Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans by Michael A. Woodley

Forty-odd years ago, Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans published a book called In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, which attempted to take a practical, scientific look at sea serpent sightings. Heuvelmans gathered as many sightings as he could dig up from the previous several centuries and studied them. From the more reliable-seeming accounts, he developed a list of ten categories of creatures that would help classify the various types of sea serpents.

In the Wake of Bernard Heuvelmans takes a fresh look at Heuvelmans' categories and updates them, taking into account new sightings and new knowledge of relevant fossil sea creatures. The subtitle of the book is "An introduction to the history and future of sea serpent classification," and it's a very scholarly approach. If you like your facts pre-digested and on the sensational side, you'll probably be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you really get into this kind of thing (like I do, obviously), this is a wonderfully meaty book, and full of wonders.

I like the scholarly way the information is presented. It feels a bit like reading someone's dissertation (which, considering Woodley was a doctorate student when it was written, is not surprising), but it's beautifully clear. I particularly like that Woodley makes it clear that he's not making assumptions about whether sea serpents of any kind actually exist; instead, he's taking the data and making educated inferences from them: "If the sightings aren't misidentifications of known animals or objects, maybe this is the type of creature being sighted."

I'm only an amateur naturalist, but I had no trouble following the content. I enjoyed learning about various sea creatures, extinct and living, that might have given rise to some sightings. I also enjoyed following along with Woodley's reasoning for his suggestions and why he makes certain revisions to Heuvelmans' categories. I even read the appendices because I didn't want the book to end.

B&N link

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