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Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiator

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A perfect fish in the evolutionary sense, the broadbill swordfish derives its name from its distinctive bill—much longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish—which is flattened into the sword we all recognize. And though the majesty and allure of this warrior fish has commanded much attention—from adventurous sportfishers eager to land one to ravenous diners eager A perfect fish in the evolutionary sense, the broadbill swordfish derives its name from its distinctive bill—much longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish—which is flattened into the sword we all recognize. And though the majesty and allure of this warrior fish has commanded much attention—from adventurous sportfishers eager to land one to ravenous diners eager to taste one—no one has yet been bold enough to truly take on the swordfish as a biographer. Who better to do so than Richard Ellis, a master of marine natural history? Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiator is his masterly ode to this mighty fighter. The swordfish, whose scientific name means “gladiator,” can take on anyone and anything, including ships, boats, sharks, submarines, divers, and whales, and in this book Ellis regales us with tales of its vitality and strength. Ellis makes it easy to understand why it has inspired so many to take up the challenge of epic sportfishing battles as well as the longline fishing expeditions recounted by writers such as Linda Greenlaw and Sebastian Junger. Ellis shows us how the bill is used for defense—contrary to popular opinion it is not used to spear prey, but to slash and debilitate, like a skillful saber fencer. Swordfish, he explains, hunt at the surface as well as thousands of feet down in the depths, and like tuna and some sharks, have an unusual circulatory system that gives them a significant advantage over their prey, no matter the depth in which they hunt. Their adaptability enables them to swim in waters the world over—tropical, temperate, and sometimes cold—and the largest ever caught on rod and reel was landed in Chile in 1953, weighing in at 1,182 pounds (and this heavyweight fighter, like all the largest swordfish, was a female). Ellis’s detailed and fascinating, fact-filled biography takes us behind the swordfish’s huge, cornflower-blue eyes and provides a complete history of the fish from prehistoric fossils to its present-day endangerment, as our taste for swordfish has had a drastic effect on their population the world over. Throughout, the book is graced with many of Ellis’s own drawings and paintings, which capture the allure of the fish and bring its splendor and power to life for armchair fishermen and landlocked readers alike.


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A perfect fish in the evolutionary sense, the broadbill swordfish derives its name from its distinctive bill—much longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish—which is flattened into the sword we all recognize. And though the majesty and allure of this warrior fish has commanded much attention—from adventurous sportfishers eager to land one to ravenous diners eager A perfect fish in the evolutionary sense, the broadbill swordfish derives its name from its distinctive bill—much longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish—which is flattened into the sword we all recognize. And though the majesty and allure of this warrior fish has commanded much attention—from adventurous sportfishers eager to land one to ravenous diners eager to taste one—no one has yet been bold enough to truly take on the swordfish as a biographer. Who better to do so than Richard Ellis, a master of marine natural history? Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiator is his masterly ode to this mighty fighter. The swordfish, whose scientific name means “gladiator,” can take on anyone and anything, including ships, boats, sharks, submarines, divers, and whales, and in this book Ellis regales us with tales of its vitality and strength. Ellis makes it easy to understand why it has inspired so many to take up the challenge of epic sportfishing battles as well as the longline fishing expeditions recounted by writers such as Linda Greenlaw and Sebastian Junger. Ellis shows us how the bill is used for defense—contrary to popular opinion it is not used to spear prey, but to slash and debilitate, like a skillful saber fencer. Swordfish, he explains, hunt at the surface as well as thousands of feet down in the depths, and like tuna and some sharks, have an unusual circulatory system that gives them a significant advantage over their prey, no matter the depth in which they hunt. Their adaptability enables them to swim in waters the world over—tropical, temperate, and sometimes cold—and the largest ever caught on rod and reel was landed in Chile in 1953, weighing in at 1,182 pounds (and this heavyweight fighter, like all the largest swordfish, was a female). Ellis’s detailed and fascinating, fact-filled biography takes us behind the swordfish’s huge, cornflower-blue eyes and provides a complete history of the fish from prehistoric fossils to its present-day endangerment, as our taste for swordfish has had a drastic effect on their population the world over. Throughout, the book is graced with many of Ellis’s own drawings and paintings, which capture the allure of the fish and bring its splendor and power to life for armchair fishermen and landlocked readers alike.

30 review for Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiator

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heather Clitheroe

    Things I've learned: swordfish can warm their brains. They have no teeth as adults, but do as juveniles. They're rather stabby. They are riddled with worms and parasites. They may be subject to hormonal rages. They like to bask in the sun. Probably more than I really ever needed to know about swordfish, but do you really need a reason for learning about a creature that has a built-in brain warmer? I think not. Things I've learned: swordfish can warm their brains. They have no teeth as adults, but do as juveniles. They're rather stabby. They are riddled with worms and parasites. They may be subject to hormonal rages. They like to bask in the sun. Probably more than I really ever needed to know about swordfish, but do you really need a reason for learning about a creature that has a built-in brain warmer? I think not.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Richard Ellis writes his natural history biographies as a series of facts with little narrative, and many people may find this annoying. I've always enjoyed this approach. Ellis packs in more facts per page in his books than would be allowable by the personal narrative form could. The only chapter in Swordfish that contains a personal narrative, Chapter 10 "Benchley and Ellis: Swordfishermen," is the shortest chapter in the book, and despite the all-star cast (Peter Benchley, shark fisherman Fran Richard Ellis writes his natural history biographies as a series of facts with little narrative, and many people may find this annoying. I've always enjoyed this approach. Ellis packs in more facts per page in his books than would be allowable by the personal narrative form could. The only chapter in Swordfish that contains a personal narrative, Chapter 10 "Benchley and Ellis: Swordfishermen," is the shortest chapter in the book, and despite the all-star cast (Peter Benchley, shark fisherman Frank Mundus, and Ellis)is a little dull. After briefly telling the story of hocking a swordfish aboard Cricket II, Ellis finds the ground on which he is more comfortable ans ends the chapter discussing the decreasing sizes of swordfish caught since that day in 1975. The final chapter, "The Swordfish and Global Warming," is more about global warming in general and only ends with an almost tacked-on discussion of how climate change may affect swordfish populations. But the bulk of this chapter seems optimistic about the potential recovery ability of collapsed fisheries. This slight optimism was a nice note to end the book on, even though the full peril of the swordfish is detailed throughout the rest of the book. A good read for the enthusiast.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Quinby6696 Frank

    If someone were really interested in swordfish and wanted to read a book about them, then this would be the book for this person - I do not fit that category. I learned far more about swordfish than .... To be fair, the ecological parts were pretty interesting. I learned about long-line fishing and the Permian Extinction and other things I knew nothing about, but mostly the book just brought back not-so-pleasant memories of being dragged aboard deep-sea fishing boats in Florida by my grandfather If someone were really interested in swordfish and wanted to read a book about them, then this would be the book for this person - I do not fit that category. I learned far more about swordfish than .... To be fair, the ecological parts were pretty interesting. I learned about long-line fishing and the Permian Extinction and other things I knew nothing about, but mostly the book just brought back not-so-pleasant memories of being dragged aboard deep-sea fishing boats in Florida by my grandfather, an avid sport fisherman, and sitting for hours in a chair in excruciating heat holding a pole. There was one especially gruesome day when I got seasick early on and knew there would be 8 more hours before I could escape that boat - and the cabin was pea green. Erk! I had to read this book for my book group.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andres

    The research that is presented of the swordfish are indeed extremely interesting however much is still unknown and at some points pure speculations. Even though swordfishes are supposed to be the main point of this book, there is a huge part of it that covers all other types of billfish, prehistoric aquatic life, and the adverse effect of overfishing and global warming that we are the cause of, that, albeit interesting, definitely seemed to be presented as to add more pages. I suppose though tha The research that is presented of the swordfish are indeed extremely interesting however much is still unknown and at some points pure speculations. Even though swordfishes are supposed to be the main point of this book, there is a huge part of it that covers all other types of billfish, prehistoric aquatic life, and the adverse effect of overfishing and global warming that we are the cause of, that, albeit interesting, definitely seemed to be presented as to add more pages. I suppose though that's why there is "A Biography of the Ocean" on the title to cover the everything else in the book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Lots of typos to spice up the long paraphrased excerpts of fishing stories, scientific inquiries and slack jawed affection towards an enigma the author has not solved, only gathered the pieces of and strung one after the next in a long line of hyperbole and contradiction. Example: After citing so many sources on the Swordfish's adaptation to and need for deep cold water, Ellis states: "...no living species seems threatened by the warming of the world's oceans." (Page 236). Lots of typos to spice up the long paraphrased excerpts of fishing stories, scientific inquiries and slack jawed affection towards an enigma the author has not solved, only gathered the pieces of and strung one after the next in a long line of hyperbole and contradiction. Example: After citing so many sources on the Swordfish's adaptation to and need for deep cold water, Ellis states: "...no living species seems threatened by the warming of the world's oceans." (Page 236).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Top 5 Science and Nature - PLA

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jordyn Boettinger

    Very good book on the history and biology of billfishes, mainly swordfish and marlins. Another great book by Richard Ellis- always a go-to author for me.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Milt

    UofC free e-book mini read. repetitive, yet pertinent. warning of warming and overuse by human greed and need. needed an editor and a proofreader.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alvaro

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Gregory

  11. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Swanberg

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ike Rakiecki

  13. 5 out of 5

    Oren

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Richmond

  15. 5 out of 5

    Seth Frost

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  17. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Hill

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jared

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adam Goldberg

  20. 5 out of 5

    Constance

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matt K

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Bass

  23. 5 out of 5

    Donn

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Hult

  25. 4 out of 5

    Iglen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara Jose

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rod

  28. 5 out of 5

    SEP

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael McCue

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