If your kids were captivated by the BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs
--and let's face it, even big kids were--then Dave Martill and Darren Naish have just provided you with the perfect Christmas present. Walking With Dinosaurs--The Evidence
sets out to explain the science behind the series. Given that Naish, a dinosaur expert at the University of Portsmouth wrote most of the text in little over two weeks, the result is extremely good. In the series, did you wonder how palaeontologists could possibly know what pterosaurs ate? Or why the animators reconstructed diplodocuses in such a strange-looking posture, their immensely long necks and tails sticking out almost parallel to the ground? You will find clear and concise explanations of these and many other puzzles here.
The authors also explore a few hotly debated issues not covered in the TV series. For example, were dromaeosaurs--like the fearsome Utahraptor depicted in the episode "Giant of the Skies"--really giant, flightless birds? This is seemingly ridiculous, but many palaeontologists take it very seriously. And given that many researchers believe that dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds, might dinosaurs have sported feathers? Fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex covered in fluff? Well, just maybe. The only disappointing aspect of the book is that some of the more outrageous bits of make-believe which peppered the TV series do not get a mention--the idea, for example, that cynodonts--long-extinct relatives of mammals--committed infanticide, or that Postosuchus marked its "territory" by urinating explosively (to choose just two examples). On these ticklish matters the learned authors are amusingly silent.
But this is a minor gripe. Walking With Dinosaurs--The Evidence is authoritative, well written, lavishly illustrated, and great fun to read. Moreover, invest just £10 in the book and your kids should stay quiet and contented well into Boxing Day. Now there's a bargain. --Chris Lavers