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Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  7,929 ratings  ·  1,426 reviews
A wondrous debut from an extraordinary new voice in nonfiction, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, chaos, scientific obsession, and—possibly—even murder.

David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published April 14th 2020 by Simon Schuster
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Lucas If you make a group that includes bony fish like bass and non-bony fish like sharks the group would span to include mammals, which we don't consider f…moreIf you make a group that includes bony fish like bass and non-bony fish like sharks the group would span to include mammals, which we don't consider fish. So our understanding of fish doesn't conquer with the actual order of life.(less)

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Average rating 4.26  · 
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 ·  7,929 ratings  ·  1,426 reviews

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Elyse  Walters
May 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Audiobook read by the author, Lulu Miller

This was a book that I appreciated more than really enjoyed.
.... My mind drifted off to much...
.... it took me forever to understand what the author was trying to say. She was trying to figure out chaos from Jordon, ( he had plenty in his life), and how it affected her life.’s still a little puzzling why Lulu picked David Starr Jordon to study in relationship to her needs.
....Lulu thought Jordon had a handle on life - and she might learn how to d
Diane S ☔
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Her life unraveling, a failed suicide attempt, and NPR reporter Lulu Miller finds herself searching for a way out of the chaos of her life. She becomes fascinated with David Starr Jordan, a taxidermist, who spent his life up to then, collecting and labeling fish. He traveled the world to find as many different examples, it was his life's work. A collection he would lose most of in the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. What fascinated Miller was that he didn't give up, he saved what he could, fou ...more
Hayley DeRoche
I cannot fully express how perfect this book was for reading during COVID-19 crisis. It's perfect. It's Chaos, it's order, it's loss, it's love. ...more
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to jenny✨ by: Ellen, who always kills her recs. This one's no exception.
I have decided that science writers are some of my favourite writers. Ed Yong, Rebecca Skloot, Steven Pinker… and now Lulu Miller. The artistry involved in translating science—academese, jargon, centuries-old primary sources, research both debunked and cutting-edge—to literature is unparalleled.

The work of good science is to try to peer beyond the “convenient” lines we draw over nature. To peer beyond intuition, where something wilder lives. To know that in every organism at which you gaze, t
Gail C.
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I first opened this book, I was expecting more of a biography on the life and studies of taxonomist and former Stanford University President David Starr Jordan. His work in classifying fish was groundbreaking in his day, marred by the destruction of many of his exhibits in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Once I began reading, I discovered much more. There were many details about David Starr Jordan and his work, at times perhaps more than I would have liked. However, the details were given
Lexi (Reads and Riesling)
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On the surface, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a biography of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist who discovered and named about 20% of the fish known to man. Miller highlights his entire life: from naming stars to naming fish. Jordan was a revolutionary. That’s not to say he did not have his flaws—he had MANY. He was an early proponent of eugenics and encouraged the government to enact legislation that would allow for the legal sterilization of individuals deemed “unfit.” I’m not sure about you, but I di ...more
Jan 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
I wanted to like this more. Miller is a gifted writer and her subject is fascinating, and she does a good job of untangling the various threads that make David Starr Jordan both compelling and fascinating.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the tone of hokey cuteness. (Miller's bio says she is a "frequent contributor to Radiolab, which I find nearly insufferable for this exact tone.) The jokey tone is at best irritating, and at worst, as when the writer refers to a dictator responsible for the d
“When I give up the fish, I get, at long last, that thing I had been searching for: a mantra, a trick, a prescription for hope. I get the promise that there are good things in store. Not because I deserve them. Not because I worked for them. But because they are as much a part of Chaos as destruction and loss. Life, the flip side of death. Growth, of rot.”

Incandescent! I read ravenously; Lulu Miller’s winsome prose is addictive. The complicated story of scientist David Starr Jordan merges with M
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
just read it bro
Apr 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Megan O'Hara
Jan 07, 2021 rated it did not like it
hmmm...this whole about a eugenicist and it tries to bury the lede and shock you that he is one of the most prominent American eugenicists of all time??? seems like something you would find out, say, googling him and not after mapping some weird life plan over this template set by this man who you can tell sucks before the big *reveal".... but regardless of any of that (🤨) it's full of forced themes, overwrought metaphors, and I cannot believe it is book length given this story probab ...more
Nerdette Podcast
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough good things about this book. It's the perfect invitation to find beauty and solace in uncertainty and chaos. READ IT! ...more
Andreea Bota
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
More than a book about the sad tragedy of a fish collection. A book about the meaning of life when you keep on losing in that said life, with the fascinating story of a scientist and the great questions and insights of a persistent and insightful reporter like Lulu Miller is.
Erin (roostercalls)
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-reads
“[I]t is our life’s work to mistrust our measures. Especially those about moral and mental standing. To remember that behind every ruler there is a ruler. To remember that a category is at best a proxy; at worst, a shackle.”

Right at the corner of depth and whimsy sits Lulu Miller. Fans of NPR's Invisibilia will delight in this long-form nonfiction by that podcast’s co-creator, and those unfamiliar with her work have a treat coming when they discover her inimitable storytelling capability.

5 stars, I'd give it 10 stars. A book even as I finish it I know I will never forget. One I just want to inhale and have much of what I read become part of my own DNA. Had to buy the book so I can look back at it at my leisure whenever I feel my own self taking the natural world around me for granted. This is a book about a woman looking for live's meaning. A scientist in the early 20th century looking to name and order the natural world, a world renown university, its beginnings and its unsolve ...more
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Welp, Goodreads ate my thoughtful and careful review of this book. In a nutshell, this book could potentially change your whole worldview, especially if you're feeling the deep existential despair that a lot of us are feeling in 2020. My only beef with it is that it took too long to get there going down an uncomfortable path and I almost DNFed this at 50%. I can't really describe this book... it doesn't know what it wants to be, but that's fitting for the point it makes. It's a little bit memoir ...more
Why Fish Don’t Exist
By Lulu Miller

What? Of course, fish exist. Check out the internet. Or the ocean. Or your husband’s fish tank. Or your fish taco.

Make an incredibly outlandish statement, with confidence and push. Deliver with a smile against a questionable background that may or may not have anything to do with the real topic at hand. Your results will be brilliant. This is one of those ploys to get a reader to crack open a book – will get a consumer to buy, a fish to bite, a citizen to vote
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was so much more than I expected. In the same way the book talks about taxonomy and how fish as a category is simplistic and inaccurate, this book straddles many genres.
The audiobook has an original sign off from the author and her wife, and I'd hope they know that I have in fact not heard enough and will wait patiently for her next book.
Jessica Dai
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Fish, quite literally, don't exist--and while the explanation is fascinating in its own right, this book is really about Miller's very personal and yet possibly universal struggle with figuring out what's the point? It's about the very familiar (to me) feeling of scrabbling for any semblance of meaning in a world where everything ultimately feels inconsequential; it's about the stories we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night.

Lulu Miller is incredibly talented. The book reads like a series of
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book kept me up reading all last night. It is the 3rd book that’s made me cry, right after Paper Menagerie last month. Miller does a fantastic job interweaving her own journey for purpose with a deep dive into the life of someone we rarely think about today. The twists she takes you through are so unexpected, even after I realized that the book’s subject was the first president of my alma mater, Stanford. You feel like you’re right there with her as the story delves into the consequences of ...more
Tonti Riyad
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I would have liked this book even if John Green hadn’t recommended it. I loved loved the very beginning when the wondrous child taxonomist was first being introduced, and couldn’t put it down when things got extraordinarily rough. It was interesting to read through the intertwining of science and philosophy- especially the critique of ethics in science. I had known about the nonexistence of fish as a taxonomic classification prior to the book, but I think Lulu Miller has explained it with a lot ...more
Ari Levine
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
Gave up halfway. This might have worked as an hourlong episode of Radiolab, packed with forced scientific wonder and self-indulgent millennial quirkiness, but falls utterly flat on the printed page. Desperately needed surgical editing. Especially for sentence fragments.
Athena Lathos
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
While I think I am 150% the target audience for this book (especially with its careful exploration of the roots of despair, contemplation of both the expansive and microscopic delights of the natural world, and thoughtful grappling with the violent past of an academic hero-figure), I am confident that folks with a variety of different scholarly pursuits would find comfort and beauty in these pages.

The fact that the text tracks Miller's own depressive tendencies, discusses the history of eugenics
Maggie Cleary
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-shelf
Summary: Miller writes about the life story of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist who also served as Stanford's first president. She intertwines his story with a few anecdotes from her own life, in addition to a number of other frolics she's prompted to explore based on Jordan's life.

OK. I've got a lot of thoughts.

First and foremost, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fun (for the most part) and really really easy for a millennial to read. Miller writes like a millennial, or like a radio
jasmine sun
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was ok
lulu miller is more writer than historian. this book - and history - suffers for it.

this book is structured in a strange way. each chapter peels back a different facet of jordan's life analogized to her own, though neither are told chronologically. the first half of the book paints jordan as a quirky but sympathetic character, until a sudden descent into covering up jane stanford's murder and advocating for forced sterilization.

here's the problem: jordan was a eugenicist and white supremacist t
Damn this is a good book. Twists, turns, sometimes sad, frequently funny, and right up there with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. This is going to be on my best reads of the year for sure.
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book follows the author's deep dive into the life of David Starr Jordan, analysing and trying to decode his psyche. It follows her attempt at sense making of her own life by meticulously studying a man who she is drawn to because of the polar oppositeness of his nature to her own. What occurs then is a roller coaster ride that includes loss, success, grit, adventure, rags to riches, and so much more. This book is part biography, part murder mystery, part psychology, part self help? It's har ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020
Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life took me on a journey I wasn't at all expecting. Miller uses David Starr Jordan as a lens to explore how we overcome setbacks and make meaning out of Chaos. There's certainly a discussion of Jordan's life and accomplishments, but I would be no means call this a true biography of him. Honestly, I think that was perhaps what I liked most about Why Fish Don't Exist. As an individual, Jordan certainly accomplished a lot (not al ...more
Tori Thompson
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time with this one. It was well written, felt well researched, and the audiobook was a solid performance by the author. I'm not surprised at the book's overall rating, and think if it had covered almost any other subject I would've enjoyed it a lot more. But I went into it already knowing that David Starr Jordan was a bastard eugenicist, and it made reading the first 75% of this book and its glowing account of his life and work and perseverance uncomfortable to the point of excrucia ...more
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Play Book Tag: Why Fish Don't Exist - 3 stars 1 18 May 16, 2020 08:34PM  

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Louisa Elizabeth Miller, better known as Lulu Miller, is an American writer, artist, and science reporter for National Public Radio. Miller's career in radio started as a producer for the WNYC program Radiolab. She now co-hosts the NPR show Invisibilia with Alix Spiegel. ...more

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“When I give up the fish, I get, at long last, that thing I had been searching for: a mantra, a trick, a prescription for hope. I get the promise that there are good things in store. Not because I deserve them. Not because I worked for them. But because they are as much a part of Chaos as destruction and loss. Life, the flip side of death. Growth, of rot.” 21 likes
“Perhaps the greatest gift ever bestowed upon us by evolution is the ability to believe we are more powerful than we are . . . You walk around with the fundamental belief that the world is uncaring, that no matter how hard you work there is no promise of success, that you are competing against billions, that you are vulnerable to the elements, and that everything you ever love will eventually be destroyed. A little lie can take the edge off, can help you keep charging forward into the gauntlet of life, where you sometimes, accidentally, prevail.” 11 likes
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