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The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  757 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
A journalist's quest to find a wild Asian arowana — the world's most expensive aquarium fish—takes her on a global tour through the bizarre realm of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet.

A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers thro
Hardcover, 319 pages
Published May 24th 2016 by Scribner
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I picked this book up at the airport on a whim although I had been dimly aware of it. A trip to Rarotonga seemed like as good a time as any to read a book about fish and adventures in jungles.

I am always on the look out for new engaging non-fiction writers that can weave a good story from often dry facts - Jon Krakauer and Erik Larson being my benchmarks. In the case of this book I wasn't at all sure I was interested in the aquarium fish industry but Emily Voigt changed my mind with her opening
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes, when you can't sleep and are awake at 3am you make terrible decisions. Decisions to worry about unimportant things; decisions to start businesses based on educating frogs; decisions that usually shouldn't be trusted. Other times you make great choices.

I couldn't sleep the other night and was trawling (fish puns so soon!) Audible for some non fiction to drift off to (I do like non fiction, it doesn't bore me to sleep) and this book was suggested to me as something other people were en
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Personally, I think the arowana is an ugly fish. Sorry. I also think that Voight would agree with me.

Thankfully, this book is highly enjoyable.

Voight’s interest in the fish starts with a trip to a housing project in NYC. Voight is accompanying Lt John Fitzpatrick of the State Environmental Police to talk to a man about an alligator. Her ride along is done as part of a story that she is doing for NPR, and it is though Fitzpatrick that she hears about the arowana be
May 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shocked me! Much more than some numbers of true memoir non-fiction zingers I've read this year, 2016. Some of which were supposed to be more startling by their trailers. Having some idea about biological forms in fish, their biodiversity and the world's ichthyologists past and present, because in the 1970's and 1980's we had 6 or 7 aquarium and numerous books upon their possible occupants? Well, I still had absolutely no idea about how far these obsessions can go. Not upon any of 20 fish related ...more
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
Once upon a time I had wanted to find out why a pet fish was so irresistible that people smuggled it into the United States, risking their very liberty. Three and a half years and fifteen countries later, I was now in Brazil (possibly illegally) pursuing the fish myself. At some point, things had gotten out of hand.

After being intrigued by stories of high stakes fish smuggling from a real life Pet Detective – Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick of New York's State Environmental Police – and in receip
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is non-fiction, science, biology, nature, environment, etc. This is one of those books that if it wasn't needed for a book challenge, it would probably never have made it into my TBR pile. And what a pleasant surprise this was. I really enjoyed this one. It was about aquarium fish, which TBH, doesn't sound particularly thrilling to me, but I loved the way the author presented this. It was highly readable and not once did I feel like she was talking over my head and not once was I bored ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Now, THAT's a title which grab's one attention and there was no way I was leaving the library without this nonfiction book.. Why, legend has it that one of these dragon fish sold for $150,000: an albino one with red eyes. If you love fish, you're going to enjoy this book. But for me this book served better as a travel book than as a book about the Asian arowana, or "dragon fish" as the inner jacket cover tells us. It seems we visit every ocean, sea, river, stream, lake, etc., in search of this " ...more
Jun 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love books about obsessive hobbies. The Map Thief, The Orchid Thief, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, even the crazy Japanese miniatures in Empty Mansions. This book takes it one step further by making the object of obsession an animal: A fish.

Google this fish. It is not an especially pretty fish! But because of its resemblance to Eastern-style dragons (snakier than Western ones, live in water instead of breathing fire) and an array of lucky colors like red and gold, it can go for hundreds of
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I Applaud this book for making a literal non-fiction book about a single fish sointeresting and Easy to read?? I was invested in the author's Successes and every time I wished she would Win. I liked all the people she met along the way and appreciated when they popped up again, also I can't believe everyone wanted to help her so bad likeverygood. The most Devastating story was Stephen the fish like how tRAGIC mygoodneSS. Anyways I'm glad I picked this up and read it,,, now I'm enlightened on ill ...more
Ben Goldfarb
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Dragon" was an enthralling journey into a fascinating corner of the exotic pet underworld. Greatly admire Voight's seamless melding of adventure narrative with ichthyology and conservation policy. Highly rec'ed for fellow fish lovers in particular. (Am I doing Goodreads right?)
Jared Ure
Jul 22, 2016 rated it liked it
The author is good with words, but the story sometimes felt thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. The thing I enjoyed about the book most was being exposed to a facet of the world that I'd never seen before and probably will never seen again.
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I so enjoyed this book, which I learned of via the Amazon Omnivoracious newsletter.
It has a little bit of everything: science, history, natural science, a quest, humor, biology, ichthyology...and a heck of a fish story.
Narrative Muse
– An adventure into the dark underbelly of the pet fish culture –

I don't like fish. When I was young, my parents had to tell me that there were “fishing lakes” and “swimming lakes”. I've overcome that now, but I still don't like them. I don't even like eating fish. If I’m out getting fish and chips with friends, I just get the chips.

But something surprising happens when I get a little distance from them. If you place a sheet of glass between me and a fish, well it's a whole different story. I fi
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting enough, but when reading these types of books, I often ask myself: Would this have made a better long-form Internet article? The answer here is definitely yes, even though I learned a great deal (minus half star for some “fishy” factual claims made by the author)
Mac Daly
Unless you love fish, or are interested in obsessive behavior, this may not hold your interest. The story of a rare tropical fish and what people will do to own one would have made a very engrossing article. As a full length book, it tends to drag.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was really good. Voigt is so informative without droning, and it was incredible how much information she could pack into short spaces.

The subject matter is incredible. On its surface, it is the story of the arowana pet trade, but she lets the story wind through the ethics of conservation, the lust for adventure and her own travel story.
Stewart Tame
Aug 04, 2016 rated it liked it
I stumbled upon this book by accident, and the cover drew me in. The jacket flap description was intriguing, and I realized that this was one of those books you don't even know you're looking for until you find it.

So, the World's most coveted fish would be the Asian Arowana. They are found in several different colors, red being one of the most sought after. They exist in large numbers in captivity, but are rare in the wild. Voigt delves into the world of aquarium fishes, the origins of the trade
Nov 12, 2016 rated it liked it
This story of a genus of aquarium fish that the author doesn't even particularly like is light and very readable. But it is yet another Unexpected Memoir, as much about the author's efforts to do her research as about the fish themselves. That leads to a lot of drollery with the author, a thoroughly urbanized New Yorker, launching into various wildernesses -- mostly, but not exclusively, in Southeast Asia -- and fish shows with eccentric modern-day explorer types (and, in one of the more extende ...more
Jul 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The book jacket says Emily Voigt is a journalist specializing in science and culture--right up my alley. This book chronicles her years-long search for a coveted (for aquariums) fish, which takes her to nearly-inaccessible and definitely dangerous locations in Borneo, Myanmar, and Colombia/Brazil. She has some kind of luck because she never got kidnapped or jailed. She has some kind of moxie because she relied on some real characters to get her where she needed to go. My "3" rating has less to d ...more
Rebecca Noah
Jul 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
I am very active in the aquaculture and aquarium hobby this was a waste of time. I'm currently pursuing a masters in environmental conservation, have a double bachelors degree in marine science as well as ecology and worked in the aquarium industry for two years. The best part of the book was the epilogue. The book was entirely self-involved. I expected this book to be a scientific and cultural exploration and it ended up just becoming a story about the author's adventure with some simplistic sc ...more
Oct 02, 2016 rated it liked it
I was surprised and disappointed that this book was more about the author's own obsession in finding an arowana in the wild than with the world of collectors and the intrigue surrounding them. On that front, it's mostly speculation and one murder in a pet shop that she doesn't have much to say about, other than it happened. And for all the discussion of secrecy and powerful and elusive forces, everyone in the industry seems remarkably willing to speak to her. Still, the adventure stories in Born ...more
Sep 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The paradox of a farmed and popular fish languishing in the wild might not sound like the basis for a riveting read, but I could not put this down. The arowana has grown in price and popularity since landing on the endangered list, which raises a number of philosophical questions about conservation. Voigt's quest to find the wild arowana and learn more about this one fish casts (sorry) a wide net. The characters are more spectacular than a fiction writer could dream up and propel this delightful ...more
RaChelle Holmberg
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to RaChelle by: Gail Holmberg
referred by a friend, interesting read, albeit somewhat clinical, but interesting to me, personally, as I do love to care for various aquariums, they are peaceful additions to a home and it was interesting to read about how the popularity came about in the 70s, amidst the thriller line of the book regarding the arowana.
(now Im looking at my dragon scale Betta in a totally different light, but no one died for me to obtain him. )
Not a really fast moving story to me, allow time, but a worthwhile r
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely phenomenal! Expertly written, "Dragon Behind the Glass" isn't just a book about the Asian arowana, but about how we as people understand the concept of species, endangered animals, and different parts of the world. So many different, amazing locations you rarely read about are covered in detail in these pages. If you care about nature, or are fascinated by it - lovers of Planet Earth need apply - you'll love this, and learn more than you thought possible about yes, fish.
Oct 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I would love to give this a higher rating, but the book is so haphazard. I thought I would learn about the underbelly of the pet fish world, and I did, sort of. But so much time is taken up with the author's meanderings and anxiety, that the story gets lost. It is more of a memoir of a woman in search of the super red Arowana in the wild and her travels and the people she meets and the places she tries to go. See what I mean - a hodge podge.
Jul 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
i don't remember why i picked this book up, but once i started it i couldn't put it down.

the book blends well Voigt's personal narrative, the history and a bit of scientific info about fish and ichthyology, and intrigue. although it's nonfiction, it's filled with interesting "characters", and though i learned a lot about the arowana and other fish and fish culture, it certainly didn't read like a textbook or anything similarly dry.
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early May and finished on Mother's Day. Love you, Mom!

Voigt's narration goes beyond just describing arowana, their buyers, and their rariety - she goes into the history of owning pets, of learning about arowana herself, following their owners and breeders around the world, and being an audience surrogate about the sheer mania and oddity of rare animal ownership (both legally and illegally).
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fun and engaging story, in the new vein of nonfiction research that's so delightful when done right. I appreciate the insight into one effect of global environmental damage woven through the narrative.

Gift from sis. Because at 8 I loved arawana.
Kenya Starflight
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-love
The cover of this book was the first thing to catch my eye, despite the old adage about not judging books by their covers -- that striking, sinuous scarlet fish on the cover draws the eye, as does the captivating title of "The Dragon Behind the Glass." (In retrospect, that's probably one of the best possible photos one could have chosen for the fish in question -- further illustrations and research prove it's actually sort of ugly...) And while the subject matter of rare aquarium fish might not ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, 2016-pub, non-fiction
When I read the above blurb – a pet fish that people commit murder over! – I knew I had to read this book. What with life and babies and all I didn’t read this right away, but when I read mention of an arowana getting plastic surgery in Rich People Problems it sparked my memory and I knew I had to read the Dragon Behind the Glass soon. And I learned Kevin Kwan didn’t make it up – people really are that extreme about the Asian Arowana!

Once I started reading I was hooked! (Also I’m clearly hilari
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Obsessed with Tru...: This topic has been closed to new comments. The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt 2 16 Feb 16, 2018 06:59AM  
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Emily Voigt is a journalist specializing in science and culture. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, OnEarth, and Isotope: A Journal of Literary Science and Nature Writing, as well as on the programs Radiolab and This American Life. The recipient of a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship, she holds degrees in English Literature and Journalism from Columbia Univers ...more
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