Here Be Dragons
Most people believe “Here be dragons”
appears on ancient maps as a warning of the dangers rife in unexplored
or unfamiliar regions. But the phrase
is found on no such maps and on only
one small globe, McCarthy reveals in
his book, which chronicles how real
creatures got to be where they are and
the significance of their movements. In
fact, the phrase etched over Southeast
Asia on that 16th century globe may
be less a warning than a note about
the range of the world’s largest lizard,
a creature commonly known as the
In this fascinating and revelatory
book, the author explains how certain
species ended up in their present geographic locations and how studying
this distribution has driven revolutions
in earth and life sciences.
This study of where plants and animals live now and have lived in the past
is formally known as biogeography,
The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our
Search for Alien Intelligence
After 50 years of scanning the skies
for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, astronomers have only silence to
report — an eerie silence, Davies argues.
Part history of the search, part road
map for its future and (large) part
mind-stretching exercise, the book
provides Davies’ perspective on pro-
found questions that
far beyond alien
hunting. Is life inevi-
table? What about
long do advanced
What would happen
if alien cultures met?
Though these questions have been
asked before, Davies, a cosmologist,
recaps recent thinking and describes
new scientific investigations. He uses the
lack of clear answers to call for a shake-
and this science above all else led
Darwin to conceive the theory of evo-
lution, McCarthy writes. Biogeography
also lends strong support to the theory
of plate tectonics, which explains the
long-term drift, separation and colli-
sion of continents,
processes that time
after time have
changes and stimu-
lated the evolution
of new species.
McCarthy persuasively argues that
biogeography is more than just the
place where evolution, plate tectonics,
oceanography and climatology meet:
It is a way of looking at the world that
links all of these sciences together.
Earth and life have evolved together,
he contends, a process that has affected
the distributions of ancient fossils,
modern species and even the fates of
human societies. — Sid Perkins
Oxford Univ. Press, 2010, 214 p., $29.95.
up in current efforts to search for life
beyond Earth. Since no one can predict
the nature of other intelligence, he says,
scientists from all fields should look for
subtle signatures of societies rather than
direct communication via radio waves or
some other familiar technology.
Davies makes a good case for a
broader approach, but his hypothetical
examples of alien footprints seem a little
wild. What if, for example, the reason
scientists haven’t detected some of the
subatomic particles predicted by theory
is that the particles were abducted by
aliens? And he suggests that some intelligence may be postbiological — a quantum computer, perhaps, lingering in the
coldest reaches of the galaxy. Though his
ideas seem fantastical, Davies’ tongue-in-cheek approach is entertaining and
serves a grander purpose: to encourage
readers to think less about life as we
know it and more about life as we don’t
know it. — Elizabeth Quill
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade, 2010,
288 p., $27.
50 Great Myths of
S.O. Lilienfeld, S.J.
Lynn, J. Ruscio and
up to debunk popular
urban legends in that field. Wiley-
Blackwell, 2010, 332 p., $26.95.
Duel at Dawn:
Heroes, Martyrs, and
the Rise of Modern
The Romantic Age
influenced modern mathematicians,
a science historian argues. Harvard
Univ. Press, 2010, 320 p., $28.95.
Wild Urban Plants
of the Northeast:
A Field Guide
Peter Del Tredici
An exploration of the
plant life that springs
up amid chain-link
fences and asphalt jungles. Cornell
Univ. Press, 2010, 374 p., $29.95.
The Match: “Savior
Siblings” and One
Family’s Battle to
Heal Their Daughter
A family medical crisis uncovers issues
around reproductive technology.
Beacon Press, 2010, 272 p., $24.95.
How We Know
What We Know
About Our Changing
Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch
Kids can learn about climate change
by reading scientists’ firsthand
accounts from the field. Dawn
Publications, 2010, 66 p., $11.95.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.