Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life

S. & S. Apr. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781501160271. $26. NAT HIST
Journalist Miller is probably best known for her work on NPR’s Invisibilia and Radiolab. Her first book follows previously written biographies of David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), ichthyologist and educator. Piqued by the story of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that shattered the glass jars containing Jordan’s meticulously curated fish collection and his perseverance in re-creating the collection, Miller focuses on the many tragedies that befell Jordan during his life, as well as his tenacious spirit in handling ongoing hardship. Her subject’s persistence led Miller to ruminate on what makes someone resilient, while simultaneously relating findings to her own life. Part biography, part natural history, and part memoir with the intrigue of a murder mystery, this slim work is also a philosophical exposition on the human inclination to make order out of chaos as seen through Jordan’s life work, whose mission was to document and discover every freshwater fish in North America and beyond.
VERDICT Recommended for those interested in ichthyology, natural history, or musings on the meaning of life.

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