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Publisher's Summary

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an OctopusThe Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world’s most elusive fish - the eel - and a reflection on the human condition.

Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the “eel question”: Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth, and we still don’t understand what drives them, after living for decades in freshwater, to swim great distances back to the ocean at the end of their lives. They remain a mystery. 

Drawing on a breadth of research about eels in literature, history, and modern marine biology, as well as his own experience fishing for eels with his father, Patrik Svensson crafts a mesmerizing portrait of an unusual, utterly misunderstood, and completely captivating animal. In The Book of Eels, we meet renowned historical thinkers, from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud to Rachel Carson, for whom the eel was a singular obsession. And we meet the scientists who spearheaded the search for the eel’s point of origin, including Danish marine biologist Johannes Schmidt, who led research efforts in the early 20th century, catching thousands upon thousands of eels, in the hopes of proving their birthing grounds in the Sargasso Sea. 

Blending memoir and nature writing at its best, Svensson’s journey to understand the eel becomes an exploration of the human condition that delves into overarching issues about our roots and destiny, both as humans and as animals, and, ultimately, how to handle the biggest question of all: death. The result is a gripping and slippery narrative that will surprise and enchant. 

©2020 Patrik Svensson (P)2020 HarperAudio

What listeners say about The Book of Eels

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tangential attack on religious belief

Is it possible to know what's it's like to be a bat or an eel? No. At best one can know what it's like to be a human pretending to be a bat or a fish.

In one chapter of the book, the author is a non-believer pretending to know what it's like to be religious, and fails to understand. In a book about eels, I find it wildly inappropriate to say things like, "only a fool believes in the Resurrection." He musings on religious belief are shallow at best. Faith and Reason are not mutually exclusive terms. The author would do well to stick to biology and leave the philosophy of religion alone.

16 people found this helpful

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Fascinating and profound

I liked this a lot. I love popular science books, there is so much interesting stuff in the real world.
The reader was wonderful, great accents.
The science about eels is intertwined with the authors touching memories of his father. Eels are weird!
Sometimes the philosophical musing annoyed me but they were brief. My main complaint is one I have about many popular non-fiction books. More editing needed. Too much repeated material. In this book I think this is partly because parts of it were published in magazines (I read some in the New Yorker) so the author explains things more than one time.
Please, publishers, make the authors cut the repeats out! Even the much praised Historian Ron Chernow does this.

13 people found this helpful

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Skip the first hour of the book

In truth, I wanted to like this book. But after struggling to stay awake during the dreadfully tedious first hour, I couldn't force myself to listen any further. Perhaps it got interesting further on however the first hour only deals with misconceptions about the eel from Aristotle to the present day as well as the author's childhood experiences of catching eels with his father. The first five chapters of the book and I've learned nearly nothing about eels! Not worth the time.

9 people found this helpful

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Gifted writer

I loved this book as much for the author's psychological insight as for the hard facts regarding the species. He's a wonderful writer and his love for his father, as well as the natural world, informs the book. A pleasure to hear.
PS: I still get weak behind the knees when it comes to eels, but I admire them more than ever.

8 people found this helpful

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Fascinating topic, beautifully told

The best popular science book that I have read/heard in years. Thoroughly informative, yet deeply personal. Narration captures the wonder and mystery perfectly. Highest recommendation.

6 people found this helpful

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Great read and enjoyed the narration

Great book and really interesting on the mysterious ways of the eel, and the odd behavior in the Sargasso Sea.

4 people found this helpful

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Highest recommendation

I was referred to this title by a friend who knew I really enjoyed the commodity driven world history Salt. This book reads/ listens like a peaceful dream state, a conceit explicitly and implicitly referenced and applied throughout. And I would be remiss if I didn't gleefully admit to three words leaping forth in mind during this very enjoyable weekend read: Loch Ness Monster. Enjoy!

3 people found this helpful

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Important and lovely--this is a marvelous book

I love this book, above all others I have read this year. It is a totally unexpected read, rich in the elements of a novel and a true nature study.

2 people found this helpful

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Wandering Subject , No End Sighted

Thought maybe this would be all about eels. Actually all about whatever popped up in author’s mind while talking about the mysterious lives of eels. Not so easy to listen.

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An exceptional book

I am sorry that the book ended, I liked it that much. I chose it because I am working on a short story that features an eel. I had no idea that Patrick Svensson’s book would touch on so much—natural history, mass extinction, spirituality, social history all woven into a real page turner of a book. I highly recommend it as an engrossing read.

1 person found this helpful