Summary and book reviews of The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt

The Dragon Behind the Glass

A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish

by Emily Voigt

The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt X
The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

A riveting journey into the bizarre world of the Asian arowana or "dragon fish"—the world's most expensive aquarium fish—reveals a surprising history with profound implications for the future of wild animals and human beings alike.

A young man is murdered for his prized pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys a single specimen for $150,000. Meanwhile, a pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York.

Delving into an outlandish realm of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, The Dragon Behind the Glass tells the story of a fish like none other: a powerful predator dating to the age of the dinosaurs. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana is bred on high-security farms in Southeast Asia and sold by the hundreds of thousands each year. In the United States, however, it's protected by the Endangered Species Act and illegal to bring into the country—though it remains the object of a thriving black market. From the South Bronx to Singapore, journalist Emily Voigt follows the trail of the fish, ultimately embarking on a years-long quest to find the arowana in the wild, venturing deep into some of the last remaining tropical wildernesses on earth.

With a captivating blend of personal reporting, history, and science, The Dragon Behind the Glass traces our modern fascination with aquarium fish back to the era of exploration when intrepid naturalists stood on the cutting edge of modern science, discovering new and wondrous species in jungles all over the world. In an age when freshwater fish now comprise one of the most rapidly vanishing groups of animals on the planet, Voigt unearths a paradoxical truth behind the dragon fish's rise to fame—one that calls into question how we protect the world's rarest species. An elegant exploration of the human conquest of nature, The Dragon Behind the Glass revels in the sheer wonder of life's diversity and lays bare our deepest desire—to hold onto what is wild.

CHAPTER ONE
The Pet Detective
NEW YORK

On a freezing Tuesday in March 2009, my alarm blared at 4:00 a.m. By 6:45, I stood shivering outside a housing project in the South Bronx with Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick and three junior officers, fresh-faced graduates of the Academy. The entire scene was gray—the potholed roads, the sooty snow, the late-winter sky—except the officers themselves, who provided the only glimmer of green. Rather than standard NYPD issue, they wore olive uniforms and trooper hats, à la Ranger Smith from The Yogi Bear Show. As they crunched across the unshoveled walkway, a passing teenage girl wisecracked, "Ain't you supposed to be in the forest?"

Fitzpatrick, who had been patrolling the same beat since 1996, ignored her, keeping his eyes trained on one of the brick high-rises lined up like dominoes. As a cop (of sorts) from Brooklyn, descended from a clan of cops from Brooklyn, he looked the part, a towering man of forty-one with a crew cut and...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Dragon Behind the Glass is not just a marvelous peek into an industry very few of us have heard of, it’s an immensely enjoyable portrait of the lengths we can go to feed our obsessions. “Across all those miles, I felt the dark, far-off swamp that spawned the Super Red tug at me like a magnet. I wanted to get to the wild place – to see a fish that counted as part of the natural world,” Voigt explains. We get it, we really do. So...go fish!   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (642 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A spirited debut ... A fresh, lively look at an obsessive desire to own a piece of the wild

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review, Best Summer Books of 2016. Voigt's passion in pursuing her subject is infectious, as is the self-deprecating humor she injects into her enthralling look at the intersection of science, commercialism, and conservationism.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Fascinating and must-read.

Author Blurb Bryan Christy, author of The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers
A masterpiece! Emily Voigt has raised the bar for anyone who thinks they can tell a good fish story. What an extraordinary and extraordinarily well-told tale... Never has science been so much criminally good fun. I will never look upon a goldfish the same way again.

Author Blurb Scott Wallace, author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes
Few writers can match the intelligence, charm, wit, and sheer audacity that Emily Voigt brings to bear in this highly readable and important book.

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Beyond the Book

CITES and the Dragonfish

ArowanaThe Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, And the World's Most Coveted Fish, by Emily Voigt, explores the wild dragon fish or Asian arowana, which is protected under CITES (pronounced sigh-tees), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is among the largest conservation agreements in the world, regulating the movement of endangered species across the borders of 186 member states.

The agreement was set into motion after a resolution adopted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1963 to figure out a regulated way of trade in species that are threatened; the agreement went into effect nearly a decade later. CITES works by participating...

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