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Why Fish Don't Exist

A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life
Written by: Lulu Miller
Narrated by: Lulu Miller
Length: 4 hrs and 55 mins
5 out of 5 stars (28 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A “remarkable” (Los Angeles Times), “seductive” (The Wall Street Journal) debut from an extraordinary new voice in nonfiction, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, chaos, scientific obsession, and - possibly - even murder.

"At one point, Miller dives into the ocean into a school of fish...comes up for air, and realizes she’s in love. That’s how I felt: Her book took me to strange depths I never imagined, and I was smitten." (The New York Times Book Review)

David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake - which sent more than 1,000 of his discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered.

Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish that he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world.

When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a fool - a cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder about him. Perhaps instead he was a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. What she would unearth about his life would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet.

Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a wondrous fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.

©2020 Lulu Miller (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

What the critics say

"What a delightful book.... Ms. Miller wields [Radiolab’s] familiar format with panache, spinning a tale so seductive that I read her book in one sitting." (The Wall Street Journal)

"I want to live at this book’s address: the intersection of history and biology and wonder and failure and sheer human stubbornness. What a sumptuous, surprising, dark delight." (Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties)

"Stunning and brilliant and completely un-sum-up-able... I love this book so much!" (John Green, New York Times best-selling author of Turtles All the Way Down)

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What listeners say about Why Fish Don't Exist

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LISTEN

Literally the best audiobook in the history of audiobooks. Heartwarming and hopeful while being completely honest about not knowing about what to do and think in this world.

2 people found this helpful

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Phenomenal

I went and bought the physical book after listening just because I loved this book so much, no joke.

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Phenomenal

A rupture of warmth and hope in these bleak, covid times. Absolutely incredible work of nonfiction.

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Bloody LOOOOOOOOVED this book!

Loved it. Like a faceted gem. Need more time to articulate it. But love might have to cover it todsy.

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Don't miss this one!

The quirkiest, most interesting, most moving non-fiction book I have read lately. Listen, learn, enjoy.

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  • Matt
  • 2020-04-16

A Wonderful Ride

I don't usually write book reviews. Here I am, writing one for this absolute ride. Lulu will lift you up repeatedly, then, in the most loving way an author can, let you freefall until she catches you and does it again. There are so many important lessons to take away from every chapter, so many moments to learn healthy skepticism, to learn balance, to immerse yourself in experience and recognize how you are constructing it.

Absolutely wonderful. This is a must-listen. Thank you Lulu.

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  • anna
  • 2020-06-14

5 Stars 5 Emeralds 5 Rubies

1) Thank you.
2) Please write a shit ton more.
3) You are the best narrator.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Katherine McCormick
  • 2020-06-22

impossible to describe and impossible to put down

This was fantastic. I listened to it all in one day. Impossible to describe and impossible to put down

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  • Middle aged in California
  • 2020-06-06

wonderful intersection of science and humanity.

What a thoughtful, touching, smart book. I loved it. Don't usually do well with audio books, because I find it hard to keep my attention, but this one captivated me. Worth listening to again because the ideas are complex, and it is worth thinking about how to apply them to our own lives. Will send it to my young adult sons, and to my parents. Can't imagine anyone who would not benefit from this read.

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  • Natalie Harper
  • 2020-05-27

Part science part philosophy part hope

If you are a little part scientist and a little part philosopher or wonderer you will love this book. In this trying time we live in it may even give you a little hope and a new way of seeing the world.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-05-28

So many place’s...

I have never had a book, in print or audio, take me to so many places mentally. Great story. Great information. Great entertainment. I am officially a Lulu Miller fan. Nicely done.

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  • Alexandra Tchaoucheva
  • 2020-05-18

An absolute joy!

This audiobook is just wonderful! It’s my first audiobook to listen and as a long time Lulu Miller fan it was the right choice for a first. The book is both interesting for the science and history it presents and heartwarming for the tale of emotions and personal experiences it tells. I had a hard time not binge listening but I’m glad I didn’t as it is something to savor. Strongly recommend!

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  • rzrs1
  • 2020-05-17

So Great!!

Thought provoking, educational, accessible, entertaining and well read. It made me want to read all the books like it, but... I suspect the list is short. Highly recommended!!

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  • Uriens J.
  • 2020-05-17

Inspiring in a completely unexpected way

In the description of this book on Audible, it claims to offer a way forward for those of us who feel stuck. It says it will show you “how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.” In my search for books that could inspire me and keep me motivated, in spite of how hell-bent the world seems to be on keeping me in the status quo, this book appeared to promise what I needed.

I was essentially finished listening to it, when I believed it had not come through on that promise. It went to entirely different places that I had not even remotely anticipated. Even so, I really enjoyed the book. I loved that, in spite of what seemed to me (very much not a scientist) a ridiculous title, the author proved it true, which I found very enlightening. And then, in the epilogue, everything came together. The message of hope was there, loud and clear, the reasons to trudge on against seemingly insurmountable odds was revealed. A more astute reader may have picked up on it sooner, but for me it took Lulu Miller explaining it to me. And I’m glad she did.

Along with this message is an invitation to those who have closed their minds and stubbornly hold to false beliefs that either hurt them or hurt society. Open your mind and question everything. Because ultimately, it’s true, fish do not exist. Your confident beliefs are wrong. And that is actually freeing. Who’d have thought that not confidence, but doubt is the way forward?

On a side note, I do recommend the audiobook, if for nothing else but the added little bonus at the end for listeners only. It made me smile. Shish, indeed.

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  • SuzieChhouk
  • 2020-08-09

A great journey

Lulu is such an amazing writer. This easily could have been such a cut and dry biography about David Star Jordan, but she has a brilliant way with words and I so appreciate what she shared of her own story.