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This is without a doubt the best translation of Jules Verne's 1870 science fiction classic "Vingt mille lieues sous les mers" ("20,000 Leagues under the Sea"). This translation by two Verne scholars, Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, takes all the knowledge available on the book and its author to not only make an accurate and readable complete text (early versions often omit a full quarter of the French original) that fixes the many errors of earlier translators, but also purges the text of many mistakes that were made by the original French compositors. The research and work that went into this translations is really quite stunning, and the result is a text that really lets Verne's genius shine: "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" is not only a brilliant piece of scientific prophecy, but also a thrilling story with superb, subtle characterizations.
The plot is familiar: Captain Nemo, an enigmatic figure who has withdrawn himself from the world, tours the oceans in his submarine called the Nautilus. We see this journey of 20,000 leagues (approx. 43,200 miles) through the eyes of Professor Pierre Aronnax, a scientist who is both Nemo's guest and prisoner. Also aboard with Aronnax are his manservant Conseil and a gruff ship's harpooner, Ned Land. The Nautilus encounters many wonders and obstacles on its long voyage: underwater forests, giant clams, attacks by huge squid, imprisonment in ice at the South Pole, monster storms, a war with a pack of sperm whales, and the discovery of the lost continent of Atlantis. But as something deep and destructive gnaws away at Captain Nemo, his prisoners seek a way to escape from the miracle ship.
In the English-speaking world Jules Verne has rarely received in the praise he truly deserves as a writer. People applaud his scientific foresight (while criticizing him for errors that were usually the fault of the translators), but shrug off his writing as inconsequential, with cardboard characters and plotless stories. If only these critics would read this translation of Verne's best novel...they would have to re-think their position on the great French writer! His genius for blending adventure, comedy, and psychology burst through in this translation. The book does veer into lengthy descriptions of marine life in places, and modern readers are likely to skim these parts (Verne even provides clues in the text to indicate when he's about to digress), but as a whole the novel is absolutely engrossing, throwing one stupendous adventure after another at the characters, while developing a mystery around Captain Nemo and increasing tension onboard the Nautilus so that the many different incidents hold together as a single plot. Even though submarines are commonplace technology today, Verne infuses his story with such awe-inspiring wonder that you can't help but feel the same sense of amazement as Professor Aronnax when he finds himself cruising the depths of the world's oceans. Real wonder never gets stakes, and no one was better at creating wonder than Jules Verne.
Aside from the excellent translation, this edition contains numerous extras (if this were a DVD, it would be labeled as a Special Edition Director's Cut). The lengthy introduction explains Verne's background, education, the development of the novel, the many things that Verne accurately predicted, the book's unsung literary qualities, the different French texts, and the problems with earlier translations. All the original illustrations from the original French edition are reproduced in the text, and generous footnotes give the reader a guide through Verne's more obscure references and shed light on the author's scientific genius. As a bonus at the end of the book, the editors include a new translation of the relevant passages from "Mysterious Island" that discuss Captain Nemo's background (just in case you're too impatient to go read "Mysterious Island" for yourself to solve the Captain Nemo mystery). There's also a table of the measurements used in the novel for those readers who really want to test the author's scientific accuracy.
There really isn't any other choice when it comes to translations of the "20,000 Leagues under the Sea." Nothing comes close to this: it will appease hard science readers, and it will open people up to Jules Verne's overlooked literary talents. With the wealth of background information available, this edition does better by Jules Verne -- ANY Jules Verne -- than has ever been published in the English language.