Friday, November 11, 2011

"Kraken" Wendy Williams

I had been meaning to read “Kraken: The Curious, Exciting and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid” ever since I first saw it. But it after reading Sy Montgomery’s brilliant article on octupuses for Orion magazine and seeing Wendy Williams book listed as a suggested reading I had to order it right away.

And it is an amazing book. Packed with astounding information on these amazing cephalopods (and also octuposes and cuttlefish) that will make anyone realize just how incredible they are. While their physiology is so alien-like (three hearts, blue blood, capable on changing color) scientists have also found incredible similarities with human beings namely in the structure of their eyes and neurons. It was truly startling to learn of the many medical breakthroughs that have been based on research carried out on squid. Future treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s will most likely owe something to these animals.

And yet they remain enigmas – do they think or communicate in ways we might fathom? Or did their brain structure and invertebrate body (not to mention their marine environment) cause them to evolve a relationship with the world and each other that our brains, so tightly wound inside our skulls will never be able to glimpse? It seems indisputable that there is “something” there, even if we try to stay away from loaded terms such as intelligence and conscience.

“Kraken” will fascinate anyone interested in natural history, science, animals and the sea. Wendy Williams has written a book that has not only a perfect rhythm but also a perfect length – and doesn’t shy away from the fact that there is still so much we don’t know about squid (and also doesn’t hide the immense amount of squid dissection needed for scientific research- which is the “slightly disturbing” part, I guess).

Any reader, even acquainted only with cephalopods in the form of lunch, will come away with a newfound respect for these creatures and maybe more importantly, a desire to know more.

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