The Extreme Life of the Sea

The Extreme Life of the Sea by father-son team Stephen R Palumbi (marine biologist) and Anthony R Palumbi (science writer & novelist) was, to me, like a grown-up version of some of my favorite childhood books – books of interesting animal facts, like how high a mountain lion can jump or how fast a house fly can fly.

The Extreme Life of the Sea is less narrative and more an enthusiastic sharing of cool things in the sea, which are loosely tied together in thematic sections. It is not, however, just a collection of “gee whiz” facts. The compelling vignettes help to convey broader concepts of science and nature with excitement and enthusiasm.

Most of all, the Palumbis remind the reader that science and nature are not just important, they are fun.

The Palumbis’ writing tries to capture the excitement, drama, and intensity of life in the ocean. Although the effort is at times more labored and at times more effortlessly, the book is difficult to put down. The compulsion to find out “what’s next” is nearly irresistible.

The compulsion to share the interestingness of sea life is nearly as irresistible. At the end of March, we hosted a dinner party at which I had to physically restrain myself from excitedly discussing fluid drag and why dolphins jump out of the water so much. And bioluminescence. And squid jets. And… I’m fun at parties.

While The Extreme Life of the Sea targets an adult audience, the inspiration to share knowledge can be harvested to pass on that enthusiasm to children. My daughters have gone down the rabbit hole of marine investigation based on my sharing of an exciting story from The Extreme Life of the Sea fleshed out with the “just the facts ma’am” approach of  the National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World and the stunning visuals of Blue Planet. Let’s just say that blue whales are really big (metaphorically) in our house right now.

We often think of science literacy in terms of concepts and “facts”. The Extreme Life of the Sea makes an important contribution beyond the concepts and information presented – enthusiasm.

It reminds us that science and the natural world are REALLY COOL. Going to the beach, getting on a boat, or taking your ridiculous primate body for a swim is going to be a lot more fun after reading The Extreme Life of the Sea.


Author: Josh Witten

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