Since I have only recently read Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights, this book immediately reminded me of it. Both books are collections of often highly personal tales that are mostly concerned with animal life, and are written with an impressive reverence for and a deep understanding of the natural world. Where Macdonald looks to the birds in the sky and occasionally the animals roaming the land, however, physicist Bill François is solely interested in the creatures populating the more mysterious world of the oceans.
It starts a little slow when François explains how his love of the oceans and its inhabitants came to be when he encountered a sardine in the Mediterranean Sea as a child. These first personal anecdotes are a little overly sentimental and melodramatic for my taste, and the prose is overwrought. After that, however, it becomes a fantastic book that really manages to inspire curiosity and appreciation for the underwater life. François shares tons of interesting and unknown facts not only about sardines, but lobsters, prawns, whales, mollusks, corals, and many of the strangest creatures of the sea. He also shares historical facts about the relationship between humans and sea creatures, for instance, hunting techniques of indigenous peoples that used fish to catch other fish in return for part of the catch. There is a story about the people who fish in the rivers beneath the streets of Paris, one about a scientific project to make sense of the curious migration patterns of tuna, and one about an eel who lived in a well for over a 100 years only to meet a very unfortunate fate.
Of course, there is also some discussion of humanity’s terribly destructive relationship with the oceans, where the sea floor is severely damaged by dragnets, some species are overfished almost to the point of extinction, and fish farms cause huge environmental problems. Overall, François manages to provide a good mix of stories, some personal and heartwarming, and some educational, sad or infuriating, and each of them conveying the author’s enthusiasm and love for the sea and its creatures. This is a quick read at slightly under 200 pages, but all the more impressive for the wealth of information and enjoyment it provides.
CBR13 Bingo: Fauna