NPR reporter Lulu Miller delves into the strange life of taxonomist David Starr Jordan, credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. When the 1906 San Francisco earthquake sent more than a thousand of his discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor, Jordan did not give up but began his tireless work anew—and found new methods for protecting it against loss.
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.