Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hunting Monsters, by Darren Naish

I enjoyed this deconstruction of the hoaxes, honest mistakes, and arguments of those who believe that creatures such as sea monsters, bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster are real animals.  At the same time, I enjoyed the details of the mythology surrounding them, like awesome tales of "island monsters" and the intriguing supposed habits of bigfoot-like creatures around the world.  It made me think and question—while also giving me grist for the imagination mill. 
One of the most interesting points revolves around the stylized images of dinosaurs and monsters like Nessie that are so ingrained in our cultural awareness, yet our knowledge of actual animals lags behind.  Therefore when we see something we can't identify, our imaginative minds often leap to some unexplained mystery monster instead of a real animal we just don't know about.  For example (and this is my example—I think "pterodactyl" is a layman's term), everyone has an idea of what a pterodactyl is—inaccurate or not—but fewer people have any firm knowledge of real-world fruit bats.  So if you see a rare flying fox bat, for example, for just a moment, especially if you're alone and edgy in unfamiliar territory, or if you particularly like dinosaurs, you might well think "pterodactyl!"
I did find the book quite repetitive, however, not just in the details, but in the philosophy and big themes.  I got the author's main points the first time, certainly the second.  By the fifth time my intelligence was feeling a little insulted.  However, if you read this book in small sections with a few weeks between topics, the repetition would be more appropriate.  I also recommend skipping the long captions on the pictures, since they often repeat almost word for word what is said just before or after in the text.
The illustrations and photos included add a good deal to the book.  I just wish we could see a few more of the photos Naish discusses in detail.  Copyright issues and other problems probably prevented it, but it would have been nice. 
The writing of Hunting Monsters is clear and I learned a lot of new things, including many possibilities for what these supposed mystery monsters could really be.  I also really enjoyed the bits discussing the cultural, sociological, and anthropological implications of such widespread belief in mystery monsters. 
If you're interested in cryptozoology and a thorough examination of the evidence and reality of cryptids like Nessie, Bigfoot, and other less famous but no less fascinating creatures, read Hunting Monsters.

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