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Here Be Dragons: How the Study of Animal and Plant Distributions Revolutionized Our Views of Life and Earth 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199542468
ISBN-10: 0199542465
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Editorial Reviews


"It's a grand time-and-space voyage of the imagination, the drift of continents, the appearance and rise and fall and extinction of new species, the human story with all its tragedy and complexity.... Read this one, a great pleasure, and...at the end of the book you will be someone different." -- Dan Agin, Huffington Post

"[Here Be Dragons] provides a quick but enthusiastic summary of the fascinating field of biogeography, and it leaves us wanting more. The book delivers on its promise that we will never look at the world in the same way again." -- Devorah Bennu, Science Magazine

"This is a fascinating, accessible work, which offers a new, more complete perspective on the world we live in. McCarthy packs a tremendous amount in 200 pages but his writing skill is such that the reader never feels overwhelmed and turns each page with as much entertainment as enlightenment.... Fans of Jared Diamond or Richard Dawkins will be fans of the eloquent Dennis McCarthy." -- Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald (Seacoast Sunday)

"With a knowledge of Earth history at his disposal, a precision and clarity reminiscent of other great science popularizers, and a courteous tone to smooth out any stubborn complexities, McCarthy makes biogeography into a story that is both intelligible and compelling." -- Mark Cocker, BBC Wildlife Magazine

About the Author

Denis McCarthy is a researcher at the Museum of Natural History at Buffalo.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199542465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199542468
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #899,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dario Ventra on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
No matter how much of a nerd I might be called for this, but I read this book twice, and the second time was twice as fun as the first! (Shall I give it even a third try??)
In the (much needed) recent frenzy of works on Darwin and evolutionary biology, this little work stands out as a notable exception to the mainstream, discussing biological evolution from the lateral standpoint of how it's intricately coupled to Earth's geological and geographical history!

I personally never thought of biogeography as such a fascinating subject, gave it only a cursory look at university during paleontology courses, but McCarthy has pushed the right arguments right under my nose, and it worked: I'm sold to the discipline now!
This is a great little read if you're interested in science.. And here's the thing, there's something for everyone! For the geologist, for the biologist, for the paleontologist, for the anthropologist, for the geophysicist, even for the philosopher or historian of science...
The interdisciplinary nature of the Earth and biological sciences comes out screaming from these pages. The strong ties of evolution with the geological background against the life game is played on Earth are perfectly highlighted! And narrated in a fun and captivating way, keeping it light enough for the layman to catch the beauty, but detailed enough for the professional to feel like going after the references and getting more of it! Great skills in telling it takes for something like this...

A lot of interesting issues are touched using a variety of biological examples, present and past...
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Format: Hardcover
First-time author McCarthy infuses his account of life on earth with a sense of wonder and excitement. In succinct, colorful prose he invites the reader to marvel at the intricacy, implacability and exquisite beauty of biogeography.

I know - it doesn't sound like a riveting word. But the world's biogeography is rife with catastrophe and opportunity. Continents split and drift, volcanoes erupt, and whole species triumph or perish in consequence. The science of biogeography studies the intersection of evolution and geography or, more specifically, how geography drives evolution.

An admirer of the work of Jared Diamond, particularly Guns, Germs and Steel, McCarthy, a scientific researcher with the Buffalo Museum of Science, takes a similar big picture/small picture perspective, using the physical peculiarities of ocean vent worms, for instance, to illustrate island type isolation on the sea floor or the loud vocalizations of Howler monkeys and parrots to illustrate adaptation to the isolating density of rain forests.

It was biogeography - the unique island-bound species of the Galapagos - that spurred Darwin to shape his theory of evolution. McCarthy opens the book with Darwin's "Galapagan Epiphany," his realization that these creatures, which did not exist on the mainland, could only have originated on the mainland.

Remote oceanic island habitats, like Hawaii or Easter Island, most obviously illustrate how geographical pressures shape species. To begin with, "none of the natives have four legs." That leaves out a lot of predators. And the food available is limited. Tough seeds, for instance, favor birds with tough beaks. Eventually all those seedeaters have tough beaks.

Studying species can also illuminate geological history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a fan of science books written for the layman, I found Here Be Dragons a fascinating read. Many popular books on evolution deal entirely or primarily with the time aspect of evolution. Mccarthy adds the spatial aspect as well, tying the evolution of life on earth with the shifting landscapes caused mainly but not solely by plate tectonics. He tells many fascinating evolutionary histories to illustrate this point including ring species where a particular species (in this case salamanders) shows subtle changes as one moves across a landscape until these changes accumulate enough to declare a new species. This new species may even them come in contact with the original. Another interesting tale concerned what can only be described as cultural differences among killer whales.

Conceptually similar to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Mccarthy uses geography or more precisely changes in geography to explain various unusual or seemingly anomalous species distributions around the planet including why some species seem to exist nearly everywhere (wolves, mountain lions) while some are only found in rather small specific places.

All in all, a very entertaining read synthesizing knowledge about two seemingly disparate disciplines, evolution and plate tectonics. A highly recommended read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In Here be Dragons, McCarthy does for biogeography what Brian Greene has done for string theory. Weaving the facts into a captivating narrative, the book informs under the guise of page-turning entertainment. With each intricately detailed example of how life has evolved to its present state, it was hard not to imagine myself surrounded by the uniqueness of the Galapagos, or the absolute awe that is the impenetrable rainforest.

More important than the chapters on their own is the realization of how substantial a topic this really is. More importantly, how the subject of biogeography has become the longest running science experiment in the history of the world, and the truest, most unbiased, unattended one at that.

Recommended reading for geographers, biologists, students, teachers, adults, children, believers and non; anyone that is interested in the surrounding world and the way it works will be fascinated from cover to cover.
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