hero reminiscent of Doc Savage and other characters from pulp magazines.

Cussler has had more than 17 consecutive titles reach The New York Times fiction best seller list.


As an underwater explorer, Cussler has discovered more than 60 shipwreck sites[6] and has written non-fiction books about his findings. He is also the founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), a non-profit organization with the same name as the fictional government agency that employs Dirk Pitt.

Important finds by Cussler's N.U.M.A. include

  • The Carpathia. The ship famed for being the first to come to the aid of Titanic survivors.
  • The Manassas. The first ironclad of the civil war, formerly the icebreaker Enoch Train.
  • The H. L. Hunley. The first submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel - during the American Civil War.

A visual and interactive depiction of Cussler's NUMA Foundation Expeditions has been made available as an extension of NUMA's original website.

Finds formerly believed to be important include:

  • The Mary Celeste. The famed ghost ship that was found abandoned with cargo intact (the identification of this wreck as the Mary Celeste has since been placed into a state of question after one researcher disputed the claim's authenticity).[7]

Media appearances

In what started as a joke in the novel Dragon that Cussler expected his editor to remove, he now often writes himself into his books. At first he wrote himself simple cameos, but later as something of a deus ex machina, providing the novel's protagonists with an essential bit of assistance or information. Often, the character is given an alias and not revealed as Cussler until his exit with the characters remarking on his odd name. The cameos include the Dirk Pitt Adventures, as well as the Fargo Adventures books Lost Empire, Spartan Gold, Kingdom, and The Tombs. The Tombs also includes his wife, Barbara.

There are at least two other types of recurring in-jokes that are less obvious to a casual reader. One is the frequent reuse of the name Leigh Hunt for different characters in different novels. Seventeen books have had a character with this name, frequently in the opening prologues, frequently a sailor, usually dying; a notable exception is the first (in chronological order) Dirk Pitt adventure, Pacific Vortex!, in which Admiral Leigh Hunter is a major character, commander of the 101st Recovery Fleet in Hawaii. In the introduction to Arctic Drift, Cussler says there was a real Leigh Hunt who died in 2007 and the novel is dedicated to him. Another is that significant events in several novels occur on July 15 (Cussler's birthday). He also uses the name "Periwinkle" in his works. In The Adventures of Vin Fiz (and in other works as well) there appears a donkey named Periwinkle. In Valhalla Rising, the Periwinkle is the name of a catamaran in which Pitt, Giordino, and Misty Graham are rescued by none other than Cussler himself. Cussler's friend Craig Dirgo is mentioned in several books.



Personal life

Clive Cussler married Barbara Knight in 1955, and they remained married for nearly 50 years until her death in 2003.[9] Together they had three children — Teri, Dirk, and Dayna — who have given him four grandchildren.Cussler's daughter Teri is the creator and manager of the Cussler Museum[10]in Arvada, Colorado, where Cussler's collection of classic automobiles is on display. Clive Cussler is currently a part-time resident of both Arizona and Colorado.[11]


Dirk Pitt Adventures

 #  Title Publication Date
1 Pacific Vortex!1 1983
2 The Mediterranean Caper2 1973
3 Iceberg 1975
4 Raise the Titanic! 1976
5 Vixen 03 1978
6 Night Probe! 1981
7 Deep Six 1984
8 Cyclops 1986
9 Treasure 1988
10 Dragon 1990
11 Sahara 1992
12 Inca Gold 1994
13 Shock Wave 1996
14 Flood Tide 1997
15 Atlantis Found 1999
16 Valhalla Rising3 2001
17 Trojan Odyssey3 2003
18 Black Wind3, 4 2004
19 Treasure of Khan3, 4 2006
20 Arctic Drift3, 4 2008
21 Crescent Dawn3, 4 2010
22 Poseidon's Arrow3, 4 2012
23 Havana Storm3, 4 2014
24 Odessa Sea3, 4 2016
25 Celtic Empire3, 4 2019

1) Although published in 1983, Pacific Vortex! was written and takes place before The Mediterranean Caper.
2) Also published as Mayday!
3) Novels featuring Dirk Pitt and his children Dirk Pitt, Jr. and Summer Pitt.
4) Novels co-authored with Clive Cussler's son, Dirk.

The NUMA Files

This series of books focuses on Kurt Austin, Team Leader of NUMA's Special Assignments division and his adventures. Some characters from the Pitt novels appear such as Sandecker, Al Giordino, Rudi Gunn, Hiram Yaeger and St. Julien Perlmutter. Pitt makes brief appearances in the books Serpent, White Death, Polar Shift, Devil's Gate, The Storm, Zero Hour, and Ghost Ship and is mentioned in Lost City. Juan Cabrillo, the captain of the ship Oregon, also made an brief appearance in The Pharaoh's Secret.

 #  Title Publication Date
1 Serpent * 1999, Jun. 01
2 Blue Gold * 2000, Aug. 01
3 Fire Ice * 2002, Jun. 03
4 White Death * 2003, Jun. 23
5 Lost City * 2004, Jul. 22
6 Polar Shift * 2005, Aug. 30
7 The Navigator *   2007, Jun. 05
8 Medusa * 2009, Jul. 02
9 Devil's Gate 2011, Nov. 14
10 The Storm 2012, May. 29
11 Zero Hour 2013, May. 28
12 Ghost Ship 2014, May. 27
13 The Pharaoh's Secret 2015, Nov. 17
14 Nighthawk 2017, Jun. 19
15 The Rising Sea 2018, Mar. 13
16 Sea of Greed 2018, Nov. 06
17 Journey of the Pharaohs 2020, Mar. 10

The Oregon Files

This series of books features a ship named the Oregon which Cussler introduced in the Dirk Pitt Adventures novel Flood Tide (1997). While appearing to be a decrepit freighter, it is actually a high-tech advanced ship used by an unnamed and mysterious "Corporation" under the leadership of Juan Cabrillo. The ship is run like a business, with its crew being shareholders, taking jobs for the CIA and other agencies to help stop crime and terrorism. The crew is adept at disguises, combat, computer hacking and more to aid them in their missions. Kurt Austin, Joe Zavala, and Dirk Pitt all make cameo appearances in the fourth volume, Skeleton Coast (Cabrillo speaks to Pitt on the telephone; and Austin and Zavala appear at the end).

 #  Title Publication Date
1 Golden Buddha 2003
2 Sacred Stone 2004
3 Dark Watch § 2005
4 Skeleton Coast §   2006
5 Plague Ship § 2008
6 Corsair § 2009
7 The Silent Sea § 2010
8 The Jungle § 2011
9 Mirage § 2013
10 Piranha 2015
11 The Emperor's Revenge 2016
12 Typhoon Fury 2017
13 Shadow Tyrants 2018
14 Final Option 2019

Isaac Bell Adventures

These books are set mostly in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century. They center around Isaac Bell, a brilliant investigator for the Van Dorn Detective Agency, which appears to be modeled after the real-life Pinkerton Agency. Like Pitt, Bell has an affinity for automobiles and is a crack shot. The first book reveals that Bell survives into 1950 with a wife and grown children. Though the setting is a century ago, the books still qualify as techno-thrillers, since they feature the advanced technology of that time such as private express trains, telegraphs, telephones, dreadnought battleships and early airplanes. Isaac Bell also is a principal character of the background story in the Fargo Adventures novel The Gray Ghost.

 #  Title Publication Date
1 The Chase 2007
2 The Wrecker 2009
3 The Spy 2010
4 The Race 2011
5 The Thief 2012
6 The Striker 2013
7 The Bootlegger 2014
8 The Assassin 2015[12]
9 The Gangster 2016
10 The Cutthroat 2017
11 The Titanic Secret §   2019

Fargo Adventures

The series focuses on Sam and Remi Fargo, a married couple who are professional treasure hunters.

 #  Title Publication Date
1 Spartan Gold ^   2009
2 Lost Empire ^ 2010
3 The Kingdom ^ 2011
4 The Tombs + 2012
5 The Mayan Secrets + 2013
6 The Eye of Heaven × 2014
7 The Solomon Curse × 2015
8 Pirate ** 2016
9 The Romanov Ransom ** 2017
10 The Gray Ghost ** 2018
11 The Oracle ** 2019


Title Publication Date
The Sea Hunters: True Adventures With Famous Shipwrecks 1996
Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed 1998
The Sea Hunters II: Diving the World's Seas for Famous Shipwrecks 2002
Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt 2011
Built to Thrill: More Classic Automobiles from Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt 2016

Children's books

Title Publication Date
The Adventures of Vin Fiz 2006
The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy 2010

(*) indicates books co-authored with Paul Kemprecos.
(†) indicates books co-authored with Graham Brown.
(‡) indicates books co-authored with Craig Dirgo.
(§) indicates books co-authored with Jack Du Brul.
(‖) indicates books co-authored with Justin Scott.
(^) indicates books co-authored with Grant Blackwood.
(+) indicates books co-authored with Thomas Perry.
(×) indicates books co-authored with Russell Blake.
(≠) indicates books co-authored with Boyd Morrison.
(**) indicates books co-authored with Robin Burcell.

Recurring characters


Name Information
Dirk Pitt Main character of the Dirk Pitt Adventures series, head of NUMA and previously Special Projects Director of NUMA
Al Giordino Dirk Pitt's sidekick
Admiral James Sandecker Retired Admiral, original director of NUMA, now the Vice President of the United States
Rudi Gunn Second in command of NUMA
Dirk Pitt, Jr. Son of Dirk Pitt
Summer Pitt Daughter of Dirk Pitt
Jack Dahlgren Dirk Pitt, Jr.'s sidekick
Kurt Austin Main character of the NUMA Files series and Special Assignments Team leader
Joe Zavala Kurt Austin's sidekick and member of the Special Assignments Team
Paul Trout Member of the Special Assignments Team; husband of Gamay Trout
Gamay Trout Member of the Special Assignments Team; wife of Paul Trout

Fargo Adventures

Name Information
Sam Fargo Main character of the Fargo Adventures series
Remi Fargo Main character of the Fargo Adventures series
Selma Wondrash The Fargos' chief researcher
Wendy Corden Assistant researcher under Selma
Pete Jeffcoat Assistant researcher under Selma
Rube Hayward The Fargos' CIA contact
Lazlo Kemp Professor

The Oregon Files

Name Information
Juan Cabrillo Chairman of the Corporation
Max Hanley President of the Corporation
Richard Truitt Vice President of Operations for the Corporation
George Adams Helicopter Pilot / Operative
Rick Barrett Assistant Chef / Operative
Monica Crabtree Supply and Logistics Coordinator / Operative
Carl Gannon General Operations / Operative
Chuck "Tiny" Gunderson Chief Pilot / Operative
Michael Halpert Finance and Accounting / Operative
Cliff Hornsby General Operations / Operative
Julia Huxley Medical Officer / Operative
Pete Jones General Operations / Operative
Hali Kasim Communications Expert / Operatives
Larry King Sniper / Operative
Marion "MacD" MacDougall Lawless III General Operations / Operative
Franklin Lincoln General Operations / Operative
Bob Meadows General Operations / Operative
Mark Murphy Weapons Specialist / Operative
Kevin Nixon Magic Shop Specialist / Operative
Langston Overholt IV The Corporation's CIA contact
Sam Pryor Propulsion Engineer / Operative
Gunther Reinholt Propulsion Engineer / Operative
Tom Reyes General Operations / Operative
Linda Ross Security and Surveillance / Operative
Eddie Seng Director of Shore Operations / Operative
Eric Stone Control Room Operations / Operative
Mike Trono General Operations / Operative

Isaac Bell Adventures

Name Information
Isaac Bell Main character of the Isaac Bell Adventures series and Chief Investigator of the Van Dorn Detective Agency
Marion Morgan Isaac Bell's fiancée, and later, wife
Joseph Van Dorn Owner of the Van Dorn Detective Agency
Archie Abbott (actual name, Archibald Angel Abbott) College friend and fellow detective to Isaac Bell at the Van Dorn Detective Agency
Judge James Comden Powerful and corrupt political antagonist, contemporary to Isaac Bell
Aloysius "Wish" Clarke Detective of the Van Dorn Detective Agency, senior to and casual mentor to a younger Isaac Bell, besot by alcoholism

Other co-authors

Cussler has co-authored books with other writers, such as Russell Blake.[13]

Critical Studies

Cussler's adventures are the subject of The Clive Cussler Adventures: A Critical Review by Steven Philip Jones.


  1. "NUMA.Net Clive Cussler Biography" (Web Article). Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  2. Cussler, Clive; Dirgo, Craig (1 October 1998). "Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed". Simon and Schuster via Google Books.
  3. Cussler, Clive; Dirgo, Craig. Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-02622-4.
  4. "Simon Clive Cussler Biography". Archived from the original (Web Article) on June 29, 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  5. " Clive Cussler Biography" (Web Article). Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  6. Cussler, Clive (2004-10-26). Valhalla Rising. Berkley Trade. Inside dust jacket flap. ISBN 978-0-425-20404-7. 039914787X.
  7. Jonathan Thompson (2005-01-23). "Dating of wreck's timbers puts wind in sails of the 'Mary Celeste' mystery". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
  8. Glenn F. Bunting, $78 million of red ink?, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2007.
  9. "TV.Com Clive Cussler Biography" (Web Article). Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  10. Cussler, Clive (2016). Built to Thrill. Putnam. p. 198.
  11. "About the Author". Clive Cussler Books. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  12. "The Assassin".
  13. Rivera, Jeff (January 18, 2014). "Indie Author Russell Blake on Working with the Great Clive Cussler". Huffington Post The Blog.
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