...a thoroughly delightful and entertaining new book on jellyfish ... Spineless is part travelogue, part memoir, part deep-dive (literally) into the world of jellyfish, and Berwald brings a genuine sense of wonder to the topic. She is a former science textbook writer, but don't be alarmed. Berwald puts that experience to the best possible use, deploying a range of analogies to explain complex marine science for the rest of us ... Berwald isn't writing a lean-in manifesto. Instead, she's doing something more universal, yet subtle. This is the story of looking back from a certain age and a certain place and assessing how you got there, how your life turned out the way it did, and finding peace in that — but also motivation to return to the passions of youth.
This combination of insider and outsider perspective is uniquely suited to a book on creatures whose internal organs are visible through transparent outer layers ... Readers interested in biological superlatives can find them here: the largest jellyfish, the deadliest, the one that occurs in the highest numbers. Ms. Berwald goes to Japan in search of the largest but finds only a 250-pounder perhaps 3 to 4 feet in diameter; they can grow to nearly twice that size, a feat enabled by prodigious growth during their juvenile stage, when they can increase their weight by 11% a day. But the physical size of jellyfish is dwarfed by their importance. Jellyfish may well be what biologists call a keystone species, one that plays such an essential role in an ecosystem that its absence would cause the system to collapse. Yet their world is being destroyed by humans. Juli Berwald calls on us to rescue the jellyfish and, in so doing, perhaps rescue ourselves.
One of Berwald’s investigative lines is to ascertain if the jellyfish population is increasing or decreasing despite acidifying seas. In fact, it is this metaphor the book revolves around: the jellyfish as a symbol for resilience and annihilation, nature’s winners and losers. And like the semisolid state of its body, jellyfish reflect the fate of our planet: suspended between survival and oblivion at the hands of those who choose to ignore it … Yes, the jellyfish should be the new world mascot to herald our own human failings.
Reminiscent of Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, Spineless reveals not only an around-the-world exploration of emerging science but also Berwald’s evolution as a science writer, learning to 'write a book that matters,' as one jellyfish expert challenged her ... Full of humor and intrigue, Spineless is a seaworthy saga brimming with information about not only jellyfish but also about the health and future of the oceans and our planet.
Berwald excels at depicting the wonder and appreciation she has gained for the strange, gelatinous creatures and the ocean that sustains them ... Jellyfish are fascinating in part because there's so much more to find out about them. In Spineless, Berwald demonstrates that our oceans represent a scientific frontier at least as exciting and promising as space, and posits jellyfish as a prime candidate for study and appreciation.
While writing this lucid, eye-opening book, the author discovered that her place was, in part, inextricably entangled with jellyfish. In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the messages sent by ocean life, and act to protect their environment, and ours.
...[a] captivating and informative science memoir ... Her message transcends jellyfish themselves: Berwald makes clear that researching jellyfish 'is not just to look at a creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it' ... Berwald details how focusing on jellyfish expanded her own intellectual horizons and she tells some awfully good stories along the way.