Refreshingly intelligent book, which trusts the reader and maintains a thoughtful and balanced tone throughout. The author explores the issues around fish pain, suffering and welfare, identifying the questions we might ask, the ways we might try to answer them, and what the answers really mean. At each stage the book gives clear but detailed descriptions of the scientific research supporting each conclusion, making the story accessible to non-specialists and crucially moving the text from a 'trust me, I know' harangue to a 'here's what we know' dialogue.
Considering the general philosophical issues around animal welfare as well as the scientific questions of what fish can experience, the book scrupulously fails to find a bogeyman or call for any knee-jerk instant solutions. Nonetheless, it raises some hard issues, and in a world where we're ready to pay more for free-range poultry, it may be timely to be hearing some unpalatable facts about many of the standard commercial fishing practices used to produce the fish on our plates.
Alongside the exploration of the book's main themes comes plenty of fascinating biology, including the extraordinary and rather delightful story of the grouper and the eel, which I've had to repeat to everyone since reading it. The author is a fish biologist, and the book tells a perhaps unintended third story, that of the scientific process, the honest search for the right question, and then the ingenuity and elegance applied to finding an answer. When the predominant exposure to science is about dramatic breakthroughs or headline-grabbing controversy, this readable, thoughtful and informative book is a tribute to the people quietly getting on with it, trying to find out how things really work. I'm grateful one of them has found the time to share the process, as well as raising some very important issues about our understanding of and interactions with these fascinating and diverse animals.