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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,498 ratings  ·  176 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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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  1,498 ratings  ·  176 reviews

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Emma Sea
Dec 08, 2013 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
Greta G
Feb 24, 2017 marked it as wishlist-nonfiction
This sexist review makes me want to read the book even more :

For a guy who read that much, and wants to be the mayor of Atlanta one day, he strikes me as awfully narrow-minded.
Dec 24, 2016 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
Jun 19, 2011 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
Jul 24, 2011 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
Apr 16, 2011 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
Oct 05, 2011 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 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. ...more
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
Nov 07, 2011 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
Sarah Porter
Mar 04, 2011 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 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.

Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book was all over the place.

It started off so interesting and I know that Wendy Williams knows her biology because she was very immaculate when it came to discussing the science behind events. However, as a writer, there was no focus on this story.

We had many minor stories that just get cut off as a supposed conclusion but it fails to shed any light into the mysterious world of squid. The part that did focus on squid was perfect (hence the 2 stars) but everything else fell flat. Als
Dec 16, 2012 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
Malcolm Logscribe
Nov 16, 2014 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
Kerri Anne
Feb 10, 2016 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 Perez
Jun 12, 2011 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.
Ugh, what a disappointment. I wanted a book about squids, but most of the book is actually about scientists who study squids or evolution. Add to this writing that is amateurish and condescending (and really, really unscientific) and I give up.
Aug 19, 2011 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.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
this book made me love squid (even more)
John G
Jan 25, 2015 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
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book had some potential and some interesting facts in it, but it really needed some tightening up.

First off, the title. It puts an emphasis on "Kraken" making me think that Kraken and Giant Squid are going to be a significant part of the book. But they're not. If I were to name one squid this book was about I'd say the Humboldt squid stole most of the time. The Giant Squid really is only used to snare the reader in. A couple squid legends are mentioned in passing and there's not much else o
Jul 11, 2011 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
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although Kraken's subtitle focuses on the squid, this book actually expands across three cephalopods: the squid, the octopus, and the cuttlefish. Like others, I had some concerns with this book. Williams' enthusiasm of the subject is clear, and her journalism background makes a highly scientific subject incredibly readable. One of my qualms with this book is that much of the Williams' own interest in squid is their giant axon, which is removed from the dissected body of the squid and transported ...more
Conner Fulton
Feb 26, 2013 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
Todd Martin
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Most readers will find the title of Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid a bit misleading. First of all, the book looks at an array of cephalopods – octopi, cuttlefish and nautiluses in addition to squid, second of all, I didn’t find anything I’d consider slightly disturbing, and finally, the mythological Kraken was largely ignored. Three strikes for the marketing geniuses who came up with that title.

With that out of the way, I find myself struggling to come u
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an interesting book, but it sure wandered far from its center. I had some trouble with the fact that the author called female subjects by their first name and males by their last. This may have been an error in the editing, but I thought these scientists should be treated equally. There were interesting side trips into jellyfish, cuttlefish and octopuses. And long portions dedicated to the axon and its variety of uses in research, which led to the workings of our brains and what constit ...more
Jan 22, 2012 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
Sep 30, 2012 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
Aug 21, 2014 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
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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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