Sharks and Human Cadavers: Two Unrelated (if you can believe it!) Non-Fiction Book Recommendations

For all of you science-lovers looking for a good late summer read, I am recommending two books written by two talented female science non-fiction writers.

I recently became educated on the possible happenings of the human physique after death in, Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach.  The author’s first book is an important account of how we treat the dead. From the history of anatomy labs to head transplants, Roach’s anecdotes have made reading about dead bodies fascinating. Yes, there were times I was a little grossed out, but the topic and the writing kept me captivated.  What I love about Roach’s writing is that she asks all of the questions that you want to ask, especially the slightly inappropriate ones.  Roach is magically entertaining and humorous without being disrespectful to the dead.  In fact, I think she emphasizes the importance of giving thought to the various ways we could treat (or have treated, as the case may be) our own bodies after life.  In addition, she highlights that there are ways we can keep giving to science, education and the earth, even after we have left it.

Roach seems to be writing about something that she is genuinely interested in and takes the reader on her journey in self-education. I will definitely be picking up some of Roach’s other books (Bonk, Spook, and Packing for Mars).  She is mainly writing books these days but still writes for magazines like National Geographic, Wired, and The New York Times. I am looking forward to hearing her speak at this years AMWA conference.  Learn more about Mary and her writing at: http://www.maryroach.net.

I typically surf (or attempt to surf) in the waves off a coastal beach about 30 miles from the Farallon Islands.  While I am out there, waiting for the perfect wave, I often look for spouts from juvenile humpback whales or maybe even a porpoise fin.  After reading Susan Casey’s book, The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks, I also keep my eye out for signs of sharks (a human in a wetsuit on a surfboard does look a lot like a seal- the Great White’s favorite meal). Casey became interested with the islands and with the sharks after watching a documentary showing these massive predators circling small research boats.  This book is Casey’s account of her obsession and quest to experience the island and the sharks that frequent its waters.

The very rugged Farallon islands, nicknamed the Devil’s Teeth, are where Great White sharks call home during the autumn months.  Difficult (an understatement) islands to access, a handful of dedicated researchers stay on the island to track shark sightings and behavior.  In the first part of the book, Casey’s descriptions help you imagine the isolated living conditions of the Farallons and the enormity of these animals.   On the other hand, I don’t think you can truly imagine their greatness until you see one in person (Casey includes several photos in the book to help you get an idea).  She also incorporates the shark research that occurs out on and around the Farallon Islands. It is amazing that we know so little about these great animals.

I am not saying that I am on board with everything that the author did while on this self-fulfilling journey to be a pretend shark biologist, but it did instill a fascination and education of Great White Sharks that I hope to extend (by reading real research).  I feel that any shark aficionados may be disappointed with Casey’s lack of thorough research and conservation efforts.  In summary, this is a good ‘urban’ adventure read and you can learn a little about these captivating creatures.  I encourage any reader interested in White Sharks and the Farallon Islands to check out: http://www.prbo.org/cms/171.

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