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Lulu Miller writes of chaos, of scientist David Starr Jordan, of the elegance that can come from putting everything in order (be it emotions, milestones in life, fish in jars). She intersperses her own story and personal reflections within history and true crime events, scientific discoveries and hidden horrors. I have raved about this book at multiple coworkers and added it to my small stack of “books I have hugged upon finishing.” It is dog-eared, something I never do (which I attribute to all the chaos in said book), and a book I’ll be recommending to as many folks as possible.— Rachel
This book had me from the opening paragraph. I loved the balance between biography and autobiography. This book changed my view of the world by redefining something I had always overlooked. I will never see a fish or hear the word without thinking of this book.— Brooks
A wondrous nonfiction debut from the cofounder of NPR's Invisibilia, Why Fish Don't Exist tells the story of a 19th-century scientist possessed with bringing order to the natural world--a dark and astonishing tale that becomes an investigation into some of the biggest questions of our lives.
When Lulu Miller was starting out as a science reporter, she encountered a story that would stick with her for a decade. It was the strange tale of a scientist named David Starr Jordan, who set out to discover as many of the world's fish as he could. Decade by decade, he built one of the most important specimen collections ever seen. Until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hit--sending over a thousand of his fish, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life's work was shattered.
Miller knew what she would do if she were in Jordan's shoes. She would give up, give in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish he recognized, and painstakingly began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that, he believed, would protect it against the chaos of the world.
In Why Fish Don't Exist, Miller digs into the passing anecdote she once heard about David Starr Jordan to tell his whole story. What was it that kept him going that day in 1906? What became of him? And who does he prove to be, in the end: a role model for how to thrive in a chaotic world, or a cautionary tale? Filled with suspense, surprise, and even a questionable death, this enchanting book interweaves science, biography, and a dash of memoir to investigate the age-old question of how to go on when everything seems lost.