Reviewed by Dr. Roy P. Mackal
There are a number of definitions of cryptozoology. As a practicing cryptozoologist for over 30 years, I prefer the following: cryptozoology is the study and investigation of evidence for animals unexpected in time or place or in size or shape. Dr. Karl Shuker has addressed the first category of animals in his definition animals unexpected in time, referring to possible select species, that is, surviving animal species known only from the fossil record or which were known in the past but are now thought to be extinct.
There have been many studies and books written about so-called living fossils, a somewhat contradictory misnomer. None in my opinion even come close to the superb work by Dr. Shuker entitled In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Let me explain why this book is so outstanding. First, the exceptional scholarship which is not only comprehensive, but also scrupulously accurate, sets this book apart. Second, the analyses of data are always well balanced, compellingly reasonable and objective, without becoming boring or tedious. Last, the presentation and literary style provide a clear, understandable text even to nonprofessionals but is never written down to its audience, so that it is acceptable to scientists as well.
I always imagined that I was aware of most, if not absolutely all, available cryptozoological information, yet to my surprise and delight I found a great wealth of new data about cryptids (possible unknown animals) totally new to me as well as additional information about cryptids already familiar to me. Not since On the Track of Unknown Animals by Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans has anyone compiled so much excellent material and integrated it so well into the corpus of cryptozoological knowledge.
The foregoing would be more than enough to establish Shukers book as the best in recent times, yet there is more to excite the reader. Shuker has done real cryptozoology. The core cryptozoological research consists of comparing available data about a particular cryptid to all known animal groups, both living and extinct, in order to establish tentative relationships possibly leading to identification of the animal in question or at least establishing affinities. Further, an assessment must be made as to whether or not information actually is related to real unknown animals, rather than a hoax, a mistaken identification or simply wishful thinking or fabrication.
Shuker has demonstrated encyclopedic zoological knowledge, the application of which has provided a well-reasoned compelling argument for the identity of many of the cryptids in his book. Throughout, Shukers approach is strictly scientific without ever relying on questionable explanations. This book will undoubtedly be a great inspiration and reference for its readers.
Review originally published in Strange Magazine 16, Fall 1995. Excerpted from the introduction to In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, by permission of Blandford Press.