Genre: Adult Science Nonfiction
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library Audiobook
Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Decomposition, animal death, climate change, animal cruelty
Whales will always be my favorite thing. So large, so unaware of their size. Such a strange route to evolution, where the progenitor whale went back into the sea, rather than staying in the ocean depths.
The angle this book takes isn’t one that’s strictly about whales. It’s about these gentle giants in concert with both the human world and the natural world. How much we can learn about climate change can also be elucidated from examining their biology. Captivating, anecdotal, and quite funny in places at the absurdity of man, I learn a little bit more with each new whale book I read.
Giggs’ narrative starts and ends with a dead whale. It’s gruesome but also fascinating. Then she goes into how much we can learn from them based on their composition, like the chemicals in its blubber and blood. How those things wind up in the whale’s body. It’s the type of focused discussion of ecology that I found very effective as Fathoms moves from chapter to chapter.
My favorite part of this book was when Giggs defines how people define charisma and how that affects the perceived personhood of an animal. The way Giggs uses definitions to make her case, like the difference between songs and twitters. The level of detail stems from a genuine love of this subject matter. This is especially apparent in the sections talking about different cultures and the intimate relationship between food and culture. How one culture can view a whale as strange to eat, while the other eats it with reverence or out of necessity.
The anecdotes do as much work as the research itself. This book is personal, but not in a way that is overly sentimental towards Giggs. In that way, the reader can also feel the fascination. And that’s what makes it work. If these aren’t enough reasons to pick this one up, the discussions of pre-twenty-first century sailors and the lore of sea monsters is a particular delight.