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The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology and Mythology of the World's Most Elusive Sea Creature Paperback – October 1, 1999

3.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The sea contains many mysteries, and among the most enduring of them are giant squids of the genus Architeuthis. About this squid, known as the "kraken" in classical mythology, we know little, except, oceanographic writer Richard Ellis notes, that "it occasionally washes ashore--and when that happens, we don't know why." Some of these odd creatures, Ellis notes, are 60 feet long, cannibalistic, and patently fierce, with the largest eyes of any animal on the planet (useful for seeing in the inky darkness of the deep sea). They're not the kind of thing you'd want to encounter on a benthic shelf, as Ian Fleming made clear in Doctor No, in which superspy James Bond had one such unpleasant meeting. But, thanks to Ellis's well-researched account, they make the perfect subject for armchair sleuthing, and he tells you just about everything you'd want to know about the giant squid, from the biologists and explorers and cryptozoologists who have hunted for it over the centuries, and much more. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

It is surpassingly strange that, as Ellis writes, "no one has ever seen a living, healthy giant squid"?for, judging from the evidence, comprised mostly of carcasses and the remains found in sperm whales, there are a multitude of the beasts out there, growing up to 60 feet long, albeit usually, it's thought, at a depth of several hundred feet. But it's not at all strange that, from the meager evidence about Architeuthis, Ellis?author of such fine books as Imagining Atlantis (Forecasts, May 25) and Monsters of the Sea (1995; portions of this newest Ellis book first appeared there)?has fashioned an absorbing work of natural history and a classic of cryptozoology. Some of the appeal of this book is visual, as it presents 30 b&w photographs and 35 line drawings, many historical, several of the drawings by Ellis himself. It's the author's elegant, informative, passionate text that ultimately carries the day, however, as this marine scientist reports on every aspect of the giant squid and its study, covering its biology and behavior, its taxonomy, historical records of its appearances, its treatment in literature, film and museum models, and more. And Ellis not only reports on but sifts through the record, challenging several previous "sightings," most notably those of Jacques Cousteau. At times, the book has a kitchen-sink-and-all feel, as if Ellis aims to cram in every known bit of data about the giant squid; even dedicated monster-lovers may find more here than they want to know. Still, the giant squid may be Earth's last great unknown animal; certainly it is one of nature's enduring mysteries. In this authoritative book, Ellis vivifies and celebrates that mystery with erudition and consummate skill. Newbridge Natural Science Book Club main selection; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140286764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140286762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a disappointing book, even though I have been fascinated with giant squids all my life. Did those reviewers designating it so exciting on the cover and frontispiece actually read the book? There simply is not enough known about this animal to fill a book for the general public, and thus Ellis has to fill it out with exhaustive accounts of every carcass found, technical information on other squid genera that is only of interest to other squid specialists, and a chapter on squid display models which, well researched though it is, really is not the kind of thing one buys a book to learn about at such length. Ellis also needed a better editor -- there is a little too much repetition. Ellis' MONSTERS OF THE SEA was great, but there really isn't enough more here about Architeuthis to justify a separate book, and one cannot help suspecting that this one is designed to take advantage of the particular market value of this marvelous creature. Ellis did us a great service with the previous book; this one, however, really is not worth it unless you are a teuthologist.
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Format: Paperback
A well done and impassioned piece of pop science. Upon completing this you can honestly claim to know more about the giant squid than your friends. There is something of a problem with the book in that, so little is known about Archeteuthis, it's tough to fill a book with something more than marine biology. This is evident in the "naming of the squid" chapter and the exceedingly dull chapter on giant squid models.
However, the subject matter and transparent excitement of the author win out. You know Ellis admires this beast, he shows it, but it does not detract from the science. Very worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book after seeing a Discovery Channel special on the Giant Squid. I know nothing about science, but I am a huge history enthusiast, as well as someone who loves the ocean.
Ellis' book is amazing - not too heavy with biology or science in general. He focuses on the history of human encounters with "sea monsters," which he attributes to rogue giant squid, as well as with dead or dying specimens of the Architeuthis itself. As a work of history, this book is fantastic.
Ellis' synthesis of what is actually known about the Giant Squid is also excellent. He presents the multiple theories about the animal's behavior, locomotion, feeding habits, and reproduction. He also dispels many of the rumors about the squid, including those concerning its true maximum size (although his final anecdote leaves the question excitingly unanswered).
I recommend this book for anyone interested in scientific history in general, and that concerning the beasts of the ocean in particular.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Ellis has written several interesting, accessible books about ocean life. Giant Squid reads almost like a "best of" compilation, reprising a lot of the Architeuthis Dux material from his other titles. Basically it's all been rephrased, and he has a chance here to go into more patient detail this time, but none of it is exactly new.
If you found this book enjoyable, I'd strongly recommend "Monsters of the Sea" (for the raise-the-hairs-on-your-arm mystery it calls up) and either the Encyclopedia of the Sea or Deep Atlantic (because those will show you Ellis's impressive illustrations).
Ellis really needs a more active editor or something. Another of these reviews was right -- he often includes short repeated passages, at times within a page of two of one another. He has a clean, accessible tone as a writer, and his drawings are distinctive and eye catching, really engaging as science illustrations go. Someone should be helping him to establish a little more continuity in his text, and shaping each book so it'll lay out gracefully around his wonderful pictures. Instead Giant Squid includes only a few drawings by Ellis himself, all repeats from other books I think, and for some reason nobody's told him to put the tiresome (and weirdly overstated) footnotes ironically bashing Jules Verne to rest. (The footnotes are all repeats, too...)
Short version: I'd probably recommend Monsters of the Sea, Deep Atlantic, or the Encyclopedia of the Sea first. You can come around to this later if you've got Architeuthis fever.
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Format: Paperback
The scientific quest for the Kraken or Architeutis has been ongoing for more than 400 years now. The first giant squid was seen in 1545 in Malmö, Sweden and the last apparently in Tattori, Japan. But in mythology or oral history, we have to go back to Omer. The secrecy of this monster, more than 60 feet long, contributes to its success in classic literature and the movies (from Julius Verne to Holliwood). This book is a refreshing account that mixes marine biology with science fiction and can be read as any or both....
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Format: Paperback
I've always been fascinated by films and narratives of battles between nature's keystone species. A grizzly struggling to take down a moose in North America; a South American jaguar trying to uncoil an anaconda from his body; a pride of lions facing down a pack of hyenas over a kill in Kenya - there is something riveting to me about such animal clashes. One of the most epic battles in the animal kingdom - and certainly the largest* - is between the sperm whale and the giant squid. The sperm whale is the largest toothed whale in the world, with the biggest specimens measuring sixty feet long and weighing approximately 50 tons. The giant squid - known more precisely as architeuthis dux - is, at least in theory, a formidable foe to the sperm whale, which measures over 50 feet long and weighs over a ton.

One of the most surprising things for this reader about Richard Ellis' book is the discovery that what I thought might be an epic battle between two behemoths is almost certainly a very one-sided affair, with the sperm whale winning nearly every time. The giant squid is a large enough beast that it can prey on many fair-sized species of shark and probably has no other natural foes, but the sperm whale appears well-adapted to counter its size and strength. I say "appears," because no one is really sure what to make of the battles between whale and squid - they have almost never been seen. Nearly everything about them has to be inferred from dead whales or dead squids.

Even more surprising, given the level of interest in the beast, is how little is known about the giant squid at all. Not until after the publication of this book was a healthy giant squid even observed in its natural habitat.
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