STARRED REVIEW
March 18, 2021

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy

Arik Kershenbaum

Zoologist Arik Kershenbaum draws on a range of scientific disciplines to contemplate what characteristics extraterrestrial animals might possess.
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People have long speculated about the possibility of intelligent life-forms on other planets. Scientists and science fiction writers have weighed in on what such beings would look like, as well as on the details of their language, culture and social structure. But what about animal life? Would animal extraterrestrials look similar to those that roam our world, or would they appear totally alien?

In his debut book, The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens—and Ourselves, zoologist Arik Kershenbaum draws on a range of scientific disciplines, including chemistry, physics, biology and the very specific field of astrobiology (the study of life outside of Earth), to contemplate what characteristics otherworldly animals might possess, from movement and intelligence to communication and sociality. Ultimately he theorizes that the various animal features we’ve recognized and recorded on Earth won’t be unique to Earth.

Using current knowledge of how life has evolved on our planet, Kershenbaum poses the questions: What might complex alien life look like, and is it possible to use tools and clues available on Earth to guess? His expertise in the field of animal behavior adds weight and validity to his arguments, such as his assertion that “intelligence evolves all the time to fit specific needs . . . a compelling indication that alien animals too will evolve problem-solving intelligence, on different planets throughout the galaxy.” Helpful definitions and explanations guide the reader through concepts such as chaos theory, natural selection, form versus function and convergent evolution, which is the idea that similar solutions have evolved separately in distantly related species—such as the ability to fly, which is found in both birds and bats.

Through these examples, which he mixes with humor and even references to science fiction books and films, Kershenbaum relays fascinating scientific concepts in layman’s terms. The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy will appeal to anyone who ponders what life is like among the stars.

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The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy

By Arik Kershenbaum
Penguin Press
ISBN 9781984881960

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