I know, you’re thinking, of course fish exist. I have seen fish, smelled them, eaten them, maybe caught them–there is no denying that they exist. Any yet, that’s the title of Lulu Miller’s delightful book, Fish Don’t Exist which tells the story of David Starr Jordan, the founding president of Stanford University, whose mission in life as an ichthyologist was to discover every species of fish–a quest he pursued with zeal, certainty, and rigor. When the great California earthquake shatters the ethanol filled jars. He grabs a needle and thread to start connecting the labels to samples. This is a tale of American grit–or so Miller had me thinking. Yes, I was hooked from the first chapter.
Miller is one of the co-creators of NPR’s marvelous Invisiblia podcast–she approaches Jordan with a journalists restless curiosity but this book is also a personal history and a reflection on our world. She covers chaos theory, reminds us of Voltaire’s critique of optimism, and the dangers of hubris. We follow her on her journey of discovery–both about Jordan and on the importance of meaningful connections. She grapples with our significance in the universe, and champions doubt to temper our impulse to be blind to the world’s complexity and bigness.
Fish Don’t Exist is one of my favorite reads of 2022. It is one of those books that changed how I see the world and affirmed my faith in doubt. Aren’t you wondering just a little bit about how it can be possible that fish don’t exist? Act on that curiosity my friends.