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Twelve Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks Paperback – May 2, 2002
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In July 1916, a time of record-setting heat and a raging polio epidemic, beachgoers along the New Jersey shore confronted a greater terror still: lurking in the water swam a shark, or perhaps several sharks, that had apparently developed a taste for human flesh. Within less than two weeks, the offending fish killed four swimmers and badly injured another, setting off a wave of panic that kept visitors well out of the water and threatened the state's thriving tourist economy.
Officials were quick to react. President Woodrow Wilson, himself from New Jersey, sought and received $5,000 from Congress to eradicate the villain. Unsure of which species was to blame, commercial fishermen and state police alike destroyed every shark they encountered, while some conspiracy-minded journalists hinted that the attacks had somehow been triggered by German U-boats plying the waters off New Jersey.
Those strange events of 1916 are not much remembered today, except, perhaps, by fans of Peter Benchley's novel Jaws, whose origin lies in the attacks. Richard Fernicola revives the incident with this thoroughgoing investigation, which offers solid information on the natural history and behavior of the many shark species that populate the Atlantic, and which hazards educated guesses as to which kind of shark did the fatal mischief--and why. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Beginning July 1, 1916, a spate of shark attacks off the Jersey shore befuddled maritime experts and terrified the public. In the first incident, an unsuspecting vacationer's thigh was bitten off; he eventually died. Over the next 12 days, three more people were killed and another seriously injured. These two books by New Jersey authors re-create differing theories as to who, and what, was responsible for the carnage, a subject that scientists still debate today. Philadelphia Inquirer journalist Capuzzo (nominated four times for a Pulitzer) unwaveringly adheres to the most popular theory (that a single, juvenile great white shark was responsible for all the carnage), but his book's strength lies in its lively reconstruction of the age and its consciousness, in which a new leisure class was emerging, with many of its members venturing into the ocean for the first time. (He also recounts the shark's movements and supposed feelings from an omniscient, third-person perspective to strained, unintentionally comical and inevitably misleading effect.) The encounters between people and sharks make for some tense and gruesome reading, and the rest of the book is equally page-turning: the zeal to find the "Jersey man-eater," the sensational "feeding frenzy" of the press and the befuddlement of a scientific community, which then devoutly believed that sharks did not bite humans. On that last front, Fernicola, a physician specializing in post-stroke and post-injury recovery, adds to his own investigation of this episode an exhaustive review of shark science today and theories of shark aggression toward humans, including possible environmental factors (heat, changes in human bathing habits, even bathing suit styles), speculations on the perpetrator's exact species, and well-reasoned arguments and conclusions. Fernicola is a recognized authority on the 1916 attacks (his work has provided the basis for Discovery Channel and History Channel documentaries on the subject), but he marshals so much data that his book fails to live up to its lurid title, giving its looming competitor the edge. (May; Capuzzo on-sale: May 8) Forecast: With bathing suit season just around the corner, these books are well timed. Fernicola's, which will be the subject of an upcoming spread in USA Today and is scheduled for coverage on Good Day New York, will provide grist to shark enthusiasts and fans of the Jaws films. Lyons Press has high hopes for its book and has committed to an unprecedented (for this house) 50,000 first printing. Capuzzo will tour six major cities on both coasts, along with stops on Cape Cod and, of course, the Jersey shore. His compulsive potboiler just may be the hot read on the beach this summer.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
This is an interesting story and knowing that it is factual made it that much more interesting. The author did a good job researching and organising this book. I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to know more on the topic.
In telling the story of the attacks, Fernicola uses an informal, almost conversational style that is frequently in the first person. While this would be anathema in most history, it is highly effective in this instance. Given that his topic is not widely remembered, and that what is remembered has devolved into pseudo-mythology, this casual style captures the "novel-esque" feel of the story, while presenting the hard facts. Of particular interest was how he set the stage for the attacks: war was raging in Europe, there was a polio epidemic in New York City, submarines were cruising the coast, and the Jersey Shore was a last bastion of elegance and innocence that was about to be shattered. By presenting history in this manner, he creates a big picture view of not only the attacks themselves, but also what they did to the psyche of the nation.
All style and setting aside, however, Fernicola is a medical doctor and scientist who systematically presents the fruits of his substantial research and interviews with witnesses and experts. Each attack is examined in detail: the attack patterns, the nature of the injuries (which are quite gruesome, be warned), treatments offered, etc. Then, after providing the reader with a thorough portrait of the attacks, both individually and as a whole, he builds a case for the species which he thinks committed the attacks, and whether or not it was one or several sharks. While he makes a compelling argument for that a white shark committed the attacks, in the finest tradition of research he both presents, and discusses in detail, competing theories.
I have only two small complaints about this book. The first is perhaps inevitable given the informal writing style, but it bothered me nonetheless. Fernicola frequently will meander off topic as he recounts interesting historical tidbits, only to abruptly return to the topic at hand. The effect can be jarring and there were several passages that I had to reread in order to pick up the flow of the narrative again. The second complaint is that he refers to shark attacks as "vicious" at least fifty times over the course of the work. I find this troubling since "vicious" implies a malicious premeditation that a shark is obviously incapable of. The complaint isn't just semantics either, given the already terrible reputation that sharks enjoy among most people.
Ultimately though, those are minor complaints about an otherwise fascinating book. Fernicola has written a history that is as informative as it is easy to read. In particular, this makes for a great summertime read; the author paints such a wonderful portrait of the shore that this currently landlocked New Englander felt as if he was right on the ocean. You'll probably want to avoid "Twelve Days of Terror" if you have a weak stomach, but most people, whether they are interested in marine biology or not, will find this an excellent read.
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