The book that emerges from her research reads like a podcast episode, blending investigative journalism, biography, and a dash of memoir. The questions posed by Miller’s dive into Jordan’s life are profound and open-ended ... Gripping, and sure to be on readers’ minds long after the final pages.
Writing about Jordan is a tricky task because of his complex legacy....Lulu Miller does the job with style and intelligence ... In this engrossing narrative, she crafts a memorable portrait of a man whose success in legitimate scientific pursuits fortified him as he embraced eugenics, a cruel ideology about the supposed hierarchy of humanity.
What a delightful book, and what a delightfully provocative title ... a memoir masking as a biography ... Incongruously but very effectively, Ms. Miller’s book interweaves often intimate details from her own life, including a failed suicide attempt, with milestones from David Starr Jordan’s sheer unstoppable ascent to professional glory ... Leavened by a healthy dose of self-irony, Ms. Miller wields this familiar format with panache, spinning a tale so seductive that I read her book in one sitting.
Part biography, part natural history, and part memoir with the intrigue of a murder mystery, this slim work is also a philosophical exposition on the human inclination to make order out of chaos ... Recommended for those interested in ichthyology, natural history, or musings on the meaning of life.
Not incidentally, Why Fish Don’t Exist is beautiful. Beyond its blue and gold cover, the original, intricate illustrations — created on scratchboard by artist Kate Samworth — that accompany each chapter are captivating, with an otherworldly, even nightmarish quality. They lend the book an air of antiquity, as though the reader is holding a 19th-century science text or a Bible ... Though sometimes a bit breathless in her re-imagining of scenes or pondering of psychological motivations, Miller succeeds in pulling the many threads of her story together to intriguing and illuminating effect ... To name something is, in many ways, to stop seeing it: Once something is known, ordered, there is no need to look further. Miller’s assertion is that we need to keep looking and to see with better eyes.
Jordan is the central figure in Lulu Miller’s small marvel of a book ... Jordan is hardly a household name, but, trust me, the book has payoffs aplenty and you’ll get a glimpse of ideas from philosophy, psychology, and contemporary taxonomy ... Miller has more room to play on the pages of her book, where she puts that radio-prose style to good use, leading readers along with amiable chatter but then pulling up short at the edge of something sad, shocking, brutal, horrifying, profound or just uncomfortably personal. Why Fish Don’t Exist is full of those jittery surprises.
Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence. A quirky wonder of a book.