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.
“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. Voigt brings such wonderful humor, adventure, and hard science to this subject, I found myself unable to put the book down. Never has science been so much criminally good fun. I will never look upon a goldfish the same way again.”
—Bryan Christy, author of The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers
"Few writers can match the intelligence, charm, wit, and sheer audacity that Emily Voigt brings to bear in this highly readable and important book. From the bleak housing projects of the South Bronx to the steamy jungles of southern Myanmar, Voigt takes us along on a journey of adventure and discovery in her quest to find an increasingly rare fish in the wild. With a page-turning plot and a cast of vivid characters, The Dragon Behind the Glass shines a powerful light on the international trade in endangered species."
—Scott Wallace, author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes
"The Asian arowana, also known as the dragon fish, ranks among the world’s most expensive aquarium fish, and in this engaging tale of obsession and perserverance, jouranlist Voigt chronicles her effort to study and understand its appeal. . . . 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."
—Publishers Weekly *Starred review*