4 hours 55 minutes| Simon & Schuster Audio | Nonfiction | Release Date: 4/14/2020
Science reporter Lulu Miller is maybe best known as the co-founder of the Invisibilia podcast. I remember when she left the show to write a book and when I saw her book on Scribd I decided to check it out.
This book is a mix of memoir, nature writing and biography as Miller dives into the life of 19th-century ichthyologist David Starr Jordan and his obsessive quest to categorize every existing fish. Miller became fascinated with Jordan during a bleak period in her own life and seeks to learn what drove Jordan to create order out of chaos when everything was falling apart around him.
This book is very public raido-y, there are a lot of interesting ideas in it and there is no one better to read the audiobook than Miller, a public radio reporter. I could see the value in a book about persevering during chaos, especially in times like these. But I had one big problem with this book (and this might just be me not doing research thing) because about halfway through the book we learn David Starr Jordan was an advocate for eugenics and forced sterilization. He funded incredibly racist research that led to thousands of forced sterilizations and was later used to defend the holocaust among other things.
It’s just odd to me that Miller would write someone like Jordan as this endearingly quirky and inspirational anti-hero for the first half of the book. I just checked the cover copy and none of the eugenics stuff is even hinted at on there.
Miller does turn on Jordan in the end and brings it around on the horrors caused by eugenics. She even gives modern day victims of forced sterilization (a lot of which happened at a facility 2 hours from where I live) a voice.
While I really enjoyed parts of the story, the perspective kind of irked me…which is also the reason I stopped listening to Invisibilia.
Even though I knew nothing about science in the late 1800s the idea of naturalists and people “discovering” animals has always given me “I’m not sure if this is racist but it don’t feel right” vibes.
David Starr Jordan was the founding president of Stanford and I was no at all surprised to see the school is looking at taking his name of a building.
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.