I enjoyed this book. I’ve never read anything about bio-geography before. The author spends ample time on field work, covering areas like New Caledonia, New Zealand, Madagascar, Hawaii, Central America, and many other locals. He dives into the details and taxonomy of numerous species and conveys the role of bio-geographical sleuth. All and all, this book is worth reading.
My gripes with this book are secondary. To put it briefly, Alan de Queiroz’ book is, in my opinion, a work in progress in the realm of popular science. Alan’s tack is to lead with a strong thesis. This is a book that attempts to convince the reader that dispersalism, the notion that trans-oceanic crossings of large mammals, such as monkeys, played a major role in populating the Americas and other far flung land masses with a shared set of fauna.
The author leads very strongly with his theory. Often this is a good approach for a popular science book. It can be exciting and motivate the more technical aspects of the subject. But, to engage the reader, the author needs to anticipate the reader’s questions and provide appropriate arguments. I feel that there are a lot of holes in Alan’s book. For example, early on he makes reference to a back of the napkin estimate of the number of monkeys that may of reached South America by floating across the ocean. Given so many millions of years, it seems likely that this event must have happened multiple times. As a lay person, my first thought is, yes, but did these events happen in sufficient proximity in time and space so that the various populations met, interacted, and interbred? What is a sufficient seed population size to create a self-sustaining population and serve as a healthy start for a new species? Perhaps these questions have obvious answers to an expert in the field, but they certainly do not for me.
I certainly do not pretend to understand bio-geography to the extent the author does (in fact his book introduced me to the field). I do think, however, that the author could better engage a lay audience by framing his argument in a tighter fashion and engaging the reader by better anticipating questions the lay person is likely to have.
The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life
Author Alan de Queiroz
First published 2014