cover image Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything

Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything

Helen Scales. Bloomsbury Sigma, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4729-3684-4

Popular science books don’t get much better than this accessible and eye-opening look at fish by marine biologist Scales (Spirals in Time). She peppers her prose with amusing asides, in keeping with the book’s Douglas Adamsesque subtitle, and snapshots of unusual behavior and characteristics (such as the Amazon’s Splash Tetra, whose eggs are laid on a leaf overhanging the river, requiring the father to splash them once every minute for two days to keep them moist). But this is much more than just an aquatic safari to peek at oddities; Scales provides the history of relevant zoological classifications, which initially grouped marine mammals along with fish, and the fascinating history of the scientists who studied fish, such as the 17th century English naturalist whose De Historia Piscium took away funding from Isaac Newton’s work. The most fascinating sections provide insights into the complex ways fish use color, including communicating with each other using “secret graffiti,” and into the dynamics of fish schools. Her vivid descriptions of the animals described—“a Moorish Idol hunches in a small cave, indistinct and grey, like a poorly developed image of itself”—skillfully supplement the illustrations. Fans of David Attenborough’s nature documentaries will find this a worthy prose equivalent. (June)