Monday, June 25, 2018

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

Dinosaurs are a persistent source of fascination for many people. Everything about earth’s ancient prehistoric past freezes the workaday humdrum reasoning part of our brain and liberates the imagination. Asking the question, What would it have been like to live back then? is inevitable with even the slightest perusal  into this topic (FYI, for much of the time, especially for the first generation of dinosaurs, it would have felt very much like living in a sauna). Author Steve Brusatte is a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh and his book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs reads like an epic.

The book is all about the dinosaurs but also discusses the planetary conditions that lead up to the proliferation of the many dinosaur species. Included in the narrative are several of the mass extinction events with special emphasis on the Permian extinction event roughly 250 million years ago.  The Permian extinction wiped out perhaps as much as 90% of the living species on earth. Slowly over millions of years the living animate things rebounded and the stage was set for the rise of the massive reptilian creatures of popular imagination. And there were many, many species of these house sized reptiles. One of the startling facts encountered within the pages of this book is the ongoing and frequent discover of ever new species of dinosaurs.

What makes Brusatte’s story so interesting and what separates his account from many others I have read is the emphases placed on current technology and the creative efforts of scientists to “get inside the heads” of the dinosaurs. What did they think? How did they sense the world? How did they hunt their prey? Researchers in our day with all the latest gadgets that the year 2018 has on offer are attempting to squeeze every ounce of information out of the fossil records.  The results are intriguing and provide an almost visceral glimpse into the lives of these huge creatures.

For a topic of this size (pun intended), The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is not an overwhelming read. The tone is actually quite conversational and is filled with the author’s observations about his profession. His enthusiasm for the subject and his delight with every new discovery is evident on every page. If you wanted one volume on the latest research into all things dinosaurs this could be the book for you.

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