Goodreads Monday: Why Fish Don’t Exist

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme where we randomly select a book from our Goodreads To Be Read list and share it with the world. It’s been hosted by Lauren’s Page Turners, but I’m not sure if that blog is active anymore. Please enjoy this preview of what I want to read in the future!


Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Order of Life
by Lulu Miller
Nonfiction/Natural History/Biography
240 pages
Published April, 2020, by Simon and Schuster

From Goodreads: 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.


I’ve been listening to Lulu Miller on podcasts like Radiolab and Invisibilia for years now, and I’ve always been impressed by her ability to tell multiple sides of a story and tie them all together, no matter how distasteful or uncomfortable the subject might be. After hearing a glowing review of Miller’s debut, Why Fish Don’t Exist on Olive’s BookTube channel, A Book Olive, I added it to my TBR right away. My library has a copy of this, so I’ll check out a copy soon and give it a shot. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

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