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Living work of art, consumer commodity, scientific hero and environmental menace: the humble goldfish is the ultimate human cultural artefact. A creature of supposedly little memory and short lifespan, it has universal appeal. In ancient China, goldfish were saved from predators in acts of religious reverence and selectively bred for their glittering grace. In the East, they became the subject of exquisite art, regarded as living flowers that moved, while in the West, they became ubiquitous residents of the Victorian parlour. Cheap and eminently available, today they are bred by the millions for the growing domestic pet market, while also proving to be important to laboratory studies of perception, vision and intelligence. In this illuminating homage to the goldfish, Anna Marie Roos challenges the cultural preconceptions of a creature often thought to be common and disposable, as she blends art and science to trace the surprising and intriguing history of this much-loved animal.
Anna Marie Roos is Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Lincoln. Her previous books include Martin Lister and his Remarkable Daughters: The Art of Science in the Seventeenth Century (2018) and The Salt of the Earth: Natural Philosophy, Medicine, and Chymistry in England, 1650-1750 (2007).