Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, by Stephen Brusatte

William Morrow, April 2018

This is exactly what it says on the tin: a highly readable history of the dinosaurs, from their beginnings as very minor players in the early Triassic, to world-dominating predators and plant eaters in the late Cretaceous. And then the end of the Cretaceous, the meteor that ended dinosaur dominance--but not, as was once thought, the end of dinosaurs altogether.

Brusatte gives us both the story of the dinosaurs, and his own development from a teenager fanboying important paleontologists making major contributions to our knowledge of dinosaurs, to a student making his own first expeditions and contributions, and eventually an accomplished professional in the field.

Dinosaurs started out relatively small, and obscure, and got a boost from a mass extinction early in the Triassic. Brusatte takes us through their evolution, and the breakup of Pangea into separate continents. It's a fascinating story, more complex than I had previously fully realized.

Among the most interesting aspects of this are the evolution of the tyrannosaurs, and the evolution of the birds. These two stories are closely connected; birds, like tyrannosaurs and velociraptors, are in fact a type of theropod dinosaur. The dinosaurs aren't extinct; just most types of dinosaurs are extinct. One category of dinosaurs, the birds, are with us in the form of thousands of species.

But the extinction of most of the dinosaurs, at the end of the Cretaceous, is of course a major part of their story, and part of the fascination of it. Why did all the other dinosaurs, including probably  most of the birds, die out? Why did what became the modern birds, as well as mammals and enough reptiles to matter, survive? The meteor that caused the devastation, and how that impact was discovered, is another fascinating story, as is the story of why the survivors did survive in the face of that worldwide devastation. Brusatte does an excellent job of telling these stories and how the answers were discovered, as well as the things we don't know yet.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.

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