Book club: ‘Spineless’ by Juli Berwald

“The story of jellyfish… is a significant part of the environmental story. Berwald’s engaging account of these delicate, often ignored creatures shows how much they matter to our ocean’s future” – New York Times

A bloom of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)

If you were to write a list of the most interesting and important creatures in our oceans the humble jellyfish is unlikely to make it very far off the bottom, if you remembered to include it at all. But after reading this book, you’re likely to put these overlooked invertebrates much higher on your list. Through a unique combination of science and storytelling Berwald explores the lives of jellyfish like never before and shows that these translucent gelatinous creatures don’t need a backbone, or even a brain, to play an important role in our oceans. 

What really stands ‘Spineless’ apart from many other science books is a strong personal touch and in many ways it could also be considered a memoir. Living in landlocked Texas, taking care of her family and having never studied jellyfish, Berwald is an unlikely jellyfish champion. But after falling out of touch with the marine world the overlooked invertebrates become her unlikely route back towards her long lost passion. Over a number of years Berwald explores every avenue to learn as much about jellyfish, including; keeping them as pets, cooking and eating them, travelling the world to talk to researchers and attending scientific conferences discussing their future. 

A giant jellysih (Cyanea capillata)

This unorthodox approach from the author perfectly accentuates the jellyfish science included in the book. As the reader, you follows Berwald’s journey of discovery learning alongside her and experiencing her wonder as your own. During her jellyfish journey she learns about their simple but effective physiology, multiple life stages, surprising swimming abilities, striking diversity and how they are likely to fare in a rapidly changing ocean. As well as exploring the crucial ecological role they play in ocean ecosystems and why they can be more valuable to humanity that most people realise.

Overall, this book provides and entertaining and educational overview of jellyfish and stakes a case for why they are worth thinking about. After reading it you’ll probably never look at these floating sacks of jelly in the same way again.

This review is the sixteenth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.


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