Monsters of the Sea: The History, Natural History, and Mythology of the Oceans' Most...

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In Monsters of the Sea, Richard Ellis, one of the country's foremost authorities on ocean life, casts his net wide in search of the most unusual aquatic fauna, real and imagined - from mermaids and manatees to the Loch Ness monster. He initiates us into the cult of "cryptozoologists," who doggedly pursue scientific truth without ever really wanting to dispel the mystery surrounding their quarry - be it Nessie or the considerably less famous Bermuda blob. He examines the literary sources of sea monster lore, from ...
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1996 Trade paperback New. No dust jacket as issued. 1994 Doubleday edition. Never read and shows light shelf wear. (MSG022007) Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview

In Monsters of the Sea, Richard Ellis, one of the country's foremost authorities on ocean life, casts his net wide in search of the most unusual aquatic fauna, real and imagined - from mermaids and manatees to the Loch Ness monster. He initiates us into the cult of "cryptozoologists," who doggedly pursue scientific truth without ever really wanting to dispel the mystery surrounding their quarry - be it Nessie or the considerably less famous Bermuda blob. He examines the literary sources of sea monster lore, from The Odyssey to Jules Verne to Peter Benchley, demonstrating how the mythic view of an animal can give way to knowledge, only to be reinstated by Hollywood and the tabloids. He consults the early naturalists - such as the Dutch entomologist Antoon Cornelis Oudemans, who was obsessed with sea serpents - for their often wild and zoologically brash interpretations of what they observed on the high seas. He gives detailed anatomical descriptions and accounts of the bizarre behavior of many species, including the sperm whale, with its tendency to strand itself on the beach (maybe "a function of a mental malaise, something like a painful migraine headache"). And he comes to the defense of the octopus, the shark, and other misunderstood beasts, whose plight should remind us of our opportunity and responsibility to preserve the planet: "Instead of fearing them," he writes, "we fear for them."

One of this country's foremost authorities on ocean life casts his net wide in search of the most unusual aquatic animals, real and imagined. Highly entertaining, wonderfully skeptical, this inquisitive and provocative book is packed with scientific curiosities and fascinating details exploring two extremely fertile environments: the human imagination and the deep blue sea.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few creatures have captured the imaginations of so many for so long as have monsters of the deep. Their history has been surprisingly consistent, the author notes. Most began as myths and then acquired a sense of reality when the existence of creatures resembling those chronicled in legend was documented. Ellis (Men and Whales) gives a superb account of marine monsters and their attendant myths, sightings, scientific discovery and biology. He describes only the best known and the best documented. He traces the mermaid to the manatee and dugong, Leviathan to the sperm whale, kraken to the giant squid and polyp to the octopus (sharks, however, remain sharks). He examines these monsters in art, literature and film, taking Jules Verne and Victor Hugo to task for their ignorance of biology, hysterical fantasy and unmitigated malice. Herman Melville, Arthur C. Clarke and Peter Benchley get better ratings. Of all the sighted monsters, only the giant squid (Architeuthis) retains its mythological and cryptozoological status, for its very existence is shrouded in mystery. Sharks have had a bad reputation throughout history, but until Jaws (1974) they did not figure prominently in literature. At the end of this engaging book, Ellis confesses to skepticism: ``monsters, if they exist, have more to fear from us than we do from them.'' Illustrations. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Ellis, recognized as the foremost painter of marine natural history subjects in America and the author of several books on ocean life, has taken an entertaining look at sea monsters. Here he provides a fascinating analysis of myths, early natural history texts, and other literature to resolve most of these tales in light of biological facts known today. He also includes accurate life history details about the sea animals covered. From the analyses and the biological facts, he describes the literary metamorphosis from monster to live, classified, utilized species. Passing through various stages, there is "first the unknown creature of the sea...undescribed and unnamed, fearsome because we don't know what it is. It then emerges from the mists of mythology and assumes a corporeality that enables man to identify and catagorize it. When that has been accomplished, we can then hunt it-for food, for sport, for glory." More subtly than in his Men and Whales (LJ 10/15/91) but with as much vigor, Ellis also discusses conservation issues as they relate to large marine species. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Mary J. Nickum, Germantown, Md.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385482332
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Publication date: 2/9/1996
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.01 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.28 (d)

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