Synopses & Reviews
A dive into the secret lives of whales, from their evolutionary past to today’s cutting edge of science.
Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years, and travel entire ocean basins. Whales fill us with terror, awe, and affection — yet there is still so much we don’t know about them. Why did it take whales over 50 million years to evolve to such big sizes, and how do they eat enough to stay that big? How did their ancestors return from land to the sea — and what can their lives tell us about evolution as a whole? Importantly, in the sweepstakes of human-driven habitat and climate change, will whales survive?
Nick Pyenson’s research has given us the answers to some of our biggest questions about whales. He takes us deep inside the Smithsonian’s unparalleled fossil collections, to frigid Antarctic waters, and to the arid desert in Chile, where scientists race against time to document the largest fossil whale site ever found. Full of rich storytelling and scientific discovery, Spying on Whales spans the ancient past to an uncertain future — all to better understand the most enigmatic creatures on Earth.
“Spying on Whales represents the best of science writing. The subject is inherently fascinating, the author is an authentic scientist by virtue of his personal research on the subject, and the text reads like the epic it truly is.” Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Origin of Creativity and The Meaning of Human Existence
“Reading Spying on Whales leaves a strong impression, based on the principles of ecology, evolution, and physiology, that a world including whales seems awesomely improbable. And, of course, wonderful. Nick Pyenson guides us through this world, and in the process achieves that rare state of grace for a writer of science — producing prose that is both scientific and beautiful. This is a moving, informative, evocative book.” Robert Sapolsky, author of Behave
“Spying on Whales is a delight on many levels. It’s an introduction to the science of whales, but it’s also the odyssey of a scientist — and whether he’s tracing the fossil history of whales or describing the dissection of a giant whale heart, Pyenson tells his story with warmth and wit.” Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh
“Knowing whales means following them when they dive out of sight, tracing their evolution through desert fossils, and reading great writers as well as the unpublished journals of dozens of scientists who, little by little, chipped away at vast mysteries. If that doesn’t seem easy, it could explain why only one person has done it all. You’re holding his fantastic book in your hands. “ Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
About the Author
Nick Pyenson is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. His work has taken him to every continent, and his scientific discoveries frequently appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Popular Mechanics, USA Today, on NPR, NBC, CBC, and the BBC. Along with the highest research awards from the Smithsonian, he has also received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the Obama White House. He lives with his family in Maryland.
Nick Pyenson on PowellsBooks.Blog
When you’re a paleontologist, you had better get used to fielding questions from children. In general, that’s a good thing. They mean well, and I like being kept on my toes. Also, I know that I have to raise my game for the deceptively tough but straightforward questions...