Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone

By Juli Berwald
"Part travelogue, part memoir, part deep-dive (literally) into the world of jellyfish... Spineless can serve as inspiration for any of us to reclaim a creative space in the midst of family life." --NPR

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 have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting--microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity--is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers.

More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. She traveled the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders.

Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It's a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.

"Spineless is as mesmerizing, surprising, and beautiful as the jellyfish itself. Every page contains some astonishing treasure. If you cherish the sea, if you care about the environment, if you relish life on this sweet, blue planet, you will love this book." --Sy Montgomery, New York Times-bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus

"In this memoir/science-reporting mash-up, [Berwald] profiles one of the ocean's most intriguing creatures--the unique contractions it uses to propel through water, its acidifying habitat and its booming populations." --Scientific American

"An astonishingly gorgeous book... Science enthusiasts, curious animal lovers, and those who want to educate themselves more on climate change's effect on our oceans will find this book irresistible." --W Magazine

"Berwald's clear, delectable prose is accessible... The book forces the reader to reconsider the future of our planet, and of our role in it. It will, at the very least, leave you with a newfound appreciation of the translucent, spineless jellies." --Buzzfeed

"A wandering, compelling mixture of memoir and nature writing... [written with] clear, strong prose, a welcome help when dealing with the complex stew of biomechanics, chemistry and evolutionary theory that the subject entails." --Texas Observer

"Berwald offers an engrossing look at the enigmatic sea creature most easily recognised in its swimming 'medusa' form. . . . A revelatory science memoir." --BBC Culture

"It's a story of personal discovery, rediscovery of the underwater world, and an earth-spanning journey to study these complex creatures, all the while throwing into stark relief the importance of understanding and protecting our increasingly endangered marine ecosystems." --Southern Living

"Fascinating... Readers can't help but be swept away with enthusiasm... Full of humor and intrigue, Spineless is a seaworthy saga brimming with information about not only jellyfish but also about the health and future of the oceans and our planet." --BookPage

"Spineless explores not only jellies' suffering ecoysystem and our responsibility to the planet but also how Berwald strengthened her own backbond." --Real Simple

"Captivating and informative." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"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." --Kirkus Reviews

"In this astonishing adventure of a book, Juli Berwald takes us on a personal journey into the enchanting and mystifying aqueous world of jellyfish, and in so doing, sheds light on the vital ecological balances upon which our own survival depends." --Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being

"Like Bernd Heinrich, Juli Berwald illuminates an entire ecosystem through the lens of one remarkable group of creatures. I learned something from every page, not only about jellyfish but about the crucial role of marine scientists and their studies." --Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel and The Voyage of the Narwhal "With lucid, gorgeous, arresting language, Juli Berwald opens a rare window on the adventures of scientists at work, capturing the fabulously ingenious ways they make sense of our world. Spineless will leave you awestruck, revering the ever-more fragile brilliance of life on Earth." --Miriam Horn, author of Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman

"Unexpected and uniquely delightful." --Parade Magazine

"She swam with jellies, watched how quickly they disintegrate in fishers' nets, ate them in Japan, and kept them in a home aquarium, and as she revels in these spineless animals, she teaches us to delight in them, too." --Booklist

"Berwald excels at depicting the wonder and appreciation she has gained for the strange, gelatinous creatures and the ocean that sustains them... Jellyfish are fascinating in part because there's so much more to find out about them. In Spineless, Berwald demonstrates that our oceans represent a scientific frontier at least as exciting and promising as space, and posits jellyfish as a prime candidate for study and appreciation." --Shelf Awareness

"More than a mere look at jellyfish... [Spineless] provides plenty of food for thought for those seeking to make different choices in their treatment of the environment and in their own lives." --Library Journal


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ISBN: 9780735211261

About the Hardcover

Publisher Riverhead Books
Publish date 11/07/2017
Pages 352
ISBN-13 9780735211261
ISBN-10 0735211264
Language English

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