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The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
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Description

A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

National Bestseller

Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

A New York Times Notable Book

One of TIME's 100 Must Read Books of the Year

One of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Nonfiction Books of the Year

One of Smithsonian Magazine's 10 Best Science Books of the Year

One of Publishers Weekly's Best Nonfiction Books of the Year

A New York Times Editor's Choice

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an Octopus, The Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world's most elusive fish—the eel—and a reflection on the human condition
Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the "eel question": Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth, and we still don't understand what drives them, after living for decades in freshwater, to swim great distances back to the ocean at the end of their lives. They remain a mystery.

Drawing on a breadth of research about eels in literature, history, and modern marine biology, as well as his own experience fishing for eels with his father, Patrik Svensson crafts a mesmerizing portrait of an unusual, utterly misunderstood, and completely captivating animal. In The Book of Eels, we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel's point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early twentieth century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea.

Blending memoir and nature writing at its best, Svensson's journey to understand the eel becomes an exploration of the human condition that delves into overarching issues about our roots and destiny, both as humans and as animals, and, ultimately, how to handle the biggest question of all: death. The result is a gripping and slippery narrative that will surprise and enchant.

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Street Date:
05/26/2020
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780062968838
ASIN:
B07WCPKL1V
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APA Citation (style guide)

Patrik Svensson. (2020). The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Ecco.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Patrik Svensson. 2020. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Ecco.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Patrik Svensson, The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Ecco, 2020.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Patrik Svensson. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. Ecco, 2020. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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shortDescription

A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

National Bestseller

Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

A New York Times Notable Book

One of TIME's 100 Must Read Books of the Year

One of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Nonfiction Books of the Year

One of Smithsonian Magazine's 10 Best Science Books of the Year

One of Publishers Weekly's Best Nonfiction Books of the Year

A New York Times Editor's Choice

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an Octopus, The Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world's most elusive fish—the eel—and a reflection on the human condition
Remarkably little is known about the European eel,...

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fullDescription

A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

National Bestseller

Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction

A New York Times Notable Book

One of TIME's 100 Must Read Books of the Year

One of The Washington Post's 50 Notable Nonfiction Books of the Year

One of Smithsonian Magazine's 10 Best Science Books of the Year

One of Publishers Weekly's Best Nonfiction Books of the Year

A New York Times Editor's Choice

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an Octopus, The Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world's most elusive fish—the eel—and a reflection on the human condition
Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the "eel question": Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth, and we still don't understand what drives them, after living for decades in freshwater, to swim great distances back to the ocean at the end of their lives. They remain a mystery.

Drawing on a breadth of research about eels in literature, history, and modern marine biology, as well as his own experience fishing for eels with his father, Patrik Svensson crafts a mesmerizing portrait of an unusual, utterly misunderstood, and completely captivating animal. In The Book of Eels, we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel's point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early twentieth century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea.

Blending memoir and nature writing at its best, Svensson's journey to understand the eel becomes an exploration of the human condition that delves into overarching issues about our roots and destiny, both as humans and as animals, and, ultimately, how to handle the biggest question of all: death. The result is a gripping and slippery narrative that will surprise and enchant.

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reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Robert Hass, author of Summer Snow  
      • content: "A beguiling chronicle."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus Reviews
      • content: "Svensson has, quite stunningly, discovered in the natural and human history of the European eel a metaphor for his father's life and a way to explore questions of knowledge, belief and faith."
      • premium: False
      • source: Smithsonian Magazine, “10 Best Science Books of the Year”
      • content: "Captivating . . . shot through with electric current. The book's deadpan title perhaps undercuts its depth and complexity. Yes, this is a book about eels, those uncanny creatures, but in Svensson's capable hands it is also a book about obsession and mystery, about faith and science, and about the limits of knowledge . . . Like Annie Dillard and Rachel Carson, Svensson knows the best nature writing is done with emotion and drive."
      • premium: False
      • source: Wall Street Journal
      • content: "Fascinating."
      • premium: False
      • source: Shelf Awareness
      • content: "Enthralling."
      • premium: False
      • source: The New Yorker
      • content: "Nature writing at its finest. Svensson's memories of eel fishing with his father speak to the intersection of life and science, and add to its heart."
      • premium: False
      • source: Mark Siddall, Curator and Professor, American Museum of Natural History
      • content: "Blending a wonderfully evocative and succinct timeline of scientific discoveries about eels with a memoir of his changing relationship with his father, Svensson has produced an extremely readable book on a fish that all have heard of but few (on our side of the pond) have actually seen."
      • premium: False
      • source: Colorado Springs Gazette
      • content: "An unusual and beguiling guide to an unusual and beguiling animal. . . . Svensson's book, like its subject, is a strange beast: a creature of metamorphosis, a shape-shifter that moves among realms. It is a book of natural history, and a memoir about a son and his father. It is also an exploration of literature and religion and custom, and what it means to live in a world full of questions we can't always answer."
      • premium: False
      • source: Publishers Weekly (starred review)
      • content: "As much a boon to my mental life as a blow to my social one. For weeks after reading I found myself cornering people at parties to obliterate them with a machine-gun spray of eel facts. But according to The Book of Eels, I'm not alone in my eelmania. . . . If you don't think of yourself as someone who might enjoy meditating on eel glory, well, I didn't either, and here I am transcribing my encounter for publication."
      • premium: False
      • source: Library Journal (starred review)
      • content: "Captivating . . . The Book of Eels is, in the end, not really about eels but about life itself."
      • premium: False
      • source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
      • content: "Poses questions about philosophy, the metaphysical, and the spiritual, as well as scientific issues, in a way that will stir readers. This beautifully crafted book challenges us not only to understand eels but our own selves. Highly recommended."
      • premium: False
      • source: What's Jordana Reading, Summer Reads
      • content: "Svensson . . . melds the personal and scientific in this captivating look at the European eel. . . . Nature-loving readers will be enthralled by [his] fascinating zoological odyssey."
      • premium: False
      • source: David Gessner, author of All the Wild That Remains 
      • content: "Inspires readers to see eels in a whole new way."
      • premium: False
      • source: Los Angeles Times, “21 New and Classic Books to Keep You in Touch with the Natural World”
      • content: "An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death. . . . an intriguing natural history . . . that sheds as much light on humans as on eels."
      • premium: False
      • source: Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven 
      • content: "Without a doubt, the most delicious natural history book of the decade. Svensson's prose effortlessly undulates between his own personal experience and a thousand years of scientific inquiry. But it's his call to conservation—not just of this noble eel but of our memories both personal and cultural—that truly elevates this remarkably poignant work."
      • premium: False
      • source: Washington Post
      • content: "With lyricism and sharp clarity, Patrik Svensson lets us in on the secret dream-like world of the eel. As we move deeper into a book that intertwines beautiful nature writing with a moving memoir of a quiet father and a loyal son—as well as healthy doses of philosophical thought from Aristotle to Freud—we get to know one of Earth's most unknowable creatures and revel in a life so different than our own."
      • premium: False
      • source: New York magazine
      • content: "What an amazing book. About eels! — a haunting and...
      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        March 15, 2020
        An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death. In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. "I can't recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream," he writes. "I can't remember us speaking at all....Because we were in...a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence." Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, "like a slithering, enigmatic miracle"; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature--e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson's Under the Sea Wind, and G�nter Grass' The Tin Drum--and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden's "eel coast" (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning. Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

        COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        Starred review from May 1, 2020

        Eels have been mysterious creatures throughout time, provoking even the greatest minds. Aristotle was wrong about them and Sigmund Freud was baffled by them. Rachel Carson anthropomorphized them to make them more relatable to her readers. In this debut, Swedish journalist Svensson traces our understanding of eels, specifically the European eel. (The American and Japanese eel get few but valuable pages.) There is surprisingly little known about this fish; a 20-year study to pinpoint their origin was interrupted by World War I. Scientific discoveries are few and far between, but the well-paced writing here motivates readers to learn more about these secretive animals that are in danger of becoming extinct. While exploring this historical path, Svensson quietly weaves in his own experience with eels, focusing on his father and how we interpret our own histories as humans, collectively and individually. The work poses questions about philosophy, the metaphysical, and the spiritual, as well as scientific issues, in a way that will stir readers. VERDICT This beautifully crafted book challenges us not only to understand eels but our own selves. Highly recommended.--Elissa Cooper, Helen Plum Memorial Lib., Lombard, IL

        Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from May 11, 2020
        Svensson, a Swedish journalist, melds the personal and scientific in this captivating look at the European eel. He describes the fish’s intricate life cycle, as only recently uncovered by science: hatched as a tiny leaf-shaped larva in the Sargasso Sea, they grow into a fragile, transparent “glass eel” and are carried across the Gulf Stream to Europe, where they grow “serpentine and muscular” in streams and rivers, before an unknown instinct triggers them to travel back across the Atlantic to the Sargasso, where they reproduce and die. The puzzles surrounding the species—Svensson observes that their reproduction process is still mysterious—have long fascinated students of zoology, from Aristotle to Freud; the latter was obsessed as a teenager with finding the male’s sex organ, and failing to do so (Svensson speculates) may have led to him taking up psychoanalysis instead. Svensson alternates these scientific and historical passages with moving reminiscences of being taught to fish for eels by his father in a stream near their home, and with reflections on eels as a human food source and on current efforts to conserve them. Nature-loving readers will be enthralled by Svensson’s fascinating zoological odyssey.

subtitle
Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
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2254
publisher
Ecco
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