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The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: The Untold Story of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: The Untold Story of a Lost World by Steve Brusatte
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In the past half century, the traditional image of dinosaurs has been “decisively overturned”, said Tom Holland in The Sunday Times. Scientists have come to realise that dinosaurs weren’t “ponderous and sluggish evolutionary dead ends”; they were “fierce, fast” and clever, too. Moreover, they never actually died out: anatomical evidence has made it clear that birds are “fully fledged dinosaurs in their own right”. Aided by technologies that “would have seemed fantastical to their 19th century forebears”, today’s palaeontologists are able to map the bodies and brains of dinosaurs in unprecedented detail, and “across the globe, in rocks from Alaska to Argentina, a new species is being identified at a rate of roughly one a week”. All this has created a pressing need for a readable guide to the current state of dinosaur research. Thankfully, with this authoritative and “joyously” written book, the leading palaeontologist Steve Brusatte has “triumphantly risen to the challenge”.

The dinosaurs’ emergence, much like their eventual demise, was a product of environmental calamity, said Henry Gee in the Literary Review. Towards the end of the Permian period, some 252 million years ago, a series of “geological cataclysms” wiped out more than nine out of ten species on Earth. The dinosaurs emerged a few million years later, at the start of the Triassic, along with a “gaggle of other exotic reptiles” known as pseudosuchia (or “false crocodiles”), which were erased by a “less extreme” cataclysm. After that, the “weedy lizards grew up fast”, said Oliver Moody in The Times. Within a few tens of millions of years, they had “begun to attain outrageous sizes”, and for the next 180 million years they freely roamed the planet. But eventually, around 66 million years ago, their reign was “brought to an abrupt end by an asteroid strike in Mexico”.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs isn’t simply a tour of a bygone world, said Brian Switek in The Spectator. Brusatte draws extensively on his own experiences and research interests, introducing us to his “heroes and colleagues”, and regaling us with tales of “digging up bones”. Palaeontology emerges as a “young, amped-up discipline” whose findings, moreover, are “not irrelevant” to the concerns of the present. The dinosaurs’ story, after all, is one that “frames our own”. Not only did our distant ancestors survive their reign, but their untimely demise in their “evolutionary prime” serves as a warning that “extinction can act quickly and mercilessly”.