Monsters are eternally intriguing, and Matt Kaplan offers a unique take on the historical possibilities of where our fears may have originated. From dragons to golems to zombies, the interdisciplinary nature of this work will thrill young science and history readers.
Kaplan is a regular contributor to National Geographic, New Scientist, Nature, and The Economist. Teens may also enjoy reading about his current research on his blog.
Adult/High School–Kaplan, an accomplished science journalist, plumbs the depths of the seemingly insatiable human fascination with monsters of all kinds, from the Nemean Lion to dragons, vampires, aliens, and more. Considering the sheer number of monsters under consideration, the book is an organizational marvel, grouping the creatures together by what Kaplan sees as the driving fears that gave rise to them and moving chronologically from our most primitive fears of deadly animals to our most recent fears of technological monstrosities. In each chapter, the author examines how each fear arose, what natural phenomena might have led cultures to develop the particular monsters they did, and finally how each one has changed and even disappeared as the driving fear has been mutated or conquered by society. Though all three aspects are worth reading, by far the most interesting section of each chapter is Kaplan’s investigations into the natural origins of monsters, especially the ways in which the discovery of fossils by ancient Greeks and others may have shaped their worldview. Though much of this investigation is perforce speculative, it is nonetheless exceedingly thought-provoking, and backed by impressively researched primary and secondary sources. Kaplan’s prose, meanwhile, is quick-paced and conversational, though at times overly glib and far too taken with puns. Regardless, this book should be a big hit with monster fans everywhere, particularly those with an interest in science, history, or both.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA