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The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks Paperback – May 30, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

In a post-Jaws/Discovery Channel world, unearthing fresh data on great white sharks is a feat. So credit Susan Casey not just with finding and spotlighting two biologists who have done truly pioneering field research on the beasts but also with following them and their subjects into the heart of one of the most unnatural habitats on Earth: the Farallon Islands. Though just 30 miles due west of San Francisco, the Farallones--nicknamed the Devil's Teeth for their ragged appearance and raging inhospitality--are utterly alien, which may explain why each autumn, packs of great whites return to gorge on the seals and sea lions that gather there before returning to the Pacific and beyond. That Casey, via her biologist buddies Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, can even report that sharks apparently follow migratory feeding patterns is a revelation. Throughout The Devil's Teeth, Casey makes clear that year upon year of observing the sharks have given Pyle and Anderson (and by extension, us) insights into shark behavior that are entirely new and too numerous to list. The otherworldly Farallon Islands, meanwhile, also dominate Casey's engaging tale as she charts their transformation from ultradangerous source of wild eggs in the 19th century to ultradangerous real-life shark lab and bird sanctuary today. Despite the plethora of factoids on offer, Casey's style is consistently digestible and very amusing. She also has a knack for putting things into perspective. Take this characteristic passage:

The Farallon great whites are largely unharassed. They might cross paths with the occasional boatload of day-trippers from San Francisco, but they're subjected to none of the behavior-altering coercion that nature's top predators regularly endure so that people can sit in the Winnebago... and get a look at them. This is important because despite their visibility at the Farallones, and despite the impressive truth that sharks are so old they predate trees, great whites have remained among the most mysterious of creatures."
By book's end, it's hard to know what's more captivating: The biologists' groundbreaking data, Casey's primer on the evolution of the Farallones, the islands' symbiotic relationships with the sharks, the gulls and sea lions they attract, or the outpost's resident ghosts. Frankly, it's a nice problem to have. --Kim Hughes

Getting to Know the Great White

It was a BBC documentary on great white sharks visiting California's Farallon Islands that turned Susan Casey from an editor of adventure and outdoors stories in such magazines as Outside to a journalist obsessed with an outdoors adventure of her own. In her interview, Casey recalls the fascinations and the follies of her time with the sharks in the Farallones and discusses everything from the ethics of adventure journalism to the stunning silence and size of nature's perfect predators. And in her answers to the Significant Seven (the seven questions we like to ask every author), she reveals her admiration for both Joseph Mitchell and Johnny Knoxville (once you've read her book, both choices seem appropriate).

The outer edge of the fearsome Maintop Bay, a spooky, boat-eating stretch of water that makes everyone uneasy. Not surprisingly, the sharks seem to love it. (Susan Casey)

An 18-foot shark investigates a 6-foot surfboard. (Peter Pyle)

A shark attack at the Farallones is not usually a subtle event. (Peter Pyle)

Scot Anderson (in orange) observes a feeding. Also in the boat are director Paul Atkins and cinematographer Peter Scoones of the BBC film crew that visited the Farallones in 1993 to film The Great White Shark. (Peter Pyle)

The Farallones researchers see some action from a shark named Bluntnose. (Peter Pyle)

An unquiet cove: Just Imagine (Casey's temporary home) at its moorage in Fisherman's Bay, 150 yards west of Tower Point and 200 yards east of Sugarloaf. (Susan Casey)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

From its startling opening description of scientists racing to the bloody scene where a shark has decapitated a seal, this memoir–cum–natural and cultural history of the Farallon Islands—"the spookiest, wildest place on Earth"—plunges readers into the thrills of shark watching. Casey, a sportswriter with recurring dreams about deep-sea creatures, "became haunted" by the 211-acre archipelago 27 miles west of San Francisco when she saw a BBC documentary about Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, biologists who study the great white sharks there. The islands are the only place on Earth where scientists can study the animals in their natural habitat. These evolutionary ancients (sharks lived 200 million years before dinosaurs) can be as large as Mack trucks, eat suits of armor, are both fierce and friendly, and, according to Casey, are an addictive fascination for those lucky enough to encounter them. Casey's three-week solo stay on a yacht anchored in shark waters is itself an adventure, with the author evacuating just hours before the yacht disappeared in a storm. Her suspenseful narrative perfectly matches the drama and mystery of these islands, their resident sharks and the scientists who love them. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805080112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805080117
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 62 people found the following review helpful By UniversityDoc on December 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
The whole premise of the book sounds interesting, as I am also interested in great whites and I looked forward to reading it. I was enjoying it until the more I read I realized it was merely about the obsession of the writer than it is about the sharks and the research project she is researching. Yes, she focuses on the scientists and the island in great detail, which in itself makes it worthwhile reading. However, in the end, her desire to see the sharks up close actually causes the termination of the entire shark research project, and the termination of employment for the knowledgeable, caring scientist in charge that assisted her in trying to realize her dream. Her dream became his nightmare. She should have stayed home and let the sharks and their researchers be. If you read it for the sharks, you'll enjoy it, but you'll quickly discover what an selfish idiot Susan Casey is. The writing is average, but with a keen eye you'll appreciate. The "True story of obsession and survival among America's Great white sharks" is about her and not the project, which is what I thought the book was about. My mistake. Not only can you not judge a book by its cover, you can no longer judge a book by its title either.
Another reviewer stated succinctly, "The author and her persistence to observe activities on the island leads the the demise of the entire shark research project."
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jarrod D. Knudson on September 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Susan Casey, a journalist, becomes intrigued by white sharks and the Farallon Islands some thirty miles from San Francisco. After fighting through restrictions and barriers, she manages to get onto the island and observe a group of scientists studying predation by great white sharks within the so-called red triangle. Her description of the islands flora and fauna are very good. Detailed descriptions of shark attacks also give the story some excitement. She doesn't provide much scientific detail about the research she observed; however, she's a journalist, not a biologist. She's a story-teller and does a good job.

If your a shark junkie who enjoys scientific detail about the behavior and biology of sharks, you'll most certainly be disappointed. On the other hand, if you enjoy tales of natural adventures and the hardships endured along the way, you'll be entertained.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy W. Forstadt on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
THE DEVILS TEETH is an exceptionally well-written account of the Farallon Islands and, in particular, the white shark research project that has been based there over the past several decades. Susan Casey profiles Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, two biologists who have been leading shark research at the islands which are located just 27 miles due west of San Francisco. She also documents her own (ultimately disastrous) experiences gaining access to the islands which are largely prohibited to the public. The stars of the story are the sharks themselves, who turn out to be far more individualistic and personable than you would probably ever imagine.

The white sharks of the Farallon Islands are perhaps the best studied in the world in their natural state. The circus atmosphere which surrounds white shark research in places like Australia and South Africa have largely compromised the sharks natural habitat making it difficult to observe sharks behaving naturally. The Farallon Islands, known to 19th-century mariners as "The Devil's Teeth," are a dangerous and foreboding locale, but one that lends itself well to scientific investigations. Casey takes us through the history of exploitation, inhabitation, and research that has taken place on the islands over the past 150 years, and she includes a healthy amount of information about the other wildlife in evidence on and around the islands. But she clearly (and admittedly) developed an obsession with the sharks, and the narrative of the book is continually steered back toward them.

The thing that struck me the most in THE DEVIL'S TEETH was the description of the individual white sharks' strong personalities.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Laura Cavanagh on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've just finished reading this book and have to agree, I was also upset and angry that Peter Pyle lost his job and didn't get to be the first to ride the 'perfect wave' in shark alley - all because of Susan Casey. After reading the Q&A given to the author on this site and seeing that she 'blagged' her way into various summer jobs - I have to wonder if she didn't 'blag' Peter that she could handle a yacht at sea.

Maybe it would have been better for the Farallones Great White Shark project, if she'd just left them alone.

Having said this, I did enjoy the first 2/3 of the book. The last part is just Casey talking about her experiences on the yacht. You're not given any scientific answers as to why the huge 'sister' sharks, haven't been seen at the Farallones in three years. There was no real conclusion about the conservation of the sharks, what the biologist think or what we could do to help. The only thing we're told is that they might be extinct by the next decade. Casey's description of the Islands and wildlife, are detailed and magnificent enough to make me schedule a ride on the 'superfish'. But in the end it just seems a shame that Peter lost is job, over a book that didn't really do the plight & fragility of the Great Whites' existence enough justice.
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