Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life
By Lulu Miller
“Riveting. Surprising. Shocking, even! This book will capture your heart, seize your imagination, smash your preconceptions, and rock your world.”
- Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus
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 in 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 Lulu Miller, a science reporter for NPR, first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a fool – a cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own world 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.
Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, scientific obsession, chaos, and – possibly – even murder. Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, this book is a wondrous debut from an extraordinary new voice in nonfiction that you won’t want to put down. Why Fish Don’t Exist reads like a fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail. “Plus”, as Jon Mooallem, author of This is Chance! wrote, “by the end – I’m not joking – Lulu Miller may have actually cracked the secret to life.”
Lulu Miller is a Peabody Award-winning science reporter who has been working in public radio for over fifteen years. She is the cofounder of NPR’s Invisibilia, a show about the invisible forces that shape human behavior. She is also a frequent contributor to Radiolab. Her writing has been published in The New Yorker, VQR, Orion, Electric Literature, Catapult, and beyond.
Kate Samworth is an award-winning artist and the author of Aviary Wonders Inc. She created fifteen stunning original illustrations for this book.