Thursday, August 18, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

This review appeared in the Stratford Gazette on August 17th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

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

by Wendy Williams
@SPL: 594.58 Wil

It's sunny and beautiful, the sand is warm under your feet and the breeze has died just enough that it's getting a little sticky on the beach. You dip a toe into the water - tentatively at first, then you give the ripples a little kick, just to see the sparkle. Next thing you know, you've plunged in over your head. Floating on your back, face warmed by the sun, supported by the cool depths, you think, “this is perfect.” Then, unbidden: “What I can't see below, can't hurt me.” Maybe you scull a little closer back to shore on that thought. Thus is ever was – no one can resist a good sea monster story.
And that's just what Wendy Williams gives us with Kraken. As with so many other popular science books in the last few years, Kraken is a sleek, quick read designed to give the best information - minus the overload - in a good story.
The title is a slight misnomer – Kraken deals also with the octopus, cuttlefish and nautilus, not just squid. The book opens by discussing the veracity of the more particularly terrifying stories of giant squid. Williams takes care to give readers all the creepy squid-attack details before turning to science to find the more truthful proportions of the fish stories. And the science is mighty interesting: Some species of squid really do have razor-like rings in their suckers that can help shred prey as the feeding tentacles draw it toward the squid's gnashing beak; other squid show great skill in problem solving (squid and octopi can take particularly creative approaches to spacial puzzles because they lack skeletons).
Having taken the time to creep out her readers with facts even weirder than squid fiction, Williams moves on to wider territory, like neuroscience. Turns out cephalopods have taught us an awful lot of what we know about the human brain. To find out what, particularly, Williams takes the reader onto ship's decks, into labs and aquariums, and even into the cephalopods themselves. This is to say nothing of the sex life of squid, which is horrifying enough to make The Bachelorette look romantic.
With her knack for narrative nonfiction and her genuine sense of wonder, Williams' Kraken resonates more deeply than readers will expect. This book is recommended to readers who've enjoyed popular science writing like Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. At a slight 200 pages, it packs a lot of juicy information in an entertaining package.

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