Book Review: Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

Posted April 3, 2023 by lomeraniel in Audiobooks, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Memoirs, Review / 0 Comments

Book Review: Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu MillerWhy Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller
Narrator: Lulu Miller
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on April 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Memoirs
Length: 4 hrs and 55 mins
Format: Audiobook
Source: Libby
Buy on Amazon/Audible
Overal Rating: three-half-stars

A wondrous debut from an extraordinary new voice in nonfiction, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, chaos, scientific obsession, and—possibly—even murder.
David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand of his discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered.
Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world.
When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a foola cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder about him. Perhaps instead he was a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. What she would unearth about his life would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet.
Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist reads like a fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.

In Why Fish Don’t Exist, Lulu Miller shares her personal experience with depression, touching rock bottom, and how she found inspiration in the life of David Starr and his perseverance throughout his life.

I especially enjoyed the book’s beginning and her writing about entropy. The writing style is whimsical, which is usually fine to me, but the author adorned her retelling of David’s life with some made-up details with the intention to make the story more appealing. I found them distracting.

One of the arguments made in the book is that only things that are given a name exist, which is a fallacy, as life on earth doesn’t need to be named by humans to exist. Humans are overrated.

During her research, Lulu finds out that David Starr is not the wholesome human being she thought at first, and some historians even suspect he committed terrible atrocities. David Starr also turns to be in favor of eugenics, which seems paradoxical, as his obsession with fish felt very similar to an autistic individual’s special interest.

Lulu shares with the reader how she discovered that David Starr’s story is nothing but a poisoned gift, in a tale where nothing is what it seems.

The audiobook is narrated by the author himself, which, unfortunately, is not ideal. The whimsical tone of the author’s writing style carries over to the narration, even when discussing disasters. Additionally, the rhythm of the narration is off, with halts mid-sentence, making it difficult to follow along. A professional narrator would have been a better choice for this audiobook.

Overall, this book has its moments of inspiration and interesting ideas. Lulu’s admiration for David Starr’s perseverance is a highlight of the book, although it is marred by Starr’s troubling views on eugenics. The writing style and historical fiction aspects of the book may not appeal to everyone, and the narration could have been improved.

Story (Plot)
Overall: three-half-stars