Clive Cussler married Barbara Knight in 1955 and they remained married for nearly 50 years until her death in 2003. Together they had three children, Teri, Dirk and Dana who have given him four grandchildren.
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. 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.
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, like those of Michael Crichton, are examples of techno-thrillers that do not use military plots and settings. Where Crichton strives 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 two-dimensional, larger-than-life hero reminiscent of Doc Savage and other characters from pulp magazines.
Clive Cussler has had more than 17 consecutive titles reach the New York Times fiction best-seller list.
Cussler's web site claims that NUMA discovered, among other shipwrecks, the Confederate submarine Hunley. This claim is disputed by underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence who first reported finding it in 1970 and there is an impressive collection of evidence supporting Spence on www.ShipWrecks.com However, both claims appear to have elements of truth. Spence described finding the partially exposed wreck of the Hunley in 1970, but claimed it had been reburied by shifting sands before he returned to photograph it. Spence claims he relocated it with a magnetometer at various times in the 1970s but it was always buried and without the proper permits was unable to do any excavation on the site. The first expedition to dig into the site and bring back videographic evidence was the 1994/1995 SCIAA/NUMA H.L. Hunley expedition, directed by underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark M. Newell. That was largely financed by Cussler, thus his claim to have discovered it. Based on sworn statements by Dr. Newell, that expedition relied, at least to some extent, on Spence's maps of his earlier work. The dive team that took the video was led by diver Ralph Wilbanks who is on NUMA's Board of Directors.
In many of his books, the inside author description often also states that he was a prominent part of the team which discovered the Titanic. This is not born out by the evidence.
Cussler's work in marine exploration has often raised eyebrows and tempers alike. Not the born diplomat, he often steps on the collective toes of the academic community, local and national governments and at one point, as can be read about in his first allegedly non-fictional work, "Sea Hunters", the British Secret Service, Mossad and the CIA. But has he? That is part of the question. Many have disputed the work of Cussler and NUMA, and while some of his finds do have their controversy over "who really got there first", Cussler, who writes fiction for a living, claims he was the first to provide conclusive evidence of the location of several shipwrecks. Regardless of the merits of Cussler's various discovery claims, there is no question that such claims and their wide reporting by the media have garnered Cussler free world wide publicity for his novels and that such publicity has increased sales of his books.
In what started as a joke in the novel Dragon, and that Cussler expected his editor to remove, he now often writes himself into his books, at first as simple cameos, but later as something of a deus ex machina, providing the novel's protagonists with an essential bit of assistance.
In May 2007, the trial jury delivered a mixed verdict, ordering Cussler to pay Crusader $5 million (they were seeking $115 million) for making derogatory comments about the film and encouraging his readers to boycott it. The jury suggested Crusader pay Cussler $8.5 million for second-picture rights to another book, but left that decision to Judge John Shook since the option was never exercised. Cussler's attorney indicated that he would end up with $3.5 million after paying Crusader the $5 million previously ordered if the Judge rules in his favor. If not, Cussler could be further sued by Crusader for lawyer fees. Some news accounts have suggested that both sides may have ended up spending more on legal costs than they were awarded, but each side would be liable for the other's fees depending on the Judge's ruling. On January 8, 2008, Judge John Shook denied Cussler's claim for the $8.5 million, making the author solely liable to Crusader for $5 million for breach of contract.
There is also a Dirk Pitt reference book:
This series of books focuses on Kurt Austin, head of NUMA's Special Projects division and his adventures. Some characters from the Pitt novels appear such as Sandecker, Rudi Gunn, Hiram Yaeger and St. Julien Perlmutter. Pitt makes brief appearances in the books "Serpent", "White Death" and "Polar Shift."
The Oregon Files focuses on "The Oregon," introduced in "Flood Tide." While appearing to be a decrepit freighter, it's actually a high-tech advanced ship used by the Corporation, under the leadership of Juan Cabrillo. The ship is run like a business, with its crew shareholders, taking jobs for the CIA and other agencies to help stop terrorism and other crimes. The crew is adept at disguises, combat, computer hacking and more to aid their missions. Both Kurt Austin and Dirk Pitt make a cameo in the fourth book, 'Skeleton Coast.' Juan telephones Pitt on the telephone, and Austin and Zavala appear at the end.