20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Book Poster Image
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Classic undersea adventure with science-fiction flair.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in its full-length form is packed with detail about everything from history -- from ancient times to the 19th century -- to the then wildly expanding world of scientific knowledge. Following the adventures of the Nautilus and its crew involves physics, biology, engineering, and a lot of philosophizing.

Positive Messages

Some messages seem remarkably modern -- for example, Aronnax observes on several occasions that man's tendency to hunt sea creatures to extinction is going to result in toxic, dead oceans. The question of Captain Nemo's passion for revenge and whether it's justified remains unanswered.

Positive Role Models & Representations

From a moral standpoint, Captain Nemo is  something of a mix -- he reveres some of the world's great freedom fighters and shows kindness in many situations, but is brutal in pursuing deadly revenge against the ships that come against him. Aronnax is a diligent scientist who, by 21st century standards, shows startling attitudes of class superiority to his faithful compatriots Conseil and Ned Land, but the three of them are devoted and loyal to each other. Nineteenth-century attitudes of European cultural arrogance are evident in encounters with sometimes-hostile native residents of islands.


There are several scenes of shipwrecks, some of which have vivid descriptions of the recently drowned victims. Two crew members lose their lives, one in a horrific struggle with a sea monster. There is much butchery of sea creatures, as well as close combat with them.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Captain Nemo offers Aronnax all the comforts of 19th century gentlemanly life aboard the Nautilus, including a seaweed-based cigar Aronnax pronounces better than the best Havana. On occasion when the three prisoners need to be kept out of the way, their food is drugged.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that next to Agatha Christie, Jules Verne is the most translated author of all time, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) is probably his most popular work -- which means you have versions galore to choose from, depending on your kid's age, interest level, and sensitivities, from full-length annotated versions to entry-level books that focus on the basic story. This unabridged version, translated from the French by Anthony Bonner, preserves Verne's 19th-century tendency to show off his knowledge on all subjects, so expect every plot development to be cause for a lecture on history or science. It also includes some violent scenes, especially of shipwrecks and their drowned victims, as well as a dramatic attack against a ship and its crew by a group of giant squid, which costs a crew member his life; another dies after an incident that isn't described. There's a good deal of violence against animals and butchery of sea creatures, as well. Mysterious Captain Nemo is driven by the need for revenge, but his motives are never fully explained.

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Teen, 15 years old Written byNatWD March 4, 2015

very strange book, would not really recommend

I feel like my view of this book is more of a "it's not you, its me" situation. the only reason i read this book was for school (maybe that taint... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byjlskene November 4, 2014


it is a great book

What's the story?

Just after the American Civil War, French biologist Pierre Aronnax, accompanied by his faithful assistant Conseil, embark on a voyage in search of a mysterious creature that's been attacking ships around the world. In due course the creature proves to be a submarine, and he, Conseil, and French-Canadian harpooner Ned Land are taken captive by its master, the mysterious Captain Nemo. For many months the trio, prisoners aboard the Nautilus, behold undersea wonders from one end of the globe to another, while learning very little about what dark force drives their captor.

Is it any good?

Science-minded kids may love Professor Aronnax's tendency to describe every fish and plant he sees wherever he goes, and trivia-minded ones may love some of the historical tales on the side. Others may wish Verne would just get on with the story. One of the pioneering works of science fiction, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, first published in 1870, is downright uncanny in the accuracy with which it predicted much technology to come, from submarines to electricity. With many versions in book and movie form over the years (including the 1954 Disney classic), it's become a cultural icon, as has its mysterious Captain Nemo; consider which version may be right for your kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Verne, writing just a few years after the Civil War, was able to predict future technology so accurately.

  • From what you've seen of Captain Nemo, what do you think of him? What do you think is the dark secret in his past, and do you think it justifies the way he lives?

  • If, like Professor Aronnax, you had the opportunity to make a great voyage of discovery but at the price of your freedom, would you go for it?

  • Do you like Verne's long descriptions of the exotic fish and sea plants, or would you rather just watch a nature video?

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