Review – The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks

Susan Casey is a writer home sick when she comes across a documentary on great white sharks filmed at the Farallon Island. The islands, a bleak outcrop of rocks 26 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge are a dreary, perilous place at the best of times, but for great white sharks, a virtual paradise thick with elephant seals to feast on. When the sharks arrive for what is known as shark season, it becomes a dangerous place for man and beast but shark heaven for those creatures lurking beneath the surface. Casey, along with a few biologists who feel at home on the less than sparse island, becomes obsessed with the place and the sharks.

I love reading about sharks. Any kind of shark species really but the great white has a special allure. Is it the size? They can grow over 20 feet in length and weigh thousands of pounds. The fact that the species is an evolutionary throwback that hasn’t changed much in millions of years may have something to do with it too. For me, it’s more the idea that these sharks have a society, if you’ll humor me, and personalities all their own. Most people don’t think of sharks this way — these are far from cuddly animals — but they exhibit tendencies that can make you wonder. And, let’s face it, we know very little about them or the other creatures that inhabit the cold seas of this world of ours.

The author’s fascination with the sharks was an obvious plus for me. I’m one of those people who watches hours and hours worth of BBC, National Geographic, and Discovery channels programming dedicated to sharks. Air jaws? Sure. World’s deadliest sharks? Yes, please. If you aren’t a huge shark fan, this probably wouldn’t be something to draw you in. But the good news is that Casey, who comes from a magazine writing background, knows how to interest the reader in more than just the sharks. It’s also about the islands, the scientists who call the desolate islands home for months at a time, the seals, the birds, the tourist boats, and of course the sharks.

If you’ve ever had an interest in sharks, this book is a good read. Admittedly, I did have some issues with the author herself and the way I thought she glossed over a few events involving herself and her actions.  But I also understood that maybe not inserting herself into the book anymore than she already had was better for the story.

I’ve noticed that a good portion of my non-fiction reading, and non-fiction books on my list, are based around the ocean — sharks, squid, ill-fated trips to the North Pole. Maybe I should have given marine biology a try in college after all.

The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks

By Susan Casey

Henry Holt and Company

ISBN: 9780805075816

4 stars


Review – Demon Fish: Travels Through the World of Sharks

Demon Fish: Travels Through the World of Sharks

By Juliet Eilperin

Pantheon Books

ISBN: 978-0-375-42512-7

4 stars

Sharks.  Fish to be feared?  Or, should we be exchanging our fear for awe?  These ancient fish that have evolved for eons are now facing decimation, and in the case of certain species, humans are the ones doing the killing.  As the author points out, sharks are hard to love.  They aren’t soft and fuzzy and they’re saddled with all those teeth that look ready to take a leg off.  How do you make that appealing?  I found Demon Fish a very enjoyable read but I’m one of those people that believes sharks can be lovable or at the very least fascinating.

Traveling to South Africa, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, and Belize, Eilperin meets with shark callers, scientists, shark evangelists, fisherman, environmentalists, restaurateurs selling shark fin soup, and even meets a few sharks up close.  It’s all done in an attempt to understand what draws people to sharks with all their sharp teeth and fins.  Frankly, in some instances, it’s cold hard cash but for others, it’s true admiration.  Each though has a strange reverence for the fish even the ones that make their living off dead sharks.

It’s full of facts: what it takes to track a shark, DNA studies, the cost of shark fins, and shark fishing.  I found myself constantly amazed by the cash amounts assigned to certain parts of a shark’s anatomy.  I also wanted to follow my husband around citing random shark facts at him.  Considering my husband doesn’t share my love of sharks, he would have found this really annoying.  🙂  I would have found it enlightening and fun.

I’ve mentioned this before; I’m a huge fan of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  I actually wrote this while watching an episode on great whites so I guess it’s fitting that I’m posting it today.  While this book focused on the economy of sharks — their worth on the open market as well as their scientific and ecological worth — I enjoyed it.  I would have liked more information about specific species (Have you ever heard of a salmon shark or a goblin shark?) but that wasn’t the focus of the book, however, it was still a satisfying read.  If you have an interest in sharks, this is a good addition to your library.