A general but solid primer on the state of sharks today and a plea for their protection.

DEMON FISH

TRAVELS THROUGH THE HIDDEN WORLD OF SHARKS

Washington Post environmental reporter Eilperin (Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives, 2006) travels the globe to explore the complex relationship between sharks and humans, issuing a passionate call for the protection of these diverse and majestic creatures.

Sharks inspire fear, writes the author, but as many people know, it’s largely groundless: “you are more likely to die from lightning, a bee sting, or an elephant’s attack than from a shark’s bite.” Yet this fear, along with commercial pressures, is driving some species to extinction. Before we feared them, sharks played important religious roles in societies from the Mayan empire to communities in the Niger Delta region. Eilperin witnessed the modern-day practice of “shark calling,” in which Papua New Guineans perform religious rituals and then catch sharks using lures and snares. (The practice is not wholly symbolic, as the meat is eaten and the fins sold.) Shark’s fin soup is an important symbol of wealth in China; however, after eating it, Eilperin calls it “one of the greatest scams of all time, an emblem of status whose most essential ingredient adds nothing of material value to the end product.” Nonetheless, shark populations are collapsing in part due to the commercial value of fins. Unfortunately, the author provides little clarity about which human activities (such as sport fishing and finning) have the most significant impacts on shark populations. Moreover, the book treats sharks as too monolithic, doing little to explain which particular species face the gravest threats. But Eilperin is convincing in her argument that many species will go extinct if current practices continue. She is optimistic about certain alternatives, like the shark-watching expeditions she saw in a Mexican village, where former fisherman now make their living guiding eco-tourists. With alternatives like this and the possibility of international agreements, Eilperin concludes that all hope is not lost for the shark.

A general but solid primer on the state of sharks today and a plea for their protection.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42512-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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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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