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Review of Great White!

Great White: The Majesty of Sharks

By Chris Fallows
Chronicle Books, 2009

Photographer and shark expert Chris Fallows opens his visually stunning new coffee table book with a quick autobiographical sketch:

I had no money, no car and still stayed at home with my fantastically supportive mother after my folks had divorced a few years earlier. I had not achieved a great amount by the age of 20, but I was content. I was following my passion and I know worked with the greatest fish in the sea, the great white shark.

If that ‘worked with’ sounds a bit naïve (like they were collaborating on a stage musical, Fallows hatching out the lyrics, the shark tentatively plinking away at the piano), it’s to be forgiven – Fallows was passionate even then about showing people the wonder and ecological fragility of the world’s big shark species. His later work will be familiar to nature fans (and YouTube idlers) the world over: he made the groundbreaking observations of great white sharks leaping entirely out of the water at Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town – the so-called “Air Jaws” that was the subject of two popular documentary films. This book – full of gorgeous photos only somebody in Fallows’ line of work could get – continues his mission, as he succinctly puts it:

To see the magnificence of a great white shark firsthand is the fastest way to change perceptions and separate fact from fiction. This is the only way people will ever learn to love and not fear sharks.

Again, just a bit naïve. I’ve been in semi-murky water when a great white suddenly showed up, and I can tell you what countless other divers could second: there’s not much to love about a predator the size of a Volkswagon who tends to bite first and ask questions later. And Fallows himself perhaps unwittingly perpetuates the very reaction he dislikes: this book is filled with pictures of 13-foot 1-ton sharks hurling themselves entirely out of the water in a single-minded desire to not only kill but pulverize seals swimming at the surface. It takes absolutely no stretch of the imagination whatsoever to picture a human swimmer in place of those seals. It takes absolutely no stretch of the imagination whatsoever to picture that human swimmer is you. This is, therefore, a deeply terrifying book. But terror is a primordial kind of respect, and humans have always been fascinated by what they fear. Maybe Fallows isn’t so naïve after all.

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