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Eckerd Summer Reading Guide

Libguides for Summer Reading Books

Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller

Why Fish Don't Exist (2020) is both biography and memoir, exploring the intricacies of human existence through the lenses of science, atheism, and the very human need to find order in chaos. Author Lulu Miller weaves her way through her memories, echoing her existential struggles in the life of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist working at the turn of the 20th century. Finding herself inspired by Jordan's persistence and resiliency in the face of disaster, she looks for answers to her listlessness in his life and works. 

A prolific taxonomist, Jordan is responsible for discovering 2500 species of fish, nearly 20% of fish known at the time. However, as he rises through positions of power, from student to teacher to founding president of Stanford University, Jordan's beliefs become more static. His name is marred by his deep involvement in the study of and experimentation with eugenics, believing in the possibility of evolutionary degeneration and supporting compulsory sterilization practices. 

Chosen as the 2021 summer reading, students will be encouraged to read Why Fish Don't Exist (2020) in preparation for the fall semester 2021. Lulu Miller is the cofounder of NPR's Invisibilia, winner of a Peabody Award for science reporting, a writer, and an artist. She has been published in The New Yorker, Orion, and VQR, amongst others. Why Fish Don't Exist (2020) is her first book. 

In reading Why Fish Don't Exist (2020), students will not only meander sympathetically through the author's search for meaning, but will be brought face-to-face with the brutal realities of human cruelty and waywardness. This book encourages its readers to question the integrity of their role models and search for truth in the world around them. 

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Suggested Search Terms

  • Cladistics; taxonomy
  • Eugenics
    • Eugenics in America
  • Ichthyology
  • Morality in Higher Education
    • abuse of power AND higher education
  • Morality in Nature
    • morality and taxonomy
  • Order/Chaos
  • Science Journalism
  • Self-delusion
  • Social Change
  • Storytelling


Suggested Further Reading