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

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  5,240 ratings  ·  932 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
...more
Kindle Edition, 240 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 4.29  · 
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 ·  5,240 ratings  ·  932 reviews


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Olive Fellows (abookolive)
STUNNING. Check out my full review on booktube: https://youtu.be/Dm3b5v9k36s ...more
Elyse  Walters
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.
....it’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
...more
Diane S ☔
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gail C.
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Lexi (Reads and Riesling)
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
Stephen
Jan 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Abby
“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
...more
Pascal
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
just read it bro
Akansha
Apr 19, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nerdette Podcast
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
Megan O'Hara
Jan 07, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
hmmm...this whole book....is 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
Erin (roostercalls)
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Mille
...more
Andreea Bota
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kerry
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
Carey
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Moonkiszt
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
...more
Allison
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Maggie Cleary
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Nadha
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Emma
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Jessica Dai
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Sarah Gantsoudes
I was blindsided by this extraordinary synthesis of biography, metaphysics, human folly, and memoir. Lulu Miller has a deft handle on her complicated subject, the naturalist and eugenist, David Starr Jordan, but his story is mere scaffolding for an unexpected array of material. It is the humane contents of Miller's own self-excavation that coheres the rest.

A charming, lively, near perfect book. I can't wait to read it again.
...more
Mitch Karunaratne
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
A quirky book that defies easy description. Writing about David Starr Jordan - isn't easy - he's a man with a distinctly dark past and abhorrent set of ideas about the world. However, Miller's passion to reveal his story, her weaving of biography, memoir, autobiography and science makes a really thoughtful, different reading experience that will linger in my mind for a long while. ...more
Alecsandra Litu
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It's been great to start the year with such brilliant writing. No word is wasted and the vibe she creates is eery. Depth & insights as well. Beautiful!! ...more
Bethany
Three stars feels a bit unfair, but based on Goodreads description for three stars - "I liked it" - it's accurate.

Why Fish Don't Exist is an interesting exploration of science, the natural world, racism, hope, prejudice, psychology, language, depression, and the meaning of life. The author, Lulu Miller (editor and co-founder of one of my very favorite podcasts, NPR's 'Invisibilia') intertwines her own life story with the telling of that of David Starr Jordan's.

David Star Jordan... ichthyologist
...more
Scott Wilson
Thematically, tonally, structurally, this is exactly as messy as the unwieldy subtitle promises, less pop science or bio lite than a self-help memoir from the author to the author. But it's a frequently entertaining and occasionally affecting mess, even when Miller indulges some distracting tics that underscore her self-involvement. (She loves to break not especially complex thoughts into dramatic. Stop-start. Sentence. Fragments.) Outweighing these issues are Miller's voice, which is disarming ...more
Raluca
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Something like a quarter into the book, I'd made up my mind. Sort of a The Invention of Nature meets The Telling Room, this was going to be a light, interesting biography, a feel-good nonfiction-meets-the-author's-feelings.
I was monumentally wrong. Monumentally. (view spoiler)
...more
Joe Kessler
I'm not a big fan of this style of popular nonfiction that blends a history lesson with the writer's personal journey to learn it, but even considered against others from that genre, this 2020 book feels pretty thin. In an effort to control the chaos of her own life -- presented as a whirlwind blend of self-harm, depression, suicide attempts, and other drug and alcohol abuse -- debut author Lulu Miller relates how she has researched David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist of the early twentieth century ...more
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Play Book Tag: Why Fish Don't Exist - 3 stars 1 17 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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