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Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,060 Ratings  ·  146 Reviews
Kraken is the traditional name for gigantic sea monsters, and this book introduces one of the most charismatic, enigmatic, and curious inhabitants of the sea: the squid. The pages take the reader on a wild narrative ride through the world of squid science and adventure, along the way addressing some riddles about what intelligence is, and what monsters lie in the deep. In ...more
Hardcover, 223 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Harry N. Abrams
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Emma Sea
Dec 08, 2013 Emma Sea rated it really liked it
Cephalopods are go!

Very interesting book. More on neurobiology than I had anticipated, but when has that ever been a bad thing? I was a little disturbed by the casual cruelty shown to the cephalopods in the book. Some squid get their heads cut off with scissors (alive) before being dissected (still alive) so we can see how their brains work. An octopus has its brain split into two hemispheres (alive) before being taught to associate a particular stimulus with an electric shock: "when it saw the
Jul 24, 2011 Bridgitte rated it liked it
The Cephalopods got the three stars. I LOVE them. Williams held them back. Her style and voice are juvenile. Little organization, lack of development, and silly comments and questions. She is also repetitive (repeating sentences verbatim just pages apart) and can't form a cohesive paragraph.
Even more importantly, her approach to the animals is callous...she has no problem joking about scientists killing them in rough ways right after she talks about how intelligent they are. Her main accolade f
Jun 19, 2011 Amy rated it did not like it
I did not love this book in the way that I thought I would, being an avid lover of squid, cuttlefish, and yes, even the lowly octopus, since way back in the day.

The cause of this lack of enthusiasm on my part is three-fold:

1. The tiny black-and-white photographs give the book the feeling of a high school newspaper from the 1990s. Especially in the chapters that discuss the amazing color capabilities of squid, the lack of color photos is amazingly frustrating. And they're tiny - you really have
Apr 16, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it
Absolutely suited for would-be scientists of any age, this book is a great introduction to cephalopods. Lest you think you are not interested, consider this: as ocean temperatures rise and salinity changes, giant Humboldt squid are being found in huge numbers much farther north than ever before and have beached themselves as they did in Monterey Bay in 1992. Humboldt squid can reach up to 6 feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds, and have a dangerous reputation for eating men alive, were one ...more
Dec 24, 2016 I'mogén rated it really liked it
This book isn't really what I was expecting. I went into this assuming it would be a short but dense piece of scientific literature exploring the life and science of squids, maybe with a bit of mythological execution thrown in there. I mean, with a striking tittle including "Kraken" can you blame me? Instead, what I got was a lighter, humorous scientific account of a particular graduate student's (Julie Stewart) research quest to finding out more about cephalopods and how they have and can furth ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Donna rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
The first half of this book is fascinating. It gives a quick introduction to the science of cephalopods, explains some of their unique features, and tells us about how humans viewed them in the past. I was especially interested in the parts about the process of marine biology field research, you always see those pop-up GPS tags in television documentaries so it was interesting to learn about how they work.

Then the author got into squid connections to medical research, and she just lost me. Those
Nick Black
Jan 09, 2012 Nick Black rated it it was ok
this would have been awesome when I was eight years old or so. not sure how i feel about female science journalists after reading this -- was there really a need to tell me "genera" is plural for "genus"? or to make simpering, silly little comments about squid sex? or Dragon Ball references? take that shit to a middle school classroom, please. i prefer In Search of the Giant Squid for teuthologic pop science and Boyle's Cephalopods as a textbook.
Three stars for some great, entrancing facts about squids (and other cephalopods.) Did you know they have blue blood, and that's because it contains copper rather than iron? Did you know squid have both arms and tentacles? Or that there are both giant and colossal squid? And that the latter can grow up to at least 50 feet long? And that there are probably lots and lots and LOTS of giant squid in the ocean, given the evidence scientists have retrieved from inside sperm whale bellies? And that Hum ...more
Sarah Porter
Mar 04, 2011 Sarah Porter rated it it was amazing
I can't honestly say I loved absolutely every second. There were moments when I found Williams's prose a little cutesy, or her transitions jarring, or I wished there was more information about something. But for a slim book, it packs in an incredible amount of breathtaking information and also does a great job of presenting enough of the basic scientific context to let you understand the material. (E.g., I understand how neurons work a lot better now.) Consistently enthralling.
Dec 28, 2011 Melody rated it liked it
Shelves: nature-nonfic
I enjoyed this book but found it spotty. The author was too present, too intrusive. I think her style may be influenced by Mary Roach, and a little of that goes a long way with me. I learned a lot about cephalopods, and I really, really, really wish I could have cromatophores.

I flat-out loved the neuroscience chapter. I think I need a good pop-sci neuroscience book right away.

John G
Jan 25, 2015 John G rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-life
This is a fun read by a good science writer. Wendy Williams has a friendly style that immediately engages your interest in a subject that is squeamish to most folks. Squids are quite amazing denizens of the sea that are not well studied perhaps because they have little economic value. Their appearance in ancient mythology and modern horror stories is the main source of popular knowledge. Yet there is so much more about their lives that we are now learning, sadly, at the beginning of the ocean’s ...more
Jul 11, 2011 A. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is one of those books I would give 3.5 if the scale allowed half-stars. A "popular science" book, this is aimed at the lay reader and is appropriate for all readers, regardless of their prior acquaintance with cephalopods and marine biology. Williams is a science writer rather than a scientist herself, trained in the art of making science readable to the general population.

As a longtime cephalopod enthusiast, much of the material was both familiar and new to me. The text's focus seemed to w
Conner Fulton
Feb 26, 2013 Conner Fulton rated it really liked it
This book is about what the title says; squids. Though I may not be the target audience for this book (i.e not a squid fanatic nor a marine biologist fanatic) I still found the book to have interesting facts. Williams talks about all aspects of the squid, from it camouflage capabilities to it's sexual reproduction cycle. I didn't know any of this going into the book, and while it was informative, it seems like something you would learn in an entire college or high school course, not in one book. ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Angie rated it did not like it
Shelves: natural-history
I was hoping for a book that discussed the history and behavior of squid (the "world" of squid, I suppose you could say), as that seemed to be what was offered judging by the book description. Instead, this book is mostly concerned with cephalopod research and the medical/military application of those findings.

Maybe my expectations were off, but I thought the author was someone who had a certain respect for her subject matter. What I discovered instead were repeated, disheartening, accounts in t
Nov 07, 2011 Punk rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Non-Fiction. Cephalopods throughout history.

Better written than Octopus: The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate and covering a lot of the same ground, using a lot of the same sources, but with an emphasis on squid.

The prose is easy and the author offers some good metaphors to describe unfamiliar concepts, but the structure and focus were a bit loose. The narrative jumps around enough that I had trouble remembering scientists introduced in earlier chapters. The section on squid axons was maybe too
Jan 22, 2012 Emily rated it liked it
Despite the title, the book looks at several types of cephalopod, not just squid. It's written at a pretty basic level, easily readable by pretty much anyone, and I enjoyed the first half in particular. In the latter half the author starts explaining how useful the squid have been to our understanding of human neurons, and turns into a basic lesson on biology and cell structure; as a biologist I already knew most of this so lost interest a bit. The author is clearly not a scientist herself and h ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Linnaea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
A very interesting and informative book about squid. This had a lot more science then just learning about the animal. Williams interviewed many different people on both the West Coast and the East Coast and she shares a lot of information. While there is information about each animal, there is also lots about neuroscience (yes, squid play a big part in the human brain), questions about intelligence (can mammals test the intelligence of an octopus) and the oddness of science (the idea for the cur ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Correen rated it really liked it

Squid, Octopi, Cuttlefish are an amazing lot! I have been fascinated ever since I saw video of squid changing colors. Williams provides a compelling account of cephalopods, a history of human interaction with them, their amazing capabilities, their contribution to human medical knowledge, and the questions they raise about the meaning of intelligence. It is fascinating to learn that squid neurons are so similar to humans that they can provide clues to Parkinson's disease, Alzheimers, and other n
Malcolm Logscribe
Nov 16, 2014 Malcolm Logscribe rated it it was ok
Pretty much nope.

Condescending. The book feeds you simplified nuggets and then giggles about how hard science is, and the author refers to male scientists by their last name and female ones by their first. It got to the point where the introduction of every new scientist would piss me off.

Lots of justifying research by whether we can use it for medicine (or for profit). Depressing.

Full disclosure: I did not finish this book. The author clearly didn't trust her readers to be interested in her bo
Nov 28, 2011 Melissa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-nerd
I absolutely loved this book. I agree with other reviewers in that the title is a sneaky marketing misnomer and the teeny black and white photos are so indistinguishable that they might as well have not included them, but in spite of this, I was completely fascinated from page one. Williams ties together so many interesting factoids, from the coining of the word serendipity to musings on measuring different types of intelligence, I was actually disappointed when the book was over; I could have h ...more
Kerri Stebbins
Feb 10, 2016 Kerri Stebbins rated it really liked it
This book reads a bit like a Marine Biology textbook. Which is to say: I was riveted. It rambles in places, could be more tightly edited in some places and perhaps more whimsically written in others, but ultimately I'm forever Team Cephalopod, reporting for duty.

[Four stars for a delightfully nerdy summary of enticing squid science, and five billion stars for our stunning, life-giving oceans.]
Jamie Gaughran-Perez
Jun 12, 2011 Jamie Gaughran-Perez rated it it was ok
This book started really strong, and certainly hit a lot of interesting points on animal intelligence and news of the weird of the cephalopod world, but Williams could have used a better editor. By the end it was getting repetitious -- re-treading facts and concepts she'd already shared -- and becoming more and more full of platitudes. A shame, because there is some great stuff to learn in here.
Jan 01, 2012 Marie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
A friend of mine suggested I read China Mieville's Kraken and I accidentally checked out this one, but I'm so glad I did. Williams' writing is so beautiful. You can feel her affection for the tiny Loligos and playful Truman, as well as her wonder. When science writers get it right, it's amazing -- and this is so, so right.
Cape Fisherman
Oct 12, 2012 Cape Fisherman rated it it was amazing
Well researched and presented, Wendy Williams captivates the reader with a perfect blend of science and story telling. I no longer look down at the lonely loligo and think bait, or appetizer, rather I think of the axon packed problem solver as the 007 of the underwater world.
Jul 27, 2012 Jack rated it it was amazing
Amazing - didn't really think I would like this as it was an impulse buy for my holiday but I was thoroughly impressed by it. Not too overbearing, as many popular science novels are, and easy to follow.
Aug 19, 2011 tuttle88 rated it it was ok
I wanted to enjoy this book because Cephalopods are really interesting but I found this book lacking. It felt disjointed and repetitive.
Apr 03, 2015 daniel marked it as to-read
Shelves: science
Recommended in Orion magazine.

3.5 stars

Kraken is one of those beautiful natural history hardbacks that I normally gaze longingly at for several minutes in the bookshop before reminding myself that a) it’s probably far too expensive for me b) I don’t read non-fiction that often and have a whole bookshelf of it already that I haven’t managed to read yet, and c) I’m not as much of a sciencey person as I would like to be and probably won’t understand it anyway. However, this winter I managed to get myself a temporary Christmas j
May 04, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it
Cephalopods, a group of animals that include octopuses and squid, may be some of the oldest creatures in the known world and can vary in size from a fraction of an inch to hundreds of pounds. In this wonderful exploration of one of the sea’s most mysterious class of creatures, Wendy Williams explores the strange and unique aspects of the cephalopod and explains why this odd creature may have done more for the advancement of medical science than any other animal in the world. She shares the reaso ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Matty added it
Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid
Wendy Williams

Throughout history Cephalopods have captured the imaginations of scientists, artists and writers alike. Why have these invertebrates had such an impact on our bipedal terra firma way of life? Well you need only read Wendy Williams' “Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid” to feel inspired yourself. This engaging and exciting book explores some of the history of the squid, touchi
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Wendy Williams is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor, among many other publications. She is the author of several books, including Kraken and Cape Wind, and is a lifelong equestrienne. She lives in Mashpee, Massachusetts.
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“The ocean, after all, is not about stability but about change. Change is normal. Everything changes. All the time.” 4 likes
“Cambrian animals were not particularly large at first, but they were plentiful and innovative. Jaws appeared. Eyes appeared. Nature began experimenting with weaponry.” 3 likes
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