Review: ‘The Search for the Giant Squid’


The Search for the Giant Squid

The Biology and Mythology of the
World’s Most Elusive Sea Creature

by Richard Ellis

  • Date finished: April 1, 2014
  • Genre: Science, Nature
  • Year: 1998
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Spring 2014
  • Grade: C+
  • Thoughts upon reading: 

Like many nonfiction unknowns, I had high hopes for this book. I saw it while working at the bookstore awhile back and snatched it up on clearance, thinking, “Cool! Giant squid! I’m down with that.” Although not a “science person” necessarily, I am sometimes plagued by an infinite curiosity, and for some reason, a book about one of the great undiscovered monsters in our world seemed absolutely fascinating.

And it should have been. But it wasn’t. Which is unfortunate because this could have been a really cool book. But I don’t know, maybe I was just expecting Richard Ellis to be like Bill Bryson or Jared Diamond. Damn it, I’ve been spoiled!

But try as I might, I was just not able to get into this book or Ellis’ writing. The subject itself is interesting enough: the giant squid, one of planet Earth’s last great undiscovered monsters, lurks in some of our deepest waters and haunts our most terrifying sea tales, and there is very little documented proof of what these creatures are like alive. They’ve washed up dead on beaches around the world since man began recording these encounters, with measurements ranging from the modest to the unbelievable. They’ve colored the pages of popular literature, and every squid scientist out there seems to have their own theory about how they live.

I think the greatest part of the giant squid story is what we don’t know. I love how this creature is still a mystery to man, even in 2014; proving that despite our best efforts, Mother Nature is still holding out on us, leaving us a little room to wonder. Plus, the idea of a GIANT squid, with a mantle that’s longer than a regular size man, is absolutely terrifying and kinda squeamish to think of. I mean, you say eyes the size of dinner plates, and suddenly my dinner doesn’t sound too good.

Unfortunately, I think Ellis was too dry in his approach to this topic, despite his obvious enthusiasm for it (the book even includes a picture of him painting a giant squid model). The book was just … boring at times. I tried, though. I tried really hard to stay engaged and work my way into the story, but I kept hitting roadblocks. I mean, I appreciate Ellis’s desire for scholarly transparency and accurate citations. But when you’re writing a book that should be (at least, given the cover) be classified as “pop science”, you need to make your writing a little more accessible. I didn’t need him to dumb himself down, but I didn’t need to know every scientific journal where this scientist published his findings. I didn’t need to read the entire excerpt from this 15th century dude’s journal. I definitely didn’t need to read a two page-excerpt of Beast, a 90’s-era sci-fi novel starring the giant squid that has, unfortunately, fallen off the literary radar in the past decade or so. And while yes, it’s important to use these animals’ scientific names, can we mix it up A LITTLE BIT because damn it, those names are stumbling blocks for casual readers.

The book was also a bit outdated (published in 1998). So outdated, in fact, that Ellis goes on about how we don’t have any video footage of the giant squid when, in 2014, we…uh…do:

OK, bad book aside, isn’t that awesome?! I love science. I love books, but yes, I also love science.


2 thoughts on “Review: ‘The Search for the Giant Squid’

  1. Pingback: A look back at spring. A look ahead to summer. | Paperback Fool

  2. Pingback: A belated mid-year reading update | Paperback Fool

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