Book Report: A very slippery tale

The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

Patrik Svensson

Taking the recommendation from my sister-in-law, I put Eels on reserve at the library. After all, I enjoy both eating unagi and reading well-written nonfiction. Eels is partly the author’s memoir of eel fishing with his father in Sweden and partly natural history. Throughout the telling, the mystery of the eel is explored, if not answered. I learned a lot.

Here’s a sampling.

“To a person not acquainted with the circumstances of the case, it must seem astonishing, and it is certainly somewhat humiliating to men of science, that a fish which is commoner in many parts of the world than any other fish . . . which is daily seen at the market and on the table, has been able in spite of the powerful aid of modern science, to shroud the manner of its propagation, its birth, and its death in darkness, which even to the present day has not been dispelled. There has been an eel question ever since the existence of natural science.”

“No human has ever seen eels reproduce; no one has seen an eel fertilize the eggs of another eel; no one has managed to breed European eels in captivity.”

“We believe mature silver eels swim all the way back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, that it’s the only place they breed and that none of them leave there alive. We believe it because everything points to its being true and because no one has offered any plausible alternatives…When we say we know the eel procreates in the Sargasso Sea, there are still some essential objections to that statement: (1) No human has ever seen two eels mate. (2) No one has ever seen a mature eel in the Sargasso Sea.”

Author, Patrik Svensson

“We all came from the sea once, and therefore anyone wishing to understand life on this planet has to first understand the sea.”

So many questions, still. And with the world’s eel population decreasing precipitously, how can we save them and perhaps ourselves from extinction if we can’t answer the most basic questions?

In short, I recommend this surprising, enlightening, and very enjoyable read.

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