This Science Book Is For People Who Wouldn’t Normally Read A Science Book

Author Juli Berwald discusses chasing a 500-pound jellyfish off the coast of Japan, and writing about the health of the planet.

By Laura RiceNovember 1, 2017 1:00 pm

For Austin-based writer Juli Berwald, what began as a research project on jellyfish evolved into an exploration into her own life.

“A big part of the book is exploring the science of jellyfish, which is beyond fascinating,” Berwald says of her new book, “Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone.”

“But it also is the story of me and the ways that I sort of grew my spine as a middle-aged woman living in Austin, Texas,” she says.

After receiving her Ph.D. in ocean science, Berwald spent several years writing science textbooks. She describes this new project as a book for people who don’t usually read science – a book for “a really smart best friend who’s curious but just didn’t feel inclined to pick up a [science] book,” she says.

Research for the book took Berwald as far as the coast of Japan, where she went commercial jellyfishing. She also visited Italy to talk to scientists who study an immortal jellyfish, and traveled to Israel to swim in a giant bloom of the creatures.

In addition to writing about the creatures themselves, Berwald says the book is also about the world’s “collective spinelessness” toward the health of our planet.

“I think one thing that the science of jellyfish is telling us is that we really need to take care of our oceans,” Berwald says. “Their health is our health as well.”


Written by Rachel Zein.