Taxonomist David Starr Jordan was a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humanity. But when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake sent more than a thousand of his discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor, Jordan did not despair. Instead, he surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection.
NPR reporter Lulu Miller—creator of the radio show Invisibilia and regular contributor to Radiolab—joins us with a livestreamed examination of Jordan’s tale as a model for how to go on when all seems lost. Drawing from her book Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, she delves into the ways the universe seemed to thwart Jordan’s efforts to catalogue life’s hidden blueprint—and the one clever innovation he implemented after the earthquake that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world. Miller shares these and other unearthed revelations about Jordan’s life that have transformed her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet. Tune in with Miller for an improbable biography, memoir, scientific adventure, and fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.
Lulu Miller is a Peabody Award–winning science reporter who has been working in public radio for over fifteen years. She is a cofounder of NPR’s Invisibilia, a show about the invisible forces that shape human behavior. She is also a frequent contributor to Radiolab.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.