58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2010
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."
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2006
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.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2006
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.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2005
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. I would never have thought that a white shark could be described in terms of being "gentle and maternal" (Whiteslash) or "happy-go-lucky and somewhat goofy" (Half Fin). Other individual sharks, of course, had more sinister reputations. Still, one can come away from reading this book with the impression that the great white shark is truly a likeable animal, if not exactly huggable. Another revelation (to me, at least) was the evidence that at least some white sharks, like whales, apparently have fixed migratory routes that can take them thousands of miles through the course of a year. Some (the females) appear to have two-year migrations since they only show up every other year in the Farallones.
Susan Casey takes us into an exclusive place, to be sure: a world where cage divers and eco-tourists are looked down upon with disdain. In a way, it hardly seems fair that the experience of witnessing the thrill of a white shark kill should be so restricted. As Peter Pyle himself said, "I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't seen one." Of course, it is understandable. As in nearly other place in the world where white sharks congregate, the delicate ecosystem of the Farallon Islands would suffer tragically and research effort would be compromised from increased human intrusion. THE DEVIL'S TEETH is a glimpse into the world of two committed biologists and the truly majestic animals they study.
Jeremy W. Forstadt
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2005
This was a very exciting story. Susan Casey writes well, giving us an inside view of the events in a natural prose style. The Farallons never seemed so close, even when I visited San Francisco and toured them by boat. Casey writes a compelling story of the scientists and naturalists living in hellish conditions because they love the sharks, their--to my mind--unusual behavior, individually and in groups. Who knew sharks had such personalities? My only wish is that she'd concentrated more on the sharks, kept the whole sailboat incident out of it, and I couldn't read about Peter losing his job--his life up to this point!--without a little anger. It's a very quick read and worth it if you like sharks and roughing it.
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
"The Devil's Teeth" is a vastly entertaining, very well-written account of one woman's experience out on The Farallon Islands.
Those islands are a particularly inhospitable group of rocks ("rock designed by a cubist on peyote" as she says) sitting off of San Francisco. A small hardy band of researchers study sharks out there, and she went to go check it out.
I'm a "Jaws" freak. I thought I knew everything about sharks. I didn't know ANY of this.
First of all, they are not simply studying "sharks". We're talking about great whites. The big bad ones.The depictions of those fish are unlike any you've read before. You will change the way you think and feel about them.
If possible, you will become even more freaked out about them. They're genuinely scary creatures.
She writes like an impossibly gifted dinner guest, telling stories that have every one at the table mesmerized.
She's colloquial; there are lots of italics and capitalizations and fragments and such. She writes like a real good talker.
Her prose is vivid. The appearance of these sharks, of the researchers, of the islands themselves...all are artfully described. Imagine a shark as wide as "Yao Ming is tall."
Her perspective will make you laugh. When she tries to ram home that sharks have been around for quite some time, she says they "predate trees." Not 'a' tree, but trees in general. When sharks first appeared, plants hadn't yet figured out how to become trees.
When describing the sensation of walking through a gauntlet of kamikaze gulls, she thanks "Alfred Hitchcock" for her "state of mind."
A cormorant becomes someone from "Flintstones central casting." I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud while reading this book.
And read it I did. As fast as I could. I was fascinated by these relatively new discoveries on "shark character". They don't act like we thought they did (and in general, we don't know that much about them...) and some of the basic fundamentals of shark physiology and behavior are frankly disproven.
These buggers can see just fine. They'll stick their head out of the water to check you out. They have personalities. Different sharks "act" differently. They are not simply the cold killing machines we all thought they were.
They're worse. Really. They're cold CALCULATING killing machines, who have an ability to learn things.
I digress...I could have read volumes more about these sharks, the Sisterhood (the giant, ethereal murderesses) and the Rat Pack (the smaller, more visible but somehow less sinister male cohort)...about Cal Ripfin, Stumpy, Whiteslash. It's like the psychopathic oceanic version of "Watership Down."
Casey also conveys the "lunar isolation" of the colorful folks who "live" out there on those islands. She gives us a taste of the political bureaucracy involved in maintaining that precious environment, and also the delicate nature of those island's own biosphere (in direct contrast to the harsh living conditions).
There is an extended segment of the author trying to live on a sailboat (she's not allowed on the island for technical reasons) just off shore during a harrowing storm. I couldn't imagine trying to row a rowboat between an out-of-control sailboat that has lost her anchor in twenty-foot waves, and a coastline that looks like the place where Darth Vader got his face melted off. And oh yeah, huge sharks circling around, checking out your little boat, wondering how much you look like a fat elephant seal.
There are passages on the history of the islands, on shark research in general...but it's mostly about living on this rock, watching sharks eat seals. And by the way she writes, you will happily go along with her obsession. You yourself will need to know more about these sharks. Her desire is infectious.
I'm going to recommend this book to just about everybody I know...it's a terrific read!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2011
One third of this book is good. It's about the islands, their ghoulish history, the sharks, and the rogue scientists on the islands, pretty much following their bliss over doing science. Not that they don't do good work, but . . .
The other two thirds of this book should be re-packaged and entitled "How We Completely Screwed Things Up For Ourselves." These scientists are observing shark attacks when a commercial tour boat moves in and starts doing caged shark dives a few days a week. The scientists complain that the boat will ruin the shark's natural behavior and people should stay away from the island. They start a campaign against the guy . . . which ends up with authorities noticing their own set-up and how they play fast-and-loose with the rules. They're semi-shut down and forbidden to do research by boat. Which is disappointing for them but goes well with the federal authorities, you know, protecting the island from boats and outside influences and unsafe practices.
So the scientists decide to get a boat, anchor it full-time off the island, and stay there for months. If you think that doesn't match up to their previously-stated ideals, it's because you've been paying attention. And who do they get to captain the ship while they're testing things out? Susan. Who knows nothing about boats, 'zones out' during the lecture on how to operate this one, and isn't officially allowed anywhere near the island at all. To top it off, they decide to leave the boat, with no one aboard, anchored unsafely, in a storm, in what they all know is some of the most dangerous waters along the coast. It disappears and everything is ruined. The last chapter, in which they scramble to reclaim the yacht, is interesting again.
But only after chapters of the author complaining, talking about the scientists looks', looking down on 'yuppies', describing her dreams, describing every meal, and talking about how awed she is by the shark attacks instead of about the attacks themselves.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2012
This is an infuriating and sad narcissitic discourse written under the pretense of journalism. Hardly any information is provided about the Great White, the leading characters in story are described as cardboard cutouts with rippling muscles and the author NEVER should have been entrusted with a larg sailboat for which she had NO experience. Aside from some interesting historical information about the islands the book reads like pulp fiction. Only it's real. The idea for the story was novel but Casey talked and wriggled her flirtacious (and quite possibly more) self into a situation for which she was totally unprepared intellectually and unseaworthy at that. In the end she takes down everyone who extended kindness to her including the boat owner. She takes no responsibility for ending the program and causing the employment termination of the scientist and all around good guy genius who risked his life's work to allow her onto the islands. She glosses over heinous fishing activities that violate the protection of sea animals and fish. Casey is an entertaining writer which is no doubt responsible, along with her connections, for the media blitz that accompanied the publication. For those readers eager to experience a personal journey of obsession it may prove interesting. But if you crave information based on science forget it. The islands, unique in the world, and their creature inhabitants remain at greater risk because of the book.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2011
To set the stage for this, I have been to the farallones, I think they are amazing. I picked this book off a friend's shelf, because I needed something to read.
The book starts innocent enough, a story of a woman reporting on biologists, and their relationships with sharks, and the sharks themselves. The story rapidly morphs into her own personal story of how she singlehandedly lost a 60 foot sailboat which had been loaned to the shark project, how she ruined the credibility and validity of the shark research, and got at least one scientist banned from the island.
Disappointingly early, the scientists turn from honest characters into one-dimensional scenery, repetitively described as incarnations of Patagonia advertisements, which might make sense to the editor of Outside magazine, but is rather a thin description for the casual reader. I honestly was surprised when seeing the pictures of the scientists in the book, I could not recognize them from the written description, which for some reason I found seriously disappointing, because no matter how I tried, the scientists were faceless, interchangeable scenery in the same way that women were treated in early 90's pulp Sci-Fi. Was it that she saw them as sex objects? Was she hiding a relationship? What were their motives in letting her on the island ILLEGALLY, in such a way that they knew could both ruin their relationships with PRBO, as well as ruin their research?
Others have stated this, and I'd like to re-iterate this. Susan saw less than a dozen actual attacks first hand and close-up. The vast majority of the attacks are rendered in second or third person accounts, for instance, the incident of Swizzle, a California Sea Lion that was rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal Center, and released at the Farallones because of his perceived human habituation is described in highly judgmental and insulting tones, no less than three times. It is an interesting anecdote, but she misrepresents many facts (I have a friend who was on the boat, I've seen pictures, it happened, but not the way she describes it), and just seems to relish in insulting anyone who approaches the farallones with anything but absolute obsession with the white sharks.
Also, need I mention that she turned her back on people shooting sea lions and potentially endangered Northern Fur Seals or Stellar's Sea Lions... which would be at minimum a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Plus her flagrant violations of the Farallones rules? She seems to relish in breaking the rules just to follow her own selfish quest, which she gives no clear closure to, and seems perfectly happy to stick other people to collect the tab for her own screwups.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2005
I purchased the book interested in learning more about great whites and the history of the Farallone Islands. As a surfer in Northern California, I'm fascintated in the topic and thought this would make a readable natural history and well researched book. While the book is very readable, it falls short of being the informative book on sharks and the islands. She is a compelling and good writer and manages to make most of the book about the difficulties she encounters in trying to write the book. The best compliment that I can give her is that she still manages to make this very readable. In actuality she spends almost no time during her limited stint on the islands, with sharks.