January 16, 2007

"The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks"

Devil's TeethWritten by Susan Casey

Ugh, I have mixed feelings about this book. When I picked it up, I was lured in by the haunting, ragged imagery of the Farallon Islands (a dangerous and not-well-known out-cropping of rocks 30 miles west of San Francisco nicknamed "Devil's Teeth", a highly protected natural preserve that's home to a bazillion of various birds and a popular grazing area for super-huge white sharks) and the reddened seas of a fresh Great White Shark attack paraded on the glossy paperback cover. Surely this was bound to satisfy my current appetite for shark lore and my general fondness for places of desolation.

It's an account by journalist Susan Casey, who, in the obsessive pursuit of quenching her own thirst for shark knowledge and experience, is allowed to tag along with the White Shark Project on the Farallones to write about the breadth of animal and environmental research going on there.

Her account is full of colorful imagery, and her descriptions of the barren, unforgiving landscape of the islands and the characters (both human, animal, and, um, other-worldly) who inhabit them for a brief amount of time are quite vividly-detailed. You're given a decent review of the history surrounding the islands, most notably the pioneering folk who fashioned an industry out of collecting bird eggs (driving some of the birds to near extinction), and their plight with the highly-inhospitable weather and near-complete isolation.

The problem is that this author takes things a bit too far by getting too caught up in the need to witness the sharks at close range, and causing problems in the process. She encourages a researcher to allow her access to the islands when clearly the law is not on her side. Ultimately, her need to feed her child-like amazement for these ancient predators gets a well-respected research biologist fired, puts herself and others (not to mention other peoples' property) into danger, and puts the white shark research efforts in the area into an unhealthy limbo. Was this single book worth that? I don't think so.

The information gleaned during her dangerous and perhaps-unlawful time on the island wasn't any more revelatory than the information presented earlier on in the book, gathered during her sanctioned stay and through conversation with the experts. The second half of this book, very unfortunately, devolves into a selfish account of struggle which only served to ultimately cause calamity for all involved, which doesn't speak well of it's attempt at documentary.

Other than all that, you know, negative stuff, the information in the book about the sharks turned out to be pretty frackin' cool.


posted by julie at January 16, 2007 07:54 PM


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