E–pub/Kindle [Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite The Science of Monsters] Ð Matt Kaplan

35 stars The first half of this book was a bit boring but the second half was really interesting perhaps because the monsters in the second half were relevant to today I found the footnotes obnoxious but the writing was otherwise fine Some of the themes and characters in world mythology are near immortal They take a life on their own and evolve into myriad shapes and forms over the centuries A monster is one such character which has grown and metamorphosed across varied civilizations At a time when the earliest of humans regaled each other at their communal get togethers with tall tales the monsters took the forms of hideous frightening and incredibly dangerous entities and the dread they unleashed was only as limited as the imagination of the person telling the stories Generations were terrified and thrilled by them and myths were modelled around them Also as humanity evolved so did their heroes who could vanuish these deadly creatures The ability to defeat a monster gave the hero a certain aura of invincibility that after a while heroes came to life with the sole purpose of being a monster hunter Imagine where would Heracles have been if he hadn t defeated the Nemean Lion Would Beowulf have attained the same popularity if there was no Grendel What of Harry Potter and Voldemort Would the boy wizard still have been as powerful without his nemesis Civilizations rose and fell and with them the forms of the monsters that they dreaded also evolved Matt Kaplan s book is an examination of various monsters across civilizations the social scenarios in which they found their footing and what might have contributed to their wide spread acceptance in society then The short essays in the book are a mix of science assumption and many a times relies on pure guess work Some of the points that Kaplan makes are rather interesting like Earthuakes and volcanic activity might have led to the Minotaur legends The advanced stages of rabies might have given rise to the Werewolf myths How a corpse with a belly full of gas and post mortem bleeding might have given rise to the Vampire myths How the myth of a dragon might have arisen out of dinosaur fossils etc On the flip side there was way too much of guess work and assumption that Kaplan resorts to in these articles There is a lot of could have been might have been and assume that after a while I selectively tuned out a lot of information While the author relies much on science to make his point the analysis he offers isn t very scientific in nature From a learning standpoint it helped me to understand about a few monsters that I had no clue about earlier But on me a full rounded overview of the psychological or scientific effects of monsters on human beings this did not strike the mark In this entertaining look at beliefs in monsters of various sorts as with his recent book on magical powers Science of the Magical From the Holy Grail to Love Potions to Superpowers Matt Kaplan explores the ways in which science and culture create the background for belief in things fantastic Kaplan s argument that monsters serve an important purpose by representing deeply held fears and allowing people to practice facing those fears in a safe way is hardly original but he writes with cheerful sometimes flippant enthusiasm and while bringing in plenty of real science and history he rarely takes his imaginary subjects or his imaginative theories too seriously Kaplan s premise that monsters are created due to specific and identifiable human fears combined with observable phenomena works better with some monsters than others #The link between Old Hag Syndrome and sleep paralysis is uite #link between Old Hag Syndrome and sleep paralysis is uite while the idea that the Golem of Prague was a vigilante seems generously a stretch Most of Kaplan s proposed explanations for beliefs in monsters ranging from Hercules s Nemean lion all the way to sparkly modern vampires and UFO s fall somewhere in between these extremes of sure that seems plausible and ha Most often his proposals seem not unreasonable but also often not fully convincing either I m inclined to give credit to the wild imaginations of storytellers who will create exuberantly hideous monsters even without needing the prompt of evolutionarily helpful fears than Kaplan seems inclined to

still aplan s 
Kaplan s are inventive and fun and he wanders off down some interesting rabbit trails I particularly enjoyed the story he tells about the scientific evidence for zombies involving poison worms Bufo toads and puffer fish Also his footnotes are extensive and amusingI would recommend this to readers who enjoy exploring the whys behind belief in monsters and would give it 3 stars Okay I m idding But if I ask for stars maybe GR will someday give us stars anyway rounded up to 4 I really wanted to like this book I was psyched to hear Matt Kaplan on NPR and put my name in at the library so I was the first person to get itI should have uit early on It got incredibly repetitive had such snarky and completely unnecessary but also incredibly predictable and unoriginal footnotes that they tipped the book into Just Plain Bad territory Considering how often Kaplan repeated himself I wondered why he didn t combine a lot of his sections Perhaps the book would *HAVE STOOD UP BETTER AS INDIVIDUAL ARTICLES BUT AS *stood up better as individual articles but as whole it just got to the point where I literally yelled at the book OH MY GOD ITS FOSSILS ALREADY I GET ITAlso what was with the here let me give some wild theo. Modern audiences do not find dragons frightening Fascinating as mythical creatures yes but terrifying no Yet present them with a story about a virus that can ill a healthy adult in hours and they will have nightmares for weeks The difference between the two is believability Monsters are at their most frightening when they carry characteristics that tie them to the real world in some way Preposterous as they might seem today dragons were no different in ancient times Humans long ago stumbled upon. Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite The Science of MonstersNumber of popular and obscure monsters and tries to explain why people might have believed in them Perhaps the fossil record might have led people to speculate as to the sorts of creatures that could have created the bones they found Perhaps earthuakes could be the result of a rampaging minotaur or fiery natural gas explosions the work of a dragon While this is largely speculative the speculations are based in historical and scientific data The plausibility of the these discussions varies and the range is well captured by the book s title The discussion of vampires is extremely compelling I won t describe it further here because I can t do it justice Meanwhile the section on the Medusa strains credibility at one point Kaplan goes so far as to suggest that people may have believed in petrification because it would feel similar to going into shock Fortunately although no other section rises to the brilliance of the vampire discussion of the treatments are compelling or at least thought provoking than not Of course the uestion of why people might have believed in monsters presupposes the fact that people DID believe in them Here the book is on shakier ground When my mom watched the Harry Potter movies she had to close her eyes at the dementor scenes because she found them so scary but she doesn t actually believe in dementors Artists don t need to believe in a monster in order to depict it and in fact get credit for creativity if they can create monsters that are new or original And many of the grounds for belief that Kaplan sketches out would not have been accessible to the masses who believed Much of the fossil record or scientific data that Kaplan argues could have led monsters to seem plausible wouldn t have been nown by anybody but the most elite scholars during antiuity So why this focus on why people might have believed in monstersThis leads us to the second layer of the book that monsters are likely to be talked about and persist in culture to the extent that they are legitimately scary And we are likely to fear something that we believe is a threat to us As such for monsters to endure in lore they must at least plausibly exist and if they were to exist plausibly represent a danger to us The latter of these premises is straightforward monsters that live in the forest are much scarier to a primitive forest society than an industrial society people who live in a city are less threatened by a giant lion but terrified of the vampire who can blend into urban life while stalking its prey Thus as people move to cities vampires will thrive while giant beasts become less terrifying And of course we do need to have some schema for how a monster could exist in order to be able to understand why to fear it For example it would be hard to be afraid of robots before electricity had been invented to power them But ultimately while I recognize that plausible things are probably scarier I also recognize that people are able to suspend disbelief Movies with downright absurd premises can still have terrifying monsters because we can imagine ourselves in the artificial worlds that the movie takes place I can fear the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings despite the fact that there is *no conceivable way they could exist because i *conceivable way they could exist because I empathize with Frodo s fear As such I didn t think the present book s focus on why people might believe in various monsters was all that informative regarding why
those monsters are 
monsters are about Put in other words it is irrelevant whether or not the mechanism for producing dinosaurs in Jurassic Park is scientifically valid or not the average movie goer wouldn t now #ONE WAY OR THE OTHER AND #way or the other and fear comes not from the fact that dinosaurs may be actually creatable but rather projecting oneself into a world where they are hunting you A final thought about the book In the conclusion Kaplan discusses how in the movie Avatar the monsters Na vi are the protagonists and the humans become the monsters He speculates as to why this modern conception of humans as monsters has evolved I m not sure that this is really all that modern If you look at myths from antiuity there are some pretty monstrous humans Medea for example murders her own children in an attempt to get back at her lover Jason who s no paragon of virtue himself Mordred from Arthurian legend is pretty monstrous too One doesn t have to look far to find stories where humans are portrayed as monsters In other words modern conception of monster and its relation with man is uite nuanced and that was likely true historically as well but much of what we Spitting Daisies Communicating Through the Sunset know about monster stories from history comes from oral histories and incomplete records Thus while it is undoubtedly true that monsters take new forms to fit the cultures in which they are discussed it is also true that wenow much less about monsters of the past This makes it hard to now how much of the differences are about cultural changes and how much are due to lost recordsDespite my uibbles my overall impression of the book is uite positive While the arguments in this book sometimes seem a bit of a reach especially at the macro level the individual micro level discussion of the monsters tend to be really fun to read and very thought provoking Kaplan has clearly done his research and I feel like I learned a lot from this book about science monsters and culture If you like science journalism or want to now about monsters this book is definitely worth your time. The makings of frightening beasts that managed to evade human sight by lurking deep within the shadows of the wild The Science of Monsters will explore monsters that have haunted humanity throughout the ages from Medusa to sea serpents giants and vampires In each chapter Kaplan uses scientific principles current research and his thorough nowledge of the natural world to explain why specific monsters came to be and what it was about them that was so terrifying to the people who brought them to li. Ry and then immediately explain how wrongwrongRONG that theory is Why did you just waste my time with thatVery disappointing Teratology is an area of interest to me but this fell into the trap of so much non fiction in that it remained largely a litany of speculation I just prefer a little of an academic tone but maybe I m not the target demographic It is at its best when it is referencing the works of Adrienne Mayor which reveals my anthropological biases just for saying so MK This book is amazing The author presents plausible scientific information explaining why ancient civilizations believed in different monsters as well as why the same monsters lost their ability to scare over time His wittiness breaks up the sometimes dry period of scientific data and several times throughout the nook made me laugh out loud This is a definite must read for anyone who wants to now where myths and legends came fromeven if you still want to believe at the end Part of the entertainment factor of this book is the fact that it takes its theories too far After explaining Chimaera legends as the result of animals wandering into a tar pit and becoming fossilised in a weird tangle the author goes onAnd Chimera was hardly alone If a horse went down to a tar pit for a bit of water got stuck died and was subseuently fed upon by a vulture that also got stuck in the tar that would provide an explanation for the legendary Pegasus Some art even shows Chimera battling with Pegasus Was this linked to a find of fossils that people could barely make sense ofHe then goes on to use tar pits to explain sphinxes and Scylla Indeed if there is a monster that stands as evidence that the ancients were looking at fossils of multiple animal skeletons jumbled together it is ScyllaHe does nobly admit right after that that this reuires tar pits and Greece and the rest of Europe doesn t have any Yes that would be a bit of a problem for this theory but it s okay he then posits trade routes as bringing the stories to GreeceThe problem with this book is that there is a lot of truth in it it discusses gigantism in humans as arising due to tumours in the pituitary gland and suggests that could be the source of some monstrous legends it points to fossils and tar pits as origins of various monstrous legends and ideas it points out that giant predators were around in the past However it leans on these ifs and maybes and on a good deal of special pleading and takes it way too far Maybe we imagined Cerberus because a giant slavering dog with three heads just seemed scary you now No need for three wolves to be swept off to sea together and fossilised as a jumble of bones with three headsIn the end I got tired of the exercise for my rolling eyes and put this down relieved that I never paid for it and instead borrowed it Whew If you re interested in some of the potential scientific seeds of monster stories there are definitely nuggets of monster stories there are definitely nuggets of here I learnt that the pituitary tumour thing actually ran in families due to a genetic disposition producing families of giants I learnt about some monsters I didn t now that well But I have serious uestions about the author s seriousness here his Chimera and Pegasus idea really begs for us to ask whether he thinks the fights between King Kong #fighting Godzilla were inspired by film makers finding an enormous ape fighting #Godzilla were inspired by film makers finding an enormous ape fighting enormous reptile in a tar pit Or does he recognise that while the monstrous can probably always does grow from seeds of reality probably a lot of ancient story tellers were just thinking up ways to scare t An entertaining accessible informative read that attempts to explain the scientific and psychological foundations of our most enduring monsters I enjoyed its light tone and uick pace found some of the history and science to be uite fascinating and loved all of the pop culture references and snarky asides Kaplan is certainly an entertaining author Not the heaviest or most impressive of texts but a diverting read Matt Kaplan does a really nice job balancing the scientific fact and evidence he presents with a sociological and psychological view of how these monsters have been depicted in art film and literaturefiction He gives a broad overview which helps the reader make connections between seemingly different monsters although I do wish there was detail for each section I could have ept on reading his clean prose fascinating research and humorous footnotes Monsters it turns out evolve over time Vampires didn t always sparkle zombies didn t always crave the taste of human brains and until very recently dementors didn t even exist Why is it that the monsters that left people shivering in terror during the bronze age are so different than the monsters of the industrial revolution which in turn are so different from the monsters today As society changes the things that people fear change and thus popular monsters change as well In his first solo book science journalist Matthew Kaplan takes us on an engaging romp through the history of monsters exploring not just what those monsters are but what they tell us about ourselvesKaplan is one of the top science journalists in the world and it shows His writing is clear lucid and even dare I say it funny He makes complex scientific concepts accessible to non specialists and his talent helps make this book an engaging and thought provoking read The book operates on two levels On the surface level this book looks at Skeletons that had sharp teeth and talon like claws These fossils were real and some were frighteningly large Those who looked at them could only guess at how dangerous the animals that they belonged to must have been From such interactions dragons were born Yet in spite of ample physical evidence that dragons existed none were ever seen in the flesh Dragon bones were ultimately proven to be the bones of huge predatory dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex but before the mystery was solved they were. ,