Matty's Reviews > Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid

Kraken by Wendy   Williams
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Aug 10, 2011


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

Throughout history Cephalopods have captured the imaginations of scientists, artists and writers alike. Why have these invertebrates had such an impact on our bipedal terra firma way of life? Well you need only read Wendy Williams' “Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid” to feel inspired yourself. This engaging and exciting book explores some of the history of the squid, touching too upon the octopus and cuttlefish in a straightforward, slightly anecdotal manner that manages to include all kinds of facts that are simultaneously intriguing and terrifying.

Considering how long ago this group of animals split from us in the evolutionary tree, it is truly remarkable how much we still have in common; from the mechanics of neurons to the biological manufacturing of dopamine (some squids have dopamine in their ink, it is speculated that it makes their predators 'high' and forget what they were doing). It is these and other common traits that have made the squid an invaluable asset in medical research for many years, without them (and their enlarged axon) neurological science would not be as advanced as it is today. Then there are the traits that set us apart, seemingly bizarre characteristics that the world of sci-fi would struggle to invent, the astounding colour changing properties of the chromatophors, the regeneration of limbs and body parts, blue blood (isn't that just creepy?!) and the list goes on.

Williams manages to engage you, astound you and disturb you all at once; a very clever thing when you consider that this book has exceedingly more questions than answers, this is not a fault of the writing or Williams but rather a lack of research done in the life of these amazing creatures. These days the burning question is what intelligence these animals have and how do we measure it? The brain structure of Cephalapods are decentralised, the squid has it's wrapped partly around it's throat and in the head while the octopus has its brain spread between the head and throughout it's eight limbs.

This book explores the work and stories of marine scientists in pursuit of the answers weaving in the history of the Cephalapod. The writing style here suits the general pop science audience and while one could be critical of the way ideas seem to be broken up and jump from one to the other, it is more of a device to avoid alienating the reader who does not want cold figures forced to them. If that is your thing then you will still be pleased with this book, the facts are there, hidden in the stories, making it a wonderful treasure hunt with numerous rewards.

“Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid” says it all in the title, a wonderfully vibrant exploration of the deep dark underwater world of some very very distant relatives.
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