The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Survival and Obsession Among America's Great White Sharks

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Overview

A journalist's obsession brings her to a remote island off the California coast, home to the world's most mysterious and fearsome predators-and the strange band of surfer-scientists who follow them

Susan Casey was in her living room when she first saw the great white sharks of the Farallon Islands, their dark fins swirling around a small motorboat in a documentary. These sharks were the alphas among alphas, some longer than twenty feet, and there were too many to count; even ...

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The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks

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Overview

A journalist's obsession brings her to a remote island off the California coast, home to the world's most mysterious and fearsome predators-and the strange band of surfer-scientists who follow them

Susan Casey was in her living room when she first saw the great white sharks of the Farallon Islands, their dark fins swirling around a small motorboat in a documentary. These sharks were the alphas among alphas, some longer than twenty feet, and there were too many to count; even more incredible, this congregation was taking place just twenty-seven miles off the coast of San Francisco.

In a matter of months, Casey was being hoisted out of the early-winter swells on a crane, up a cliff face to the barren surface of Southeast Farallon Island-dubbed by sailors in the 1850s the "devil's teeth." There she joined Scot Anderson and Peter Pyle, the two biologists who bunk down during shark season each fall in the island's one habitable building, a haunted, 135-year-old house spackled with lichen and gull guano. Two days later, she got her first glimpse of the famous, terrifying jaws up close and she was instantly hooked; her fascination soon yielded to obsession-and an invitation to return for a full season. But as Casey readied herself for the eight-week stint, she had no way of preparing for what she would find among the dangerous, forgotten islands that have banished every campaign for civilization in the past two hundred years.

The Devil's Teeth is a vivid dispatch from an otherworldly outpost, a story of crossing the boundary between society and an untamed place where humans are neither wanted nor needed.

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Editorial Reviews

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The sight of a great white shark attacking a 300-pound elephant seal is bloody, violent, and compelling. But reading about it is downright frightening. In The Devil's Teeth, Casey, a spunky, diminutive blonde who refers to herself as the least likely candidate to hang out in the "spookiest place in the world," stands in a toylike boat while the enormous creatures orbit below.

"Biologist Edward O. Wilson summed it up beautifully when he wrote, 'In a deeply tribal way, we love our monsters.' " And love them, Casey does. Leaving the blacktop, high heels and happy hours of city life behind, she embarks on a bumpy boat ride to this exotic suburb of San Francisco. Just 27 miles due west of the Golden Gate Bridge, jutting from the Pacific like the fangs of a sea monster, lie the Farallon Islands. A craggy, wild archipelago, these are little more than a series of guano-covered granite protrusions, barren, continually battered by storms, and blanketed by fog. The Los Angeles Times described them as "the most forbidding piece of real estate in America, if not the world." It is here that Casey has come to find out more about the elusive great white sharks, her eyes trained on them as on a hypnotist's coin.

Every fall, the Farallones witness the regular spilling of blood. For in this eerie wildlife refuge, nature plays hardball every day. Home to one of the largest colonies of nesting seabirds in the Pacific, the Farallones also host thousands of marine mammals, a few mad scientists, and the largest great white sharks in the world. Sharks with names like "Stumpy," "the queen annihilator of surfboard," "Cuttail" and "Spotty," these hunters return year after year to patrol their favorite haunts and lunch on their favorite meal -- seal. Swimming just under the water's surface, the sharks are "stacked like planes at O'Hare." As big as minivans, these predators aren't cute. But as Casey reports, observing them with a mixture of captivation and terror, they're truly irresistible. And the result of her efforts is a passionately written book of adventure, natural history, and self-discovery. (Fall 2005 Selection)
From the Publisher
"I read Susan Casey's book in a feeding frenzy, satisfying my curiosity while fueling my fascination with sharks. A thoroughly researched and well-written piece of literature that raises hairs as well as tickling funny bones, THE DEVIL'S TEETH artfully reveals what lurks in the shadows of the mysterious great white and the people obsessed with them. The true triumph of the book, though, is in Casey's transcendence of mere journalism—she's clearly embraced by the world of which she writes." —Linda Greenlaw, Author of THE HUNGRY OCEAN and ALL FISHERMEN ARE LIARS

“A marvelous book—part adventure, part meditation, part natural history — that takes the reader on a wild ride into a strange and seductive world. Casey is the perfect diving companion; her account of life among San Francisco's shark population is engaging, smart, and irresistible." —Susan Orlean, author of My Kind of Place and The Orchid Thief

“In delivering us to the Farallon Islands, and then into the souls of the magnificent Great White Sharks that populate its waters, Susan Casey has really delivered us into the DNA of our own beings. The Devil's Teeth is more than a shark story; it is an account of our instincts, our appetites, even our futures, all beautifully told by a writer compelled to know.”—Robert Kurson, author of Shadow Divers

"'There's another world, and it's in this one,'" declares Susan Casey, reveling in the surreality of her days and nights spent among the world's coolest, cold-eyed customers, great white sharks. Who knew these beasts lived so close to San Francisco, within the pizza delivery zone of that fair city? Casey is a poet, a bare-knuckled spirit, unabashed and funny, and hers is an entrancing ride to a beautiful, forbidding place, a new world, close by. Hang on." —Doug Stanton, author of In Harm's Way

"Susan Casey could write about guppies, and I'd want to read her book. I devoured this book like a shark." —Mary Roach, author of Stiff

Louise Jarvis Flynn
Susan Casey's lively portrait of life among Northern California's white sharks and the dogged researchers who study them indulges in just the right mix of anxiety, gore and reassuring shark science. One can find reason to fear the waves and then muster the courage to enter them, usually within the same chapter...The sharks are the stars of Casey's story, but the Farallones steal the show.
The New York Times Book Review
Paul McHugh
[A] page-turner. . . Gives you a way of reaching these mysterious isles without getting wet. Or seasick.
San Francisco Chronicle
Paul Fletcher
Extraordinary.
Men's Journal
John Copley
An evocative and entertaining account of the cutting edge of marine biology.
New Scientist
National Geographic Adventure
Will surely satisfy your appetite for all things fanged and finned.
Kirkus Reviews
Handles close encounters with visceral intensity, then handily details the scientific achievements of the project...She captures the spooky feel of the Farallones-its sheer cliffs, massive bird and seal populations, fogs and green flashes and Specters of the Brocken -- as well as its dramatic weather.
Anneli Rufus
[A] chilling account of a stint on and around that bloody buffet, the Farallones.
East Bay Express
Publishers Weekly
From its startling opening description of scientists racing to the bloody scene where a shark has decapitated a seal, this memoir-cum-natural and cultural history of the Farallon Islands-"the spookiest, wildest place on Earth"-plunges readers into the thrills of shark watching. Casey, a sportswriter with recurring dreams about deep-sea creatures, "became haunted" by the 211-acre archipelago 27 miles west of San Francisco when she saw a BBC documentary about Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, biologists who study the great white sharks there. The islands are the only place on Earth where scientists can study the animals in their natural habitat. These evolutionary ancients (sharks lived 200 million years before dinosaurs) can be as large as Mack trucks, eat suits of armor, are both fierce and friendly, and, according to Casey, are an addictive fascination for those lucky enough to encounter them. Casey's three-week solo stay on a yacht anchored in shark waters is itself an adventure, with the author evacuating just hours before the yacht disappeared in a storm. Her suspenseful narrative perfectly matches the drama and mystery of these islands, their resident sharks and the scientists who love them. Photos. Agent, Sloan Harris. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Casey, a Time, Inc., developmental editor, takes us to the Farollon Islands (dubbed "devil's teeth"), 27 miles from San Francisco, a major watering hole for great white sharks and, consequently, a few dedicated "surfer-scientists." With a national tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805075816
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/7/2005
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Casey is the development editor of Time Inc. She was previously the editor in chief of Sports Illustrated Women and an editor at large for Time Inc.'s 180 magazine titles. She also served as the creative director of Outside magazine where, with editor Mark Bryant, she led the magazine to three consecutive, history-making National Magazine Awards for General Excellence. At Outside she was part of the editorial team that developed the stories behind Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm. Her writing has appeared in Esquire, Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Devils's Teeth:

In a world where very little is known for certain, we knew that below us a great white shark was orbiting, waiting for the seal to bleed some more, and that this shark would soon be returning for breakfast. It might be Betty or Mama or The Cadillac, one of the huge females that patrolled the east side of the island. These big girls, all of them over 18 feet long, were known as The Sisterhood. Or it might be a "smaller" male (say, 14 or 15 feet) like Two Spot or T-Nose or the sneaky Cal Ripfin. These sharks were called The Rat Pack. It might be any number of great whites. At this time of the year there were scores of them cruising this 120-acre patch of sea, swimming close to the shoreline of Southeast Farallon Island as hapless seals washed out of finger gulleys at high tide and into the danger zone.

In any given year more than a thousand people will be maimed by toilet bowl cleaning products or killed by cattle. Less than a dozen will be attacked by a great white shark. In this neighborhood, however, those odds do not count. At the Farallon Islands in autumn, your chance of meeting a great white face-to-face is better than even money, should you be crazy enough or unlucky enough to end up in the water.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 37 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2007

    A reviewer

    The ocean and sharks have creeped me out ever since I saw the movie 'Jaws'. I like to read about them and enjoy shark week on TV but I can't imagine doing what Susan Casey did at the Farallon Islands. I would have high-tailed it out of there before I landed on shore! This book was amazing. I thought it would be more like a boring, scientific account of watching sharks but she made this book read like a novel. After reading this book I felt like I knew these biologists and could understand why they spent months on this isolated island every year waiting for shark attacks. The writing was great and I devoured this book in a few hours.I loved the history of the island as well. I would not pass up this book. It was awesome!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful!

    From the minute I saw this book on the shelf, I couldn't let it down. I great book for shark lovers and everyone else! Its very informative and will open your eyes about the world of great white sharks.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Devils teeth and 10pts for my project ms pitts

    The Devils Teeth is a documentary book about Susan Casey's accounts with Peter Pyle and Scott Anderson on their study of Great Whites at the Farallon Islands located 24 miles from San Francisco. When Susan was watching BBC and finds a segment on Great Whites in their natural environment at the Islands, she quickly packs her things and goes to the island. When Susan arrives she is welcomed by the stench of guano and screeching of the tens-of-thousands of gulls flying around and unpredictable weather. While on the water filming the sharks on a 10ft jetty Peter and Scott are dwarfed by the gigantic sharks and in awe by their natural strength and agility. Back on the island Susan is told of the Islands dark history and the constant fight for survival among the inhabitants. Although waters are scattered with sharks, there is a urchin diver named Ron that Susan meets and listens to all of his near death experiences all for some urchins. Peter and Scott have been studying these sharks for decades and even named some of them, a "happy-go-lucky" Half Fin who measures up to over 15ft long. When it came for Susan to leave, she left more curious then before she arrived. When Susan gets back at the office she has the urge to come back and learn more about the islands and of these mysterious creatures that call it home. On her second time back to the island she has a lot more appreciation for it and takes in all of the natural world around her and she has a lot more encounters with the sharks and the ghost that haunt the research base (a 200 year old scary house) . Peter and Scotts research is important even if you think it isn't. These creatures were constantly being hunted down and killed but now they have shown the world that there is more to these creatures then just attacking people and boats. Their research has brought a lot of much needed awareness of the sharks and how dangerous they really are. I really enjoyed this book and if you like adventure and nature then you should get this book and read it until you're satisfied with it. And it's also a little ironic that these researchers who know that these sharks are out there and what they are capable of and yet they still like to surf the waters that the sharks patrol. Peter also states that "he wants to ride the perfect wave" at the islands which everyone knows that it is an extremely dangerous idea. This is just a little preview of the book and to fully understand and appreciate it you need to get the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    What a great book!

    This is one of the best books I have ever read. I did not know much about the Farallon Islands, so this book was extremely informational. Although it is nonfiction, I read it quickly because it was so fascinating. This is a definite must read if you live in the bay area!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2007

    Frustrated...

    I really enjoyed this book up until the end. I was so furiuos with the writer's selfishness, I wanted to write her a letter. It ended up costing people their jobs, and unfortunately, not her! The guy who lost his job because of her should get the royalties from this book, not the writer.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2006

    It's better than 'Shark Week!'

    I was glad the moment I bought this book. Susan Casey is an excellent writer and really gives me more and more passion for my chosen field. The greatest part was the history behind the farralon islands. I can't imagine how much research she must've had to do to get this much information on such an obscure local.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2014

    I couldn¿t agree more with John Steinbeck¿s words - ¿An Ocean wi

    I couldn’t agree more with John Steinbeck’s words - “An Ocean without its unnamed monsters would be like a completely dreamless
    sleep.”Not many of us have had the opportunity to smell a shark attack - and yes it does have it own odor just like the smell of death
    has its own odor.To be honestly frank with you - non-fiction books are my favorite to read. I really liked the realistic and descriptive way the author pulls us into her world - what she saw - what she experienced.
    Susan Casey gives us a worldliness into a real aquatic world that humans are still trying to learn about: T
    he alphas of the waters of the world. It is a world that cannot be tamed - but can be destroyed by humans.I don’t know it for a fact - I believe it is just human nature for us to be restless and curious - and I think those are good traits.
    Columbus was restless and curious too. I love the photos in this book ... it takes you on an adventure without getting out of your easy chair or leaving your private space.“The Devil’s Teeth” can open up a new world for readers. There are new universes and ancient buried worlds swirling around.
    I hope you become a de facto intern and take a boat ride into this engaging adventure that is well worth your time.Jeannie Walker (Award-Winning Author) 

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    This was a beautifully written story, from start to finish. You

    This was a beautifully written story, from start to finish. You meet people, and get to know them, that would otherwise be 'off the grid.' And the there are the sharks. A wonderful read for a person with an obsession, slight or otherwise, for these animals. I loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    This book is about the history and sharks of the Farallon Island

    This book is about the history and sharks of the Farallon Islands which are located off of San Francisco, and is written in a gonzo journalist style about Susan Casey’s time spent on the islands. She vividly describes the sharks in a way that shows their beauty and power. She also goes into great depths about the history of the islands and the research that was going on there. Casey mainly writes about the two biologists who lived and worked at the Farallons and studied the great whites. What I got from this book was a deep admiration for people who were willing to deal with these harsh living conditions to learn more about the animals they love. I enjoyed this book because it made me feel like I was on the island with them, and that I was getting up close and personal with the sharks. Susan Casey brings us along in this rare glimpse of the Farallons, an island that people seldom get to visit. After reading this book you will have a new insight into great white’s lives; it is a great story for anyone that loves science and sharks. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2013

    .

    .

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    Don't bother reading this book, it was an absolute waste of time

    Don't bother reading this book, it was an absolute waste of time. Casey's writing style is similar to that of a 4th grader and her scattered way of describing incidents left me frustrated and wishing a better author had the experience she did on the Farallones. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Great read about the white sharks of the Farallon Islands and th

    Great read about the white sharks of the Farallon Islands and the behaviorists who study them. Casey is an excellent writer and specifically took this project to challenge herself as she was new to science writing and life on the water. Those familiar with white sharks, marine biology/animals behavior, sailing and nautical science will sometimes feel impatient with her decisions or ignorance, but that is because the maritime world is new to her. It is still an enjoyable read!

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  • Posted September 20, 2012

    worth the read

    Interesting the first 90%, and of book became weak too much empathy

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Interesting but not something I'd buy at full price

    This book was adequate but not compelling or particularly well written. I learned some new scientific facts about great white sharks and I appreciated that. However, I'd describe this book as more of a diary of the daily drudgery of scientific research. The account lacked the highs, lows, strengths, and weaknesses of interpersonal relationships. The conclusion lacked the sense that all of the sacrifices were worth the gain of a treasure trove of scientific knowledge. I was left feeling as though the writer wrote this book to assuage her conscience. I wanted more and this book failed to deliver for me.

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  • Posted July 19, 2012

    Interesting

    I thoroughly enjoyed Susan Casey's 2011 book The Wave. Devil's Teeth, an earlier book, is not as interesting but I learned much about coastal California and the Farillon Islands. I hesitated a long time before buying this book because I'm not very interested in the Great White shark. Ultimately, I purchased the book because I enjoy Susan Casey's writing style. This author writes very well and doesn't disappoint.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2011

    love hate relationship

    Hi, this book made me stop reading and shouting every now and then. The content is really interesting, maybe a bit more scientific input on the Great Whites would have been great, as it now has more autobiographic notions: about a woman who gets so interested in sharks that she doesn't hesitate to nearly ruin other people's properties, lives and a complete research project. Again: the book is a great read, but until now i am not so sure what to make of the authors motivation and her ability to take responsibility for her actions. Maybe I am a bit overly sensitive here, but since i also read The Wave (also a good read) where she uses the same way of squeezing herself into other people's lifes ... uhm, oh well.
    At least, this is my take on it! Maybe I am wrong, in which case I will humbly apologize.
    4 Stars for the great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2008

    unbelievable! but not in a good way

    I read this book and though it was very interesting but as some others have said the author is selfish. Great writer but ethics are not great. The funds from this book should go to the research station that she destroyed while writing this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2007

    Great book especially for the shark fanatic!

    This book was wonderfully written and full of amazing facts. The ending is a little anti-climactic, but sometimes life really is that way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2007

    Extremely Informative!

    This book is one of the best I have ever read. Casey's portrayl of this amazing creatures is spot on, unlike so many stories written about the Great White Shark. In her book she shows how important these sharks are to the delicate balance of the marine environmnet. Her writing is so descriptive you can feel the spray of the waves pounding the rocks and hear the cries of the literally thousands of birds that call the Farallon Islands home. This is an extremely enjoyable book for all ages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2006

    Not Just for Shark Lovers

    This book was amazing to me because I love to read about sharks. But Susan Casey had a very easy-to-read, almost comical way about her writing. She reads like someone would be speaking, and that can be very helpful when you're reading about science. Great book, very enjoyable... but don't read it if you're afraid of sharks in the slightest.

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