An exciting, in-the-chase, up-to-the minute look at the state of global whaling—nice companion volume to Eric Jay Dolin’s...

HARPOON

INTO THE HEART OF WHALING

Sydney Morning Herald reporter Darby ventures from Tasmania and Japan to Antarctica and Mexico as he tracks the ongoing destruction of the world’s whale population.

Despite the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, illegal hunting continues to take a toll. Darby profiles each endangered species in turn, digging though International Whaling Commission archives to root out the truth. The Right, a slow, steady baleen, was hunted to near-extinction in the Southern Ocean and the Atlantic by Basque and Long Islanders; protected since 1934, it was secretly chased by the Soviets but is now making a comeback. The Blue, a speedy Rorqual (the largest group of baleens), was routed by Norwegians and Americans from the Aleutians to the subartic seas of the North Atlantic. Out of nearly 40,000 Blues, more than 28,000 were killed at the height of the Antarctic whaling season in 1931, taken for the oil used in making soap and margarine. In need of protein for its starving people after the war, Japan resisted the 1931 Geneva Convention regulations to restrict whaling; General MacArthur’s complaisance “unlocked an industry that would shovel whale into the Japanese diet for a generation.” The tiny Minke was targeted especially by the Japanese, who still pursue it and the Humpback in the name of science. The big-headed warrior Sperm, with ambergris worth its weight in gold, was still being hunted into the ’70s, until Paul Watson of Greenpeace made whaling a “lightning rod for global species conservation.” Darby delineates both sides in the messy politics of whaling, and mixes in a lively bit of science and evolution. His study energetically underscores the need for continued vigilance in protecting these sublime ancient cetaceans.

An exciting, in-the-chase, up-to-the minute look at the state of global whaling—nice companion volume to Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan (2007).

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-306-81629-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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