01 June 2011

Review: The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

Full title: The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favourite Crustacean
Genre: Non-fiction, popular science (marine biology, anthropology)
Year of publication: 2004
Setting & time: Mostly in Maine, USA; 1970s to 1990s

This is a fascinating book, full of weird and wonderful details and discoveries about the life of the Maine lobster. But it isn’t just about lobster biology, it’s also about the people who study the lobsters and the people whose livelihoods depend on catching lobsters. Corson has cleverly woven together these three narrative threads into one very readable and absorbing book. He spent a couple of years working as a lobsterman in Maine and conducted interviews with lobstermen and scientists and thoroughly researched his subject, and it shows. There is a lot of detail, but Corson manages to deliver all those fascinating facts and tit-bits of information in a remarkably readable manner. He also manages to keep himself out of the story he is telling, only once mentioning himself and then not by name and we only find out in the author’s afterword. He is the narrator, of course, but does not intrude as a participant in the events he describes.

This book is everything a good popular science book should be: readable, informative, well-written, well plotted and fascinating without being dry or pedantic.

The narrative is more or less chronological, only deviating from it when it is necessary tell the story more clearly. The people the book follows become like characters in a novel to the reader and even the lobsters come alive on the page. Corson is careful never to focus for too long on any one of the three strands of the narrative, instead shifting frequently between the three, and thus preventing the book from ever becoming boring because of too much science or too much focus on one person or group of people.

Some readers may find the author too sympathetic towards the cause of the lobster fishermen, even to the point of presenting the government scientists as the bad guys, but to my mind the sympathetic slant of the narrative only makes it more readable. A knowledgeable and sensible reader will realise that it would have been just as easy to show the story from the viewpoint of those scientists who believe that lobsters are being overfished, and that there really are no bad guys in the story, just people with different opinions.

Finally, lest I forget: The stars of the book are of course the crustaceans themselves, and I promise you: After you finish this book, you will never look at a lobster the same way again.
5 stars.

Click here to visit the author’s website and find out more about the book.
And here is another, more detailed review of the book.


Falaise said...

If you enjoyed this, I would recommend his other book, the Story of Sushi. It's fascinating.

Bibliophile said...

I'm sure I will, Falaise. In fact, I've put it on my wishlist.