Peter Benchley,
Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks & the Sea
(Delacorte, 2005; Yearling, 2007)

The late Peter Benchley had every reason to love sharks. After all, it was the voracious (but wholly fictional) great white of Jaws fame that sealed Benchley's fortune. But, while some writers might have been content to take the money and move on to other projects, Benchley lingered to study the shark in more detail, coming to respect and admire them and, it seems, feel a little guilt to have maligned them in his bestseller. Shark Life is a sort of love letter to the species -- as well as a flashing red warning sign for foolish humans who don't show the proper respect.

This book, which was adapted by Karen Wojtyla so it's on a level easily understood by young readers while still fascinating for adults, shares stories about Benchley's interactions with sharks along with amazing details about their lives and habits.

I, with only a journeyman's knowledge of the ocean and experience limited mostly to its beaches, have always held a healthy fear of sharks. Benchley has helped to put me at ease, explaining with great care the circumstances that might lead a shark to attack a person.

But Shark Life, title notwithstanding, is not limited solely to sharks. Benchley discusses other dangers of the sea, from moray eels to riptides, and I learned more about safe ocean habits in 15 minutes of reading than I did over a lifetime of swimming.

Anyone who loves or fears the ocean should read this book; only the indifferent landlubber should ignore it. Benchley had a casual, comfortable style of writing that presents these facts and figures in an easily digestible form -- and some of his personal stories are, frankly, heart-stopping. I can't wait to share this book with my kids.

review by
Tom Knapp

14 July 2007

what's new