The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

Ecco : HarperCollins. May 2020. 256p. ISBN 9780062968814. $28.99. NAT HIST
Eels have been mysterious creatures throughout time, provoking even the greatest minds. Aristotle was wrong about them and Sigmund Freud was baffled by them. Rachel Carson anthropomorphized them to make them more relatable to her readers. In this debut, Swedish journalist Svensson traces our understanding of eels, specifically the European eel. (The American and Japanese eel get few but valuable pages.) There is surprisingly little known about this fish; a 20-year study to pinpoint their origin was interrupted by World War I. Scientific discoveries are few and far between, but the well-paced writing here motivates readers to learn more about these secretive animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. While exploring this historical path, Svensson quietly weaves in his own experience with eels, focusing on his father and how we interpret our own histories as humans, collectively and individually. The work poses questions about philosophy, the metaphysical, and the spiritual, as well as scientific issues, in a way that will stir readers.
VERDICT This beautifully crafted book challenges us not only to understand eels but our own selves. Highly recommended.
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