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Publisher's Summary

"A book full of wonders." (Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk)

"Witty, insightful.... The story of jellyfish...is a significant part of the environmental story. Berwald's engaging account of these delicate, often ignored creatures shows how much they matter to our oceans' future." (New York Times Book Review)

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic that it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting - microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity - is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers.

More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. 

She traveled the globe to meet the biologist who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders. 

Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It’s a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share. 

©2017 Juli Berwald (P)2017 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Spineless is as mesmerizing, surprising, and beautiful as the jellyfish itself. Every page contains some astonishing treasure. If you cherish the sea, if you care about the environment, if you relish life on this sweet, blue planet, you will love this book.” (Sy Montgomery, New York Times best-selling author of The Soul of an Octopus

"Thoroughly engaging.... Berwald shows us a kind of natural science in which beauty and wonder, scientific investigation and the varied shapes of human lives are bound closely together. I love Spineless for that, and also for its inspiring call to follow your own star." (Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk)   

“Berwald’s engaging book is part memoir, part pop science, weaving together stories of her own twisting academic path along with fascinating, vivid details about the delicate creatures.” (New York Times Book Review

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What listeners say about Spineless

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Very Little Jellyfish Science

Bergwald spends the book talking more about herself than what should have been the star of her book, i.e. the jellyfish. Many points she raises lead to nowhere. I learned more about her, which I never cared for, than the thing she wanted us to know more about. It's a disappointing book.

11 people found this helpful

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Midlife crisis with a side of science

I admire that the author felt her life wasn't fulfilling enough and took up an intellectual challenge. That said, I thought I was purchasing a science book, not a prolonged narrating of her mundane inner thoughts and family vacations. I could see why this would appeal to some, but definitely not the scientific book I expected.

9 people found this helpful

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The closest thing to a jellyfish textbook

As someone that is looking to pursue a career in studying jellyfish it is incredibly difficult to find an easily digestible source of information on jellyfish. This book served as both a jumping off point for deep diving into topics and as bastion of information. Paired with Julie Berwalds story of finding a love for science once again "Spineless" certainly furthered my passion for jellyfish.

3 people found this helpful

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Jellyfish

Jellyfish are so interesting and wonderful when put in this context and I am glad that Juli Berwald provide all this information on one of my favorite animals.

3 people found this helpful

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Spineless but not without backbone!

I originally went back to college to study marine biology. How I ended up wrenching on aircraft is a convoluted story, one I don't have the patience to explain nor do I think you want to hear/read. But this book helped satisfy that craving and tugs at my heart strings. My heart will always be with marine biology over all else. Juli Berwald is now my hero for doing what I can't/couldn't. Thank you for such an amazing book, Mrs. Berwald! You are truly inspiring.

2 people found this helpful

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Love this book

Any additional comments?

I wasn't sure I would be able to listen to the book at first. The author reads it instead of a professional and drove me crazy at first with strange pauses. She has a good voice and projects her enthusiasm for the subject and after a few pages I was hooked on the book and not worrying about the reading. I love science books about living creatures but had no idea this subject has so much interesting information. Great book!

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Great narrative and science

This is my favorite new genre: science wrapped in an interesting narrative. Great reading from the author, excellent story, enough in depth science. Learned a ton. Even more inspired (and saddened) by the work we have to do to save our oceans and planet.

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Astounding!

I love the way she wrote about jellyfish as well as the big part they played in her life. It was awe inspiring to learn about her life just as much as it was to learn about jellyfish. Great listen!! And I also bought a physical copy too :)

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Autobiography of Juli Jellyfish

This is half autobiography of Juli Berwald and half treatise on the science of jellyfish. Berwald reads it well and there is joy in her voice for much of it that wouldn't come with a professional reader, but it is obvious she is not a trained reader, which would have been better.

As a character in her own book, she starts out wondering about global warming and jellyfish, but that gets lost along the way,. She obviously has disgust for global warming, but leaves the reader confused as to what to do about it and how it relates to jellyfish.

It's reasonably pleasant to listen to, mostly due to the autobiography, But even that is confused. She has a doctorate in science, but doesn't work as a scientist and regrets it. The autobiography doesn't resolve that and doesn't get enough into her life to know where she may go with her degree and her regret.

So the book, itself, is spineless. It's somewhat enjoyable, it teaches a lot about jellyfish, but it wobbles all over like jelly.

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More daily diary than scientific news

Large sections about what she was wearing or eating and her political opinions that detracted from the jellyfish.