Behind the screens
Dennis McCarthy: Author, Researcher
McCarthy has published numerous works in the fields of Shakespeare studies, biogeography, and geophysics. His views on Thomas North as the original author of Shakespeare’s plays was the subject of a new book by Michael Blanding: North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard (Hachette Books, 2021)
In 2018, news about McCarthy’s discovery of an important Shakespeare-related manuscript kept at Thomas North’s family library made the front page of The New York Times and many other news outlets around the world. His latest work is Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare (Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2021). Co-authored with June Schlueter, the book confirms that Thomas North used his travel-diary and the experiences of his journey as the basis for scenes in The Winter’s Tale and Henry VIII.
His first book, Here Be Dragons / How the study of animal and plant distributions revolutionized our views of life and Earth (Oxford University Press, 2009), introduced the subject of biogeography (the intersection of evolution and geography) to the general public, and many reviewers highlighted the book’s ability to transform the way we see the world. McCarthy first generated wide-spread attention with a 2007 paper in The Journal of Geophysical Research, when he became the first researcher to provide the correct explanation for the lopsided ocean-continent distribution of the Earth. This became the subject of a number of news reports throughout the world, and Der Spiegel, the largest news magazine in Europe, devoted a large article to this JGR paper.
Past Reviews and Commentary
Here Be Dragons
“It’s a grand time-and-space voyage of the imagination, the drift of continents, the appearance and rise and fall and extinction of new species, the human story with all its tragedy and complexity… Read this one, a great pleasure, and if geologic time and space in the history of life are new for you, at the end of the book you will be someone different.”
–Dan Agin, Huffington Post, 3/18/2010
“If you want to know why the natural world is the way it is, this is an excellent place to start… I would advise anyone to read this informative, silkily written book.”
–Jonathan Wright, Geographical, 2/10
“McCarthy infuses his account of life on Earth with a sense of wonder and excitement. In succinct, colorful prose he invites the reader to marvel at the intricacy, implacability and exquisite beauty of biogeography….
“This is a fascinating, accessible work, which offers a new, more complete perspective on the world we live in. McCarthy packs a tremendous amount in 200 pages but his writing skill is such that the reader never feels overwhelmed and turns each page with as much entertainment as enlightenment … Fans of Jared Diamond or Richard Dawkins will be fans of the eloquent Dennis McCarthy.”
–Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald, 1/10/10
“This book’s aim is to put biogeography—the study of the distribution of biodiversity over time—centre stage as a unifying principle of modern biology, establishing it as both a key discipline that led to modern evolutionary theory and as an elucidator of evolution’s processes. It succeeds nobly … [T]he science is firm and buttressed with a pleasant combination of painstaking detail and infectious enthusiasm.”
–Adrian Barnett, New Scientist, 1/27/2010
“In this fascinating and revelatory book.., McCarthy persuasively argues that biogeography is more than just the place where evolution, plate tectonics, oceanography and climatology meet: It is a way of looking at the world that links all of these sciences together. “
–Sid Perkins, Science News, 4/9/10
“[Here Be Dragons] provides a quick but enthusiastic summary of the fascinating field of biogeography, and it leaves us wanting more. The book delivers on its promise that we will never look at the world in the same way again.”
–Devorah Bennu, Science Magazine, 6/25/2010
“Biogeography may sound like one of those obscure subdivisions of science best left to the experts, but Dennis McCarthy is the most eloquent advocate for his specialist theme. In this excellent book, he makes a convincing case that the subject is central to our understanding of how life evolved….“With a knowledge of Earth history at his disposal, a precision and clarity reminiscent of other great science popularizers, and a courteous tone to smooth out any stubborn complexities, McCarthy makes biogeography into a story that is both intelligible and compelling.”
–Mark Cocker, BBC Wildlife Magazine, 28.1, 2010
“A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare’s Plays
“New sources for Shakespeare do not turn up every day in the week. This is a truly significant one, that has not heretofore been studied or published. The list of passages in Shakespeare now traced back to this source is an impressive one… This is all a revelation to me, all the more remarkable in that this manuscript has been hidden and unexamined until now.”
–David Bevington, Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago
“I think they (McCarthy and Schlueter ) have done the world a great favor by finding this manuscript. I don’t think there’s any question that Shakespeare read it.”
–Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham
“This impressively argued, ingeniously presented, and economically elaborated argument for North’s Discourse as a source for Shakespeare’s plays I take to be an important intervention in current Shakespeare studies”
–Martin Meisel, Brander Matthews Professor Emeritus, Columbia University
“A Brief Discourse is one of the most exciting recent discoveries in the long history of Shakespeare source study…. Will this study one day be a model for future research using the editors’ methods? I would like to think it might, should Shakespeare studies be fortunate enough to recover another document of anything like the manifest value of ‘A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels.’”
–Thomas G. Olsen, Sixteenth Century Journal, 49.4, 2018
Early comments on Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal
(2017 – 2019)
McCarthy and Schlueter’s book will be compulsory reading in its turn for every scholar of these plays, and for anyone interested in Shakespeare’s reading.
— Michael Dobson, Institute Director, The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Birmingham
McCarthy and Schlueter have once again produced evidence that ought to rock Shakespearean scholarship to its foundations.
— Patrick Buckridge, former Head, School of Humanities, Griffith University, and former Co-editor of Queensland Review
The scholarship in this volume is wide, deep, and impressive. The authors know they have a heavy burden of proof, but they bear it fully.
— Harry Keyishian, Professor Emeritus of English, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and former Director, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
This study compels us to recognize the Norths as significant protagonists in the vast, fascinating story of Shakespeare and his sources.
— Thomas G. Olsen, Associate Professor of English, The State University of New York at New Paltz