Review ~ Abominable Science!

This book was provided to me by Columbia University Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by by Daniel Loxton & Donald R. Prothero

Cover via Goodreads

Throughout our history, humans have been captivated by mythic beasts and legendary creatures. Tales of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster are part of our collective experience. Now comes a book from two dedicated investigators that explores and elucidates the fascinating world of cryptozoology.

Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. After examining the nature of science and pseudoscience and their relation to cryptozoology, Loxton and Prothero take on Bigfoot; the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, and its cross-cultural incarnations; the Loch Ness monster and its highly publicized sightings; the evolution of the Great Sea Serpent; and Mokele Mbembe, or the Congo dinosaur. They conclude with an analysis of the psychology behind the persistent belief in paranormal phenomena, identifying the major players in cryptozoology, discussing the character of its subculture, and considering the challenge it poses to clear and critical thinking in our increasingly complex world. (via Goodreads)

This is an interesting book to review on the heels of Discovery’s Shark Week fiasco.

On Sunday, the Discovery channel aired a “documentary” on the megalodon as part of its Shark Week festivities. The megalodon isn’t a cyptid. It is a creature in the fossil record. Other than the fossil record, there is no other documentation of it. The stories of a 30ft shark that frequents the waters off of South Africa is closer to a cryptid-type story. A shark that big is the thing of tales and legends. Unfortunately, the Discovery channel’s show was absolute fiction, and fiction that couches the search for a modern megalodon and the legendary South African shark in ways that are similar to cryptid stories–lots and lots of eye-witness testimony, vague documentation, old stories, and half-truth science. If seen as a satire of cryptid documentaries, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, kind of works. More unfortunately, as a ratings grabber, the docu-fiction worked very, very well.

Abominable Science! presents a very through history of several popular crypids–or, creatures whose existence has been suggested, but not confirmed by science. Some, like Bigfoot and Nessie are fairly young with stories not going back much further than the early 20th century. In those cases, the histories are based primarily on the testimonies of witnesses, much of the other evidence being admitted hoaxes. In the case of sea serpents and the yeti, folklore is taken into account as well. Sea serpents, for example, have an incredibly complex history spanning many cultures.

This is a book that is probably best dipped into instead of read straight through. The chosen cryptids could be pushed into two groups –Bigfoot/yeti and Nessie/sea serpent/mokele mbembe– and the discussions of the creatures in these categories overlap. Read straight through, the book is a tad repetitive.  The Sea Serpent chapter especially is less well organized due to the sheer amount information that Daniel Loxton attempts to address.

The cryptids are bookended by chapters on cryptozoology, pseudoscience, scientific method, and skepticism. These are good issues to be familiar with although I found that the last chapter veered a little too far into arguments about religious beliefs. Cryptozoology is an interesting intersection of science and belief, with both sides not particularly congenial to the other for various reasons. This book is written by two skeptics and, while debunking common evidence, there is definite appreciation, and even love, for their subjects. The narratives behind these cyrptids are the real point of this book, despite whether the belief in or study of them is a viable use of time and effort.

It is, of course, fun to think that the world is much bigger than it is, and still full of mysteries. And it is! But most of the time the mysteries are a little more subtle than Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. The sad thing about Discovery’s Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives is that it belittles the actual coolness of the extinct megalodon, the mysteries that still surround living sharks, and the pretty awesome real efforts to tag and track sharks. Cryptozoology doesn’t generally step so directly on the toes of “real” science.

Genre: Non-fiction, science
Why did I choose to read this book? Seemed interesting; I’ve been a liker of cryptids from a young age.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Kindle ebook, ePub document
Procurement: Net Galley

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s