By John Pickrell
Columbia University Press , 240pp | Buy on Amazon
I’ve had this book on my desk for longer than I’d care to admit… but not because I didn’t want to read it, but on the contrary – because I wanted to read it in style. I wanted to make some tea, go to the park or a nearby cafe and read it there. I wanted to savor it, mostly because I had a good idea what it was about and the subject was fairly familiar, but also because it reminded me about my junior year of studying paleontology. But work kept adding on and the book kept waiting for me, until I finally answered its call this Spring. Let me tell you, it was worth the wait!
If you’re not a geologist or biologist, then this might come as a shock to you: dinosaurs haven’t gone extinct. In fact, they’re doing just fine all across the planet, but we call them birds. That’s right, birds forced us rethink what we think about dinosaurs, at least most of them. Not all dinosaurs are related to modern birds, but most of them are, and it was quite a ride getting there. Pickrell does a great job at showing the bumpy road science had to take to reach this conclusion, in part because he’s so knowledgeable about this issue, but also because he’s such a good story teller.
The book is basically a fast paced and well structured summary of what’s been going on in recent decades in paleontological research in relationship to dinosaurs (especially the dinosaur-bird relationship), but the author doesn’t shy away from going back in history, for example discussing the infamous bone wars that took place in the late 19th century. No knowledge of biology is required to enjoy the book, and there’s something for everyone here. I think this book is best suited for people who are somewhat familiar to science but not necessarily equipped with all the jargon and know-how to read through scientific articles.
What I really liked is that he also takes the time to write about recent Chinese paleontological finds. It has to be said, in modern times, Chinese paleontology seems to be at the forefront of dinosaur research, but only in part to their own merit. Until now, there was little interest (the interest for paleontology has developed much later than in the US for example), but now, things have drastically changed. There is actually so much interest that paleontologists in the area are barely managing to get hold of the bones – local farmers are digging them out and selling them on the black market. Modern times have modern challenges I guess…
But all in all, I found the book delightful and accessible – I highly recommend it for readers of all ages and all backgrounds. I found myself googling tidbits of information to find out more all the time, and this is maybe the only downside to the book – it will eat up your time and make you forget about your other stuff.
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