Spineless by Juli Berwald
The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

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While the metaphors and analogies can be conspicuous (“Maybe the time of the jellyfish’s origin was an era before hunting, before aggression, before violence”) and the memoir thread doesn’t emerge clearly, the book doesn’t suffer too much for it.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

A former ocean scientist goes in pursuit of the slippery story of jellyfish, rediscovering her passion for marine science and the sea’s imperiled ecosystems.

Jellyfish are an enigma. They have no centralized brain, but they see and feel and react to their environment in complex ways. They look simple, yet their propulsion systems are so advanced that engineers are just learning how to mimic them. They produce some of the deadliest toxins on the planet and still remain undeniably alluring. Long ignored by science, they may be a key to ecosystem stability.

Juli Berwald’s journey into the world of jellyfish is a personal one. More than a decade ago, she left the sea and her scientific career behind to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas. Increasingly dire headlines drew her back to jellies, as unprecedented jellyfish blooms toppled ecosystems and collapsed the world’s most productive fisheries. What was unclear was whether these incidents were symptoms of a changing planet or part of a natural cycle.

Berwald’s desire to understand jellyfish takes her on a scientific odyssey. She travels the globe to meet the scientists who devote their careers to jellies; hitches rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild; raises jellyfish in her dining room; and throughout it all marvels at the complexity of these fascinating and ominous biological wonders. Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless reveals that jellyfish are a bellwether for the damage we’re inflicting on the climate and the oceans and a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.
 

About Juli Berwald

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Published November 7, 2017 by Riverhead Books. 346 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Spineless
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Above average
on Aug 28 2017

In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the messages sent by ocean life, and act to protect their environment, and ours.

Read Full Review of Spineless: The Science of Jel... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by KERRI ARSENAULT on Dec 15 2017

While the metaphors and analogies can be conspicuous (“Maybe the time of the jellyfish’s origin was an era before hunting, before aggression, before violence”) and the memoir thread doesn’t emerge clearly, the book doesn’t suffer too much for it.

Read Full Review of Spineless: The Science of Jel... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Brian Castner on Nov 07 2017

With Spineless, Berwald isn't writing a lean-in manifesto. Instead, she's doing something more universal, yet subtle. This is the story of looking back from a certain age and a certain place and assessing how you got there, how your life turned out the way it did...

Read Full Review of Spineless: The Science of Jel... | See more reviews from NPR

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