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The Monkey's Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life Hardcover – January 7, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0465020515 ISBN-10: 0465020518

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020518
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020515
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Even Darwin thought it far-fetched—that is, his proposal that ocean-crossing is why similar species that can’t swim or fly are found on oceanic islands and both sides of great oceans. But ocean-crossing how? On what? So when plate tectonics was accepted, some of his successor scientists leaped upon it, arguing that the splitting up of the supercontinent Gondwanaland was how terrestrial cousins wound up on widely separated dry lands. Problem is, molecular dating indicates that the big breakup occurred tens of millions of years before those specific cousins or even their common ancestors evolved. Hence, for the better part of the last hundred years, debate has raged between dispersalists (ocean-crossing advocates) and vicariance biogeographers (continental-drift advocates). Evolutionary biologist de Queiroz is unapologetically dispersalist but hardly triumphalist about it. As he tells the story, which is as much about the discipline of biogeography as about the dispute, there is no reason for either side to ever proclaim victory. The earth’s animals and plants consist of both Gondwanan relics and plenty—indeed, a preponderance—of species that have developed ever since the present continents and islands formed. Deciding which are which constitutes a story full of intriguing discoveries that de Queiroz, a fluent and spellbinding popular-science writer, agglomerates into the narrative spine of a book brimming with fascination. --Ray Olson

Review

A New York Times Editor's Choice

“[A] lively book…his tale of how the world was populated willy-nilly—and of our own fumbling attempts to understand it—makes for a splendid intellectual history.”
Wall Street Journal

“[An] entertaining book…. De Queiroz writes in a pleasant, relaxed style…. It reads like an eclectic scrapbook, full of interesting bits from hither and yon.”
New York Times Book Review

“Lucidly and captivatingly written, [de Queiroz’s] narrative merges snapshots from his personal perspective with detailed descriptions of key players from the past two centuries, their characters, and lives—as if the author knew them personally…we found The Monkey’s Voyage a joy to read and a great example of how a potentially dry scientific debate can be presented to attract a broad readership.”
Science

“In his engaging new book, The Monkey’s Voyage, de Queiroz makes the case that the vibrant and distinctive biological communities we see today were created by organisms rafting across oceans and soaring through the atmosphere.”
Washington Post

The Monkey’s Voyage is a captivating look at one of biogeography’s most puzzling problems, with just the right balance between science and scientific drama.”
Science News

“Specialists and nonspecialists alike will enjoy de Queiroz's quirky, personable style and wide-ranging examples.”
Chronicle of Higher Education

“(Alan de Queiroz) delights in telling the tales of extraordinary journeys by unlikely critters – snakes, frogs, flightless birds and even monkeys – and with these tales he reveals ‘a world shaped by miracles.’”
Times Higher Education Supplement (UK)

“Thoroughly engrossing”
Maclean’s (Canada)

“Entertaining and enlightening … Beyond the actual science, de Queiroz brings insight into the nature of scientific discourse itself.”
Publishers Weekly

“A story full of intriguing discoveries that de Queiroz, a fluent and spellbinding popular-science writer, agglomerates into the narrative spine of a book brimming with fascination.”
Booklist, starred review

“A fascinating exploration of the field of biogeography… An excellent storyteller, de Queiroz dramatically weaves the historical development of various scientific tropes—continental drift, plate tectonics, molecular dating, and mass extinctions—together with his own research interests and details of his far-flung travels…[A] provocative book.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Just how plants and animals separated by oceans have reached other continents, whether by riding on shifting tectonic plates or by their own long-distance travel, is not only a basic question of biogeography but of life on earth. De Queiroz discusses the issue brilliantly and in delightfully lucid prose…The Monkey’s Voyage is the most fascinating and intriguing evolutionary drama I have read in a long time. I recommend the book highly to all who like scientific mysteries and have an interest in our planet.”
George Schaller, field biologist, winner of the National Book Award, and author of The Serengeti Lion

“I have read it [The Monkey’s Voyage] more or less straight through being unable to put it down easily. It is a rare mix such as we had in Steve Gould of brilliant science and great narrative ability.”
Robin Fox, Professor at Rutgers University, and author of The Imperial Animal

“Authoritative and eloquent, The Monkey’s Voyage provides a revolutionary new look at the history of life on Earth. Drawing from his own and others’ research, de Queiroz tells an exuberant tale of organisms thumbing their collective noses over the eons at the perceived scientific wisdom by doing what had been deemed patently impossible, from monkeys crossing roiling oceans to root-bound plants journeying thousands of miles over sea and land to end up on the tippity tops of unclimbable summits. As de Queiroz reveals, these unexpected travelers have time and again changed the face of the landscapes into which they fall, one unbelievable journey after another, forever altering the grand course of the evolution of life.”
Carol Kaesuk Yoon, author of Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science

“Alan de Queiroz begins The Monkey’s Voyage hoping his children will understand the nuances of biogeography. Then he writes precisely the kind of book that will explain it to them, and to the rest of us. Clear and compelling throughout, de Queiroz explores the science behind an age-old question, why do plants and animals occur where they do? He makes a strong case that oceans can be highways as well as barriers. A great read.”
Thor Hanson, author of Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle

"Fascinating book."
Choice

Customer Reviews

I'll also add that this appears to be a high quality publisher as well.
Kevin Mccarthy
It is well written with an easy, conversational tone. de Queiroz also uses very clear and simple examples to illustrate some of the more difficult concepts.
Steve G
Geographic range was discretized into a series of presences and absences for each species.
Nicholas J. Matzke

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Steve G on December 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is about the controversy in biology regarding the dispersal of organisms, whether by water and air or by geographic changes. The material in this book is a little heavy and takes a little work to get through. But through the use of personal anecdotes and sharp writing, author Alan de Queiroz created a book that was hard to put down. It is well written with an easy, conversational tone. de Queiroz also uses very clear and simple examples to illustrate some of the more difficult concepts. He also supports his thesis with published data and refers to the scientific literature. Had you told me, before I picked up this book, that biogeography was interesting, I would have scoffed. I would have been wrong. Under de Queiroz’s hand, biogeography became interesting and fun. I recommend the book for anyone interested in biology/evolution.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas J. Matzke on January 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Note: this is an off-the-cuff review that I wrote while experiencing jet-lag induced insomnia (I am in Canberra, Australia, to give a workshop on BioGeoBEARS at the 2014 meeting of the International Biogeography Society at Australia National University). I have a more formal review in preparation for the Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

For the review with links, see the version at the Panda's Thumb blog

Today, a book is coming out that is destined to become a classic of science writing. Normally, popular science books popularize well-established science. The research being popularized may be decades or centuries old. Certainly popularization of such material is important, but I found that for me, the appeal of such works dropped off as I matured as a scientist. There are only so many times you can read about Darwin and the Beagle, or Laplace and the hypothesis he had no need of, or the sequence from Mendel to Watson and Crick, before you feel like you've heard it all before and it ceases to become interesting.

Alan de Queiroz is doing something different. He is popularizing an active scientific controversy in biogeography. Biogeography is the science of where species live and how they got there. The biogeographical controversy is termed "dispersal versus vicariance," and it runs long and deep. Understanding what the controversy is about, and why anyone would care, takes a little bit of background.

Background: The History of Historical Biogeography

Basically, the issue is this: Darwin and Wallace's discovery of evolution clarified a great many puzzles in biogeography.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Maxine McLister on April 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
How is it that similar species can be found as far away as Africa and South America? This question has been raging at least since Charles Darwin. Until then, the generally accepted answer was God. Darwin, on the other hand, believed that it was caused by dispersal - seeds and insects carried on birds' feet or on floating debris or even icebergs in the ocean - and experimented with radish seeds and sticks to prove his theory. That theory was fine for small insects and plants over short distances but what about longer distances and bigger animals like, say, monkeys. It would take a miracle for a monkey to survive the trip from Africa to South America and scientists rarely believe in miracles.

Then in the 1960s, the theory of tectonic plates and continental drift was proven, leading to a more scientific solution - vicariance which is when a georgraphical area breaks into separate parts creating a barrier between members of species so that the disparate members then evolve differently (*phew* I hope I got that right). When Gondwana, the supercontinent in the southern hemisphere, broke apart, monkeys and other species of plants and animals were left to follow different evolutionary paths on opposite sides of the world. This made more sense than Darwin and his `damned, benighted dispersalism' and so dispersalism was tossed on the trash heap of scientific history never to be considered by rational scientists again.

Well, no, not never because, within a couple of decades, new scientific discoveries were making the theory of vicariance less tenable. According to the vicariance argument, Africa and South America split 100 million years ago but molecular-clock studies show that African and South American monkeys didn't split until just 30 - 50 million years ago.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Saundra Mitchell on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Monkey's Voyage is a scholarly exploration of biodiversity, investigating the divergence of scientific evidence from previous scientific hypothesis. What was once considered to be an obvious building block of biological evolution-- the idea that the break up of large landmasses split original species mechanically, which gave rise to different, but related species in diverse, long-separated areas-- is dismantled by the research put forth in this book.

Instead, de Queiroz posits that, however improbable, many of the far-flung species weren't once joined-land neighbors, but actually were species that managed to make trans-oceanic journeys on literal life rafts-- debris, boats, swimming, etcetera. From garter snakes to primeval sunflowers to, of course, monkeys, de Queiroz lays out his evidence in a careful, escalating style.

There's a fairly steep learning curve to this book. However, there are frequent sidebars and illustrations to explain the points. There's also a glossary early on, and notes throughout, for unfamiliar terminology. While by no means a quick read, The Monkey's Voyage is a fascinating exploration of what we thought we knew about our world's biodiversity, and what the evidence actually proves.
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