Everything is illuminated

Our fascination with bioluminescence

If you have ever visited a big-city aquarium, you may have marvelled at the luminescent jellyfish undulating in their blue-lit tanks like dreamlike cupcakes. Or perhaps you moved quickly to see more exciting creatures. Like, say, stingrays. Or sharks. Or anacondas. That would be a pity. Because you would have missed a chance to be enlightened.

Enlightenment is the through-line in Michel Anctil’s intelligent new book on the history and science of light production in living organisms. And I do mean enlightenment in both the literal and metaphorical senses of the word. After all, what is science, if not a journey from the darkness into the light? An illumination of previously hidden phenomena. A probing of the mysteries of nature, through our specimens. It is exactly this sort of probing that Anctil writes about in Luminous Creatures, most radiantly.

The book does not represent a scientific...