Svensson has, quite stunningly, discovered in the natural and human history of the European eel a metaphor for his father’s life and a way to explore questions of knowledge, belief and faith ... [a] revelatory, amusing, often poignant amalgam of science and family history[.]
... captivating ... The book is its own strange contraption, all of it similarly shot through with electric current. The book’s deadpan title perhaps undercuts its depth and complexity. Yes, this is a book about eels, those uncanny creatures, but in Svensson’s capable hands it is also a book about obsession and mystery, about faith and science, and about the limits of knowledge ... Like Annie Dillard and Rachel Carson, Svensson knows the best nature writing is done with emotion and drive. The Book of Eels is not objective in the way one might expect a work of nonfiction about the natural world to be. Svensson writes with imaginative verve and point of view. He is opinionated, funny, curious and open to disagreement ... But what sets The Book of Eels apart is its dual nature: Each eel chapter is followed by a brief self-contained chapter of memoir ... These gorgeous vignettes—which detail golden days and bracing swims through unfathomable currents—have something of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book to them. They are elusive and mythic in what they teach about our closest relationships, how our families shape and guide us while remaining somehow unknowable. Svensson is confident and controlled as he toggles between science and memoir, fact and memory ... Svensson, however, does make a big deal of the eel’s existence, and we are grateful for it.
... this is one of those special books, the kind that seem to have an extra resonant chamber attached ... even if it were only a book about eels it would be wonderful. Eels, it turns out, are utterly, fascinatingly strange ... such a good writer. The prose is unshowy but potent ... I’m still not sure I like eels, but I loved this book.