I have gone through all days days of book lists, but I thought I would finish up the year by bringing it up to a baker’s dozen, an extra gift for the holidays. This time, I present a list of weird, kooky, and fun books, but still at least somewhat related to to fossils, evolution, and zoology.
Fire-Breathing Dinosaurs? The Hilarious History of Creationist Pseudoscience at Its Silliest by Paul Senter. 2019. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle Upon Tyne. ISBN: 978-1-5275-3042-3.
Needless to say, I am in disagreement with creationists. But I am sometimes in awe of just how far they will go to support their beliefs. Some creationists have gone to great lengths to support their view. Ironically, a common theme pushed by creationists is a form of hyper evolution taking place far faster than any rational person could possibly accept, with dozens of new species being created with each generation for hundreds of years. Senter has collected some of the more outrageous examples here, including the one giving the title to the book, an idea that dragons were actually dinosaurs that literally breathed fire, according to the creationists that proposed and support the idea. To be fair, these ideas are not supported by all creationists and scientists supporting evolution have come up with their own unbelievably silly notions from time to time (sailing dimetrodons, anyone?), but looking at the silliness helps us to remember that keeping an open mind and true skepticism are actually very similar. Both say look at the evidence before accepting or rejecting an idea and never try to twist the data to fit a preconceived opinion. The difference between pseudoscience and science is that while both invite speculation and imagination, science requires supporting evidence before one accepts it and then periodically revisits it to see if it still holds up under new evidence.
Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths by Darren Naish. 2016. Arcturus Press. ISBN: 1784288624
of requiring evidence, cryptozoology is another great topic for science versus pseudoscience. A common fallacy many people fall into is that idea that all ideas and opinions are equal, so if you can’t disprove something, you should accept it as true. No, logic dictates you should ask for evidence before accepting something as real. Otherwise, we are forced to accept every cockamamie thing everyone says, which would be ridiculous and would lead us straight away into doom. Naish here does a great job of debunking the most popular myths of today. Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster, and others are known around the world, but the evidence indicates they don’t actually exist. The myths make for a wonderfully interesting read and they do spark the imagination, part of why they are so popular, but the reality is a bit different. Naish makes the reality a fascinating read too, so one can enjoy the stories and still retain the sense of wonder even while understanding the reality. Naish’s takes on why these myths are so popular makes an interesting read in and of itself. I have the book, you should too.
The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded by Ronald Binns. 2017. Zoilus Press. ISBN-13: 978-1999735906
The Loch Ness monster, aka “Nessie,” is arguably the best known of all cryptids, with dozens of books and movies to supposedly uncover the truth. Binns has written several books on Nessie. This book is a follow up to his 1985 book, “The Loch Ness Mystery Solved,” in which he discusses all the evidence to date for the creature. After going through everything, what does he find? Hoaxes, misunderstandings, a lot of people not understanding biology or physics, and absolutely no evidence that stands up to scrutiny. This is probably the best book available for collecting all the available evidence and understanding what it really means. If you are interested in the Loch Ness monster, you will want to get this book.
Decline and Fall of the Loch Ness Monster: Contested Histories and Revisionist Tales by Ronald Binns. 2019. Zoilus Press. ISBN-13: 978-1999735937
Binns was not done with Nessie in 2017. This year sees yet another book on the topic by Binns. In this book, he reviews past writings about the creature and looks at the evolution of Nessie as a cultural phenomenon through the varied tales by various authors who altered, enhanced, embellished, and added to previous stories, with Nessie changing in appearance and personality along the way.At the end, Nessie has become something that is less believed as real and more accepted as fun legend, believed in as an expression of the desire for mystery still being out there.
Disentangled: Ethnozoology and Environmental Explanation of the Gloucester Sea Serpent by Robert France. 2019. Wageningen Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-8686-335-8
Sea serpents are central in stories of maritime adventures. One of the most famous and supposedly most often reported is the Gloucester sea serpent seen around the east coast of the United States in the 1800s. This book, as it states, is the definitive work on the subject, detailing all the stories, sightings, and suppositions about the serpent. More importantly, it goes into what it might actually have been using sound knowledge of actual ecology and zoology. If you want to know all about the most famous of supposedly real, but probably not, maritime monsters and what it might really have been, check out this book. It is an excellent work on scientific study of a nonscientific topic.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. 2017. Tor. SBN-13: 978-0765395238
This book was recently suggested to me and I find the whole premise just hilariously fascinating. Gailey tells the true story of an astoundingly poorly thought out plot by the United States government to import hippos and introduce them to the swamps of Louisiana. Ostensibly, the idea was to create an alternative food source. Sadly for those of us who love the idea of hippos in the States, things did not go as planned and the idea was abandoned. Just think, if things had gone differently, we could have had stories of people being killed by hippos right here. Hippos, in case you don’t know, are far more dangerous than alligators or crocodiles. They are big, they are strong, they have huge mouths with enormous teeth, and they are famously aggressive and territorial. Crocodiles flee from hippos for good reason.
What would the holidays be without zombies? So to properly celebrate, here are a couple of books to fill that need.
Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain by Tomothy Versteynen and Bradley Voytek. 2014. Princeton University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0691157283
Ok, so this book is not exactly new, but it is new to me and honestly, how many books out there actually take a serious look at zombies from a neurological perspective and are written by actual neuroscientists? One that I know of. This book looks at various behaviors in zombies and then tries to explain them using real neuroscience. Along the way, they cover loads of real science and facts about the human brain. So if you like zombies and real brain science, you should find this book hilariously informative. It may be a bit dated, but it is still a fun read. By the time you finish this book, not only will you know more about the brain, but you will know why zombies are always saying, “braaaaiiinsssss.”
Plight of the Living Dead: What Real Life Zombies Reveal About Our World-And Ourselves by Matt Simon. 2018. Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780143131410
Zombies are real. Maybe not the undead human, flesh-eating monsters of the movies, but therea re otehr versions. Fungi that take over the minds of ants, until they explode out of their heads. Wasps that sting roaches in the brain and turn them into living incubators. Parasites that cause animals to walk into the open mouths of their predators. Zombies are everywhere. This book gleefully explores zombies in real life and all the ways other creatures can hijack our brains.
And so we come to the end of our collection of books. Hopefully in all the books covered, you have been able to find something of interest to keep you busy during the holidays and beyond. Happy holidays!