Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller (Review by Andrew H. K. For The Beacon)

Note: Author Lulu Miller will be discussing her book Why Fish Don’t Exist Live via Zoom on The Book Nook & Java Shop’s facebook page Wednesday June 3rd at 6pm.)

“Natura non facit saltum (Nature does not make jumps)”

Axiom shouted by Charles Darwin originating from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

And so you’ll get there, the reason for the title of the book, written by a great new writer whose best books are surely ahead of us. By the end you’ll find out why fish don’t exist, which is the concept for her nonfiction hybrid page turner that is a casual but expansive book that uses … Natura non facit saltum, as the rule that all the interweaving stories follow.

Why Fish Don’t Exist is part biography, a critique of the risks of the scientific method in the hands of the wrong person; it’s a subjective memoir and a philosophical study of semantics. Why fish don’t exist is many things, but what it is not, is dull.

            Going back and forth through time, eras, personal histories and societal changes (both positive and disastrous) achievements in science, Lulu Miller (as a little girl) has her world view shattered when one day her father tells her, you don’t matter, none of this matters, and the universe doesn’t care about you, but that’s alright and it’s beautiful. Of course, I’m paraphrasing but that is the push for the narrative from where all the dominoes fall.

The narrator of this nonfiction book is Lulu, and she doesn’t initially say that’s why her life has been so hard for her, she doesn’t blame her dad per se, but he is the mountain, his message that none of this matters to the universe at large; her father and his theory of existence is what she lives in the shadow of, the reason she falls for the trappings of chaos leading her down the rabbit hole of an academic biographical investigation, following the life of David Star Jordan, a young adventurous and idealistic ichthyologist (the study of fish) who later on in his adult life becomes the first president of Stanford University, and darkly enough, one of the leading godfather’s of the eugenics movement in the United States.

The book time jumps from her research of David’s life, his rise and fall and manipulation of the science he used to protect his ordered hierarchy, to sections of the book where the narrator talks about her struggles in life. From feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere, to her ex collegiate years, to growing into an adult and destructive life choices, that for example, ended the relationship with her boyfriend at the time, who Lulu said was the perfect companion for her; the author dives into both David Star Jordan’s life as well as her own examining what is the truth of our shared existence, is it chaos, or is it order?

Both Lulu and David Star Jordan want order to be fundamental to reality, and they both are attracted to categories for all things. But unlike David, who goes to great lengths creating an ordered life, giving up being a good human being in the process and later watching his house of cards crumble before his eyes, Lulu goes another route. She finds peace in her father’s wisdom and ultimately writes beautiful prose about Darwinism, about The Dandelion Effect, which says that all the disorder and variants in nature are necessary and functional in nature, there’s no hierarchy of species, and some are this and some have that, but it is the variation that sustains life, just as a dandelion can be seen as a weed to some individuals, it also can be used in many natural ways to promote a better life (Dandelions are Highly Nutritious, Contain Potent Antioxidants, May Help Fight Inflammation, May Aid Blood Sugar Control).

Why Fish Don’t Exist is at times confusing and contains many of the growing pains we all go through in life. But it is a thoughtful, honest and human book, with poetic prose visualizing themes about searching and using science the right way, not for pushing agendas and political motives, but letting science be science detached from what we want to exist, showing us what nature is, outside of us. Philosophically heavy but not too academic, and like I said, Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller is a rabbit’s hole of a book. And I’m not going to tell you the answer. That’s for you to find.  

Author Lulu Miller will be discussing her book Why Fish Don’t Exist Live via Zoom on The Book Nook & Java Shop’s facebook page Wednesday June 3rd at 6pm.

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