Some of my more regular readers may recall the review I wrote of Susan Casey’s second book, The Wave, which I wrote about a year ago. If so, you will not be surprised at my eagerness to obtain a copy of her first book, The Devil’s Teeth. The Wave kindled in me a newfound fascination with surfing, which until reading the book I gave no more thought to beyond a vague notion of it being a ‘kinda cool’ sport. When I found out that her first book is about great white sharks, I was sold. I confess I bought this book ages ago and, anticipating a great read, decided to reserve it as vacation reading, lent it to a friend in the meantime, and promptly forgot about it. About a week before leaving on a vacation to Kauai I suddenly remembered The Devil’s Teeth. I retrieved it from my friend in time and eagerly packed it for the trip. You’d think that this book could not possibly live up to my ridiculously heightened expectations (is it weird that I was looking forward to reading it almost as much as going to Kauai itself?). Well I am thrilled to report that it possibly exceeded them. I was happy to discover that the Devil’s Teeth was not what you might call a typical science book. There were no chapters dedicated solely to great white shark mating/migration/feeding habits. These were facts that you pick up as you go (and, as it turns out, no one is really sure about the sharks’ mating/migration/feeding habits anyway). Most of the book takes place in and around the Farallon Islands, which you might be surprised to learn lie 27 miles off the coast of California, within the city limits of San Francisco. On a clear day you can see them from the Golden Gate Bridge, yet few people have heard of them. The islands are known for three things: brutal, unpredictable weather; shipwrecks; and great white sharks. It is a hostile, forbidding place that was designated a wildlife sanctuary, after having been first virtually destroyed by human activity. It is enormously difficult to receive permission to visit the Farallons and almost impossible if you are not an eminent biologist of some sort. Yet Casey wheedles her way there, not once, but three times. The book is a bit of a love letter to the Farallons. Casey visited first for three days as the guest of one of two biologists who live on the island semi-permanently. She became obsessed, mostly with the sharks, and decided she absolutely must go back. Because of the heavy restrictions placed on human presence on the islands, Casey and the biologist come up with a clever (albeit somewhat insane) way of allowing her to spend more than a day on the islands: they would rent a sailboat which she would live on for several months at the height of shark season. Considering the number of fierce storms that hit the Islands, this was a rather treacherous prospect, especially given Casey’s lack of sailboat experience. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but suffice it to say, things don’t exactly go as planned. For me, this book was a page-turner and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in sharks.
The Devil’s Teeth, by Susan Casey