Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller (author, narrator)

Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781797106045, April 2020

Lulu Miller, NPR journalist, grew up with a father who taught her that chaos rules everything, that the universe doesn't care about anything or anyone, and that any belief that anything matters is deeply unscientific. I can't imagine why she also grew up to struggle with whether there was any point to her own existence. (It's unlikely that her depression is the result of her father's world view, but honestly, I can't imagine how that helped. To be clear, the issue here is not atheism. It is, specifically, the belief that nothing matters, a belief I have not heard from my atheist friends, acquaintances, favorite scientific writers, what have you.) As Miller moved through her life, education, career, she struggled with the ups and downs of her life and depression--and at some point, discovered David Starr Jordan.

This is part memoir, part biography, part history of 19th century science.

Jordan was a taxonomist, eventually credited with discovering a fifth of all fish species known to science in his day. He traveled the world, collected specimens, described and classified them. He became president of a college, and then president of a university. He married, had children, his wife died, he married again, had more children...

He worked very, very hard to impose order on nature, or at least our understanding of it.

His magnificent specimen collections were destroyed multiple times, by lightning, fire, earthquake. He salvaged and rebuilt them each time.

Miller wondered if Jordan could provide the model for a life with positive meaning in the face of chaos. She plunged into a study of his life--reading everything by or about him that she could lay her hands on. She began to believe that a certain amount of self-delusion might be the secret to a happy and successful life. She does find a few instances along the way, things Jordan did that might make him a tad less likeable than he seemed...

And then, in the course of her persistent digging, she finds something that upends everything in the story of David Starr Jordan.

This is a fascinating and engrossing story, giving us an enlightening view of science in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century There is love, loss, passion, tragedy. The story of David Starr Jordan will kick you in the teeth.

And I can't tell you the worst and best bits, because honestly, I'd be cheating you if I didn't let you get there on your own. You're entitled to that.

Oh, and yes, Miller does tell us why fish don't exist

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook. 

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