Ryan's Reviews > Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks

Demon Fish by Juliet Eilperin
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's review
Jun 11, 2011

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

I was drawn to this book by the subject matter, and the title, and the jacket art, which features a looming shark staring straight at the viewer from behind text that appears to be sliding out of gill slits.

The book itself falls into a category I have no name for, but that I describe as "stuff that makes me feel powerless." While there are some positive notes of potential recovery amid the warnings of shark extinctions, the frequent mention of China's obsession with the tasteless practice of "finning" sharks for a tasteless ingredient in soup made me mentally bid sharks--misunderstood in their terror and glory--a sad farewell.

Once more than a billion people decide they want something ...

Still, while reading this book, I simultaneously received an e-mail from the Monterey Bay Aquarium urging me to contact my elected leaders in California and ask them to vote for legislation that would ban the sale of shark fins in the state. I sent an e-mail of my own wording--the first time I've ever done such a thing. It's better than simply feeling powerless.

Juliet Eilperin is a talented writer and obviously thorough investigator and reporter. But while I wouldn't quite call her prose clinical, it doesn't have the richness I was hoping for in a book about the ocean's--maybe the world's--top predators. Tales of shark callers with stone statuettes should shine with an almost mystical glow--but that's my preference. Eilperin was not out to beatify sharks, nor romanticize the people who rely on them for traditional, cultural, or economic reasons. She simply visits various countries and continents in search of stories and experiences she puts on paper to educate her readers. It's a noble goal.

So while her passion lacks creative depth, it is evident, and her approach keeps the book from being moist-eyed and preachy despite its repetition of statistics and quotes from experts that point to a future without sharks. What little we know about the fish is still enough to indicate that their absence would transform our oceans in dire and drastically surprising ways.

I am convinced of sharks' importance, as well as the necessity of their preservation, but I was to begin with. Now if only Eilperin could convince a billion or so people not in the choir to read her book. Barring that, does anyone have the resources to mount an ad campaign in Beijing? Maybe large billboards and bus ads with movie stars saying in Mandarin: "Only men with embarrassingly small penises serve and eat shark fins."

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