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The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of the Lost World by Steve Brusatte

January 19, 2019

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As a kid, the ability to identify the major dinosaurs—Brontosaurs, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Pteranodon, Ankylosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex—was as natural as reciting the alphabet. Along with a love for Star Wars and an uncontrollable impulse to throw rocks, dinophilia is hard-wired into a boy’s consciousness.

But, like the categorization of the planet/non-planet Pluto, things have changed with the dinosaurs in the past few decades. Paleontologists have uncovered new types, formulated new theories, and refined old ways of thinking. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is an accessible look at everything we know about dinosaurs. For any grownup boy, it’s a delightful refresher of everything you learned in school, plus all the more recent discoveries. The scientists play a large role—the various dig sites, methodologies and personalities—but the most exciting stuff is the dinosaurs themselves.

Without going too over-the-top, Brusatte brings these animals to life, describes the world in which they lived, how they hunted. He dispels some of the common myths about dinosaurs and digs into some of the mysteries—like how the T-Rex evolved rapidly from a middle-of-the-road dinosaur to the king of them all.

Some of the most vivid imagery is where Brusatte takes the most authorial license, as when he describes the meteor that hit the earth about 66 million years ago in present-day Mexico, triggering a climatological event that wiped out all land dinosaurs (and 75% of all other animals and plants). He describes the entrance of the meteor into the atmosphere from the dinosaur’s point of view (who else would have seen it?). The devastating impact, the deafening sound that circled the earth six times, the burning rain of hot debris in the atmosphere and the resulting planetary cooling.

But the most compelling aspect of this book is the knowledge Brusatte enthusiastically drops on us. Did you know that a new kind of dinosaur is discovered somewhere in the world about once a week? Curious to know why T-Rex was so superior to the similar-looking Allosaurus (hint: it had to do with the T-Rex’s jaw strength and its patented “puncture-pull” killing style). Or, most mind-blowing, that there are actually tens of thousands of “dinosaurs” living today? We call them birds. Despite the common misconception that dinosaurs were giant lizards, it’s more accurate to think of them as giant feather-less, wingless, flightless birds. And although we don’t have any T-Rexes wandering around today (thankfully), they didn’t technically go extinct.

This book is a fun romp through a topic that is as awe-inspiring and wondrous as it was when I was a kid.

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