August 10, 2018

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

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Stephen Brusatte
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, a good science book does several things. It tackles its subject with a wide-eyed sensawunda and enthusiasm; it explains complex scientific concepts in understandable layman's terms without talking down to its audience; and it tells me something I haven't considered or heard of before. With as many books as have been written over the decades about dinosaurs, that's a pretty tall order. Nevertheless, this book pulls it off.

I've never heard of him, but apparently Stephen Brusatte is a rising young star in the paleontology world. There's little bits of autobiography sprinkled throughout this book, and while some readers may find this annoying, I like to know something about my nonfiction authors. Brusatte's enthusiasm for his topic shines through on every page, and if he comes off as more than a little bit obsessive here and there, well, that's to be expected of a good scientist. In several places he lays out the process he used to make his discoveries in detail, which I found fascinating.

This book covers the entire 150-million-year history of the dinosaurs, from the beginning of their evolution to their extinction, and does so in an eminently readable fashion. Of particular interest to me were the chapters on how dinosaurs evolved into birds; the chapter devoted to Tyrannosaurus Rex, the largest and most successful carnivore ever to stalk the earth (and to think those monsters hunted in packs! It's enough to make one burrow into the earth screaming); and of course, the chapter on the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Crecateous as a result of the Chicxulub asteroid impact (or possibly in concert with the eruption of the massive Deccan Traps volcanoes in India). I was very sad to see them go, but on the other hand...without their extinction, humans wouldn't be around today.

The author ends his book with a bit of a cautionary tale.

We humans now wear the crown that once belonged to the dinosaurs. We are confident of our place in nature, even as our actions are rapidly changing the planet around us. It leaves me uneasy, and one thought lingers in my mind as I walk through the harsh New Mexican desert, seeing the bones of dinosaurs give way so suddenly to fossils of Torrejonia and other mammals.

If it could happen to the dinosaurs, could it also happen to us?

Well, unless we stop burning fossil fuels, it's probably going to happen to us. But that's another book. In the meantime, enjoy this one, for its fresh look at a lost world.

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