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The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins:

About The Book:

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Do fishes think? Do they really have three-second memories? And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface of the water?

In What a Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes.

Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish―more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined―we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave.

Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian―in other words, much like us.

What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates.

Click to buy the book on Amazon.co.uk
Click to buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives―a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.

Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean.

Teeming with insights and exciting discoveries, What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life. What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins―the pet goldfish included.





Based on the latest scientific research, What a Fish Knows offers an eye-opening tour of the social, mental, and emotional lives of fishes. Who knew fish use tools, appreciate music, fall for the same optical illusions we do, and engage in both cooperative hunting and some very kinky sex? Jonathan Balcombe’s book is popular science writing at its best. It will spin your head around.

Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals

What a Fish Knows is the best book on fish I have ever read. Sprinkled throughout with engrossing anecdotes and humor, Jonathan Balcombe’s inspiring treatise takes the reader on a fascinating and deeply moving journey into the lives of fish, showing them to be sentient individuals with personalities, minds, and relationships, not primitive, dimwitted, and unfeeling creatures who feel no pain when chased, caught, and killed. Balcombe’s eloquent, persuasive, highly readable tour de force has a single, luminous message: fish deserve more respect, care, and protection.

Chris Palmer, author of Shooting in the Wild and Confessions of a Wildlife Filmmaker

I thought I knew a lot about fish. Then I read What a Fish Knows. And now I know a lot about fish! Stunning in the way it reveals so many astonishing things about the fish who populate planet Earth in their trillions, this book is sure to “deepen” your appreciation for our fin-bearing co-voyagers, the bright strangers whose world we share.

Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel

Fishes are greatly misunderstood and grievously maligned. Now, in What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe uses the latest science to provide a comprehensive picture of just who fishes are. You will learn that fishes have distinct personalities, experience a wide range of emotions, form intricate social relationships, and are wonderful parents. Indeed, this forward-looking and long overdue book is an integral part of reconnecting with the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent planet.

Marc Bekoff, University of Colorado, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence