I’ll keep the introduction brief. We’re here to look at books – books relevant, that is, to the Tet Zoo remit – that appeared during 2017. It might be a bit late now to get them in time for Christmas but, if interested, you should buy them anyway, or some of them at least. Here we go…

Binns 2017. Credit: Amazon

The Loch Ness Mystery Reloaded by Ronald Binns is a sort of long-form appendix – a ‘what happened next’ – to Binns’s (and Rod Bell’s) 1983 The Loch Ness Mystery Solved, one of the best and most influential books ever written on the Loch Ness Monster (Binns 1983) (ignore the hilariously biased, toxic reviews at amazon: they create a very inaccurate view of how this book is actually received by people interested in science and critical thinking). The new book continues in the sceptical vein of the original, is appropriately critical of relevant parties, and tackles head-on the new, woefully agenda-driven pro-Nessie perspective that has emerged in the age of the internet. Binns provides substantial update on issues covered in the 1983 book, looks at ‘new evidence’, and says nice things about my Hunting Monsters (Naish 2016). I’ll be reviewing this book in full at some point. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in the lore and literature on lake monsters. Buy it here from amazon and here from amazon.co.uk.

Front cover of Caruso & Rabaiotti. Credit: Quercus

Does It Fart? by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti. Many Tet Zoo readers will be aware of the backstory to this unique, fun book: it is born of the twitterverse, and of a conversation between Dani and snake expert David Steen. One thing led to another, Dani shot to global fame due to her collecting of fart-based data, and the book is the culmination. We look at animal after animal (there are fishes and invertebrates in addition to tetrapods) and what’s known about their farting capacity and habits. Cartoons by Tet Zoo regular Ethan Kocak appear throughout. Does It Fart? is a genuine delight for anyone interested in animals and biology, but it’s an easy, entertaining, well-illustrated read that would be a great gift for anyone who likes books. Buy it here at amazon, here at amazon.co.uk, and here at Quercus.

Losos 2017. Credit: Penguin Random House

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution by Jonathan B. Losos. I have little to say about this book so far – I haven’t yet read it – but it looks good. Losos is an evolutionary biologist best known for his work on anoles (check out Anole Annals if you haven’t already), and of course anoles have a lot to say (figuratively) about direction, theme and predictability in evolution. It turns out that some things are, after all, predictable and somewhat consistent in evolution… or, they are, at least, when it comes to the adaptation of anole-shaped lizards as they take to similar lifestyles.

A hypothetical big-brained post-Cretaceous theropod, as illustrated by Marlin Peterson and depicted in Losos’s Improbable Destinies. This version is based on Simon Roy’s original concept, co-created with C. M. Kosemen as part of an intelligent dinosaur project. Credit: Losos 2017

Does predictability in evolution mean that troodontid dinosaurs would inevitably evolve into humanoids? (a theme revisited and revisited again at Tet Zoo over the years: see links below). Losos covers all of this and a great deal more. I see that there’s some coverage of non-bird dinosaurs, of the ‘intelligent troodontid’ meme (Naish 2008), and a discussion of Perry the Platypus (thanks to parenthood, I know Phineas and Ferb all too well). Anyway, buy Improbable Destinies here at amazon and here from Penguin Random House.

Evolution In Minutes: the cover (earlier versions went with ‘younger Darwin’, but it's not so recognisable as Old Man Darwin, alas) and a look inside. Credit: Darren Naish

Evolution In Minutes by Darren Naish… ok, so, I’m the author, but it would be wrong not to mention it. Evolution In Minutes is a brief guide to (virtually) everything you’d want to know about evolutionary theory: it covers hundreds of topics in bite-sized chunks and is illustrated throughout. From the history of ideas about evolution to genetics, the fossil record, evolution in action in the field and laboratory, and more… it’s all here in easily digestible form. Regular readers of Tet Zoo will enjoy the choice words on fishes, hominins and speculative evolution. The book is small and highly affordable. Buy it here from amazon, here from amazon.co.uk, and here from Quercus.

A sloth having a really bad day, on the cover of Prothero 2017. I regret that I don't much like the art here. Credit: Princeton University Press

The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals by Donald R. Prothero is a must-have for anyone interested in the fossil history of mammals, in part because works that review the whole of mammal history are otherwise virtually non-existent. The book is, despite a similar shape and format, nothing like Greg Paul’s Princeton volume on dinosaurs (Paul 2010: reviewed here at Tet Zoo), instead covering mammals on a group-by-group basis. I do feel that the coverage is sometimes all too cursory (the very brief coverage of bats, for example, seems weird), but I recognise that this had to be done in order to stop the work ballooning into a thousand-page behemoth. The book is really well illustrated and includes a mix of images from technical papers and Wikipedia, as well as the digital paintings of Mary Persis Williams. Buy it here from amazon and here from Princeton.

A synapsid montage showing illustrations featured inside The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals: art by Mary Williams. Credit: Princeton University Press
Reippel 2017. Credit: Amazon

Turtles As Hopeful Monsters by Olivier Rieppel is a dense, technical, but incredibly well written discussion of the theoretical underpinnings to ideas about turtle origins. It is not as turtle-themed as I, admittedly, hoped it would be, and is instead mostly about the debates and ideas that have appeared on evo-devo, macroevolution and evolutionary saltation over the decades, though turtles are used several times as exemplars of the relevant processes (because.... damn, how did they evolve?). Excellent diagrams, photos and other illustrations appear throughout, and the production is sky-high. I wrote a longish review of the book for Palaeontologia Electronica: it’s here. Get it here from amazon and here from Indiana University Press.

Dinosaur Art II: the Cutting Edge of Paleoart, edited by Steve White, is the long-awaited follow-up to the first volume (White 2012: reviewed here at Tet Zoo), and follows a similar format. Basically: it’s spectacular, beautiful and awesome and you must buy it if all interested in the portrayal of prehistoric animals in art. Huge, high-quality images depict the portfolio of a chosen artist while an accompanying interview covers their thoughts on relevant aspects of science and the work they’ve done, and on their inspirations, style and technique. Ten artists are featured here, among them Jason Brougham. Emily Willoughby, Peter Schouten, Mark Witton and Velizar Simeonovski. An introductory chapter by Bob Nicholls covers the story behind his Psittacosaurus reconstruction and there are also stand-alone features on various animals featured in the book. Disclaimer: I was scientific consultant for the volume. Get it here on amazon and here from the publishers.

Dinosaur Art II is quite a large book. Credit: Darren Naish

Finally: to those who’ve contacted me about it… yes, I know that the comments are currently not showing here. I’ve contacted the relevant parties but nothing can be done about it, yet. As someone who cares a lot about commenting, this bothers me, but there’s nothing I can do.

For previous articles relevant to things mentioned here, see…

Refs - -

Binns, R. 1983. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Open Books, London.

Naish, D. 2008. Intelligent dinosaurs. Fortean Times 239, 52-53.

Naish, D. 2016. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

Paul, G. S. 2010. Dinosaurs: A Field Guide. A & C Black, London.

White, S. 2012. Dinosaur Art: the World’s Greatest Paleoart. Titan Books, London.