Planet Earth

Shark Tales

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJun 22, 2011 1:48 PM

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As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I saw my share of movies that scarred my tender psyche. For example, I learned at an early age to avoid garbage trucks with front loaders.

That little boy who made very bad things happen scared the bejesus out of me. And then there was Steven Spielberg's first blockbuster. Decades later, that one still haunts summer beach days. But Hollywood is not the only reason why Juliet Eilperin's new book is called Demon Fish. She writes:

Humans--regardless of their culture, era, or geographic location--have been been fascinated with sharks form the beginning of time. They predate us by so many hundreds of millions of years but are a remote cohabitant of this earth rather than a familiar one. Sharks were swimming our seas before the continents took to their current shape, when oceans covered Bolivia, South Africa, and Montana. Despite their considerable numbers, they remain elusive. Many of them don't travel in schools: they roam the seas on their own, as adventurers. Their murderous power, their ancient lineage, their aloofness--all these attributes have given them a place within a human culture where they are simultaneously worshipped and loathed. It's an unenviable position, one that is helping propel their rapid decline.

But don't let the book's title fool you. Eilperin, an environmental reporter for the Washington Post, is affectionately (and respectfully) awestruck of her subject. She's also a fluid, engaging writer, which makes this book a delightful read. I picked it up last night at a bookstore in Brooklyn, where Eilperin made an appearance to talk about Demon Fish. She also showed clips of the celluloid spin-offs from the original 1975 Jaws movie, including this recent hilarious absurdity, which I had never heard of.

I'm only halfway through Demon Fish, but I echo David Grann, the New Yorker writer whose blurb appears on the back cover:

In this fascinating and meticulously reported book, Juliet Eilperin criscrosses the globe on the trail of one of the most mysterious creatures. She illuminates not only the hidden nature of the seas, but also the societies whose survival depends on them.

On the subway ride back home last night, I was so engrossed in Eilperin's book that I nearly missed my stop. That's a sure sign of a great read.

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