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Nick Candoros (Athens - Greece)
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Earth Before the Dinosaurs (Life of the Past)
Earth Before the Dinosaurs (Life of the Past)
by Sebastien Steyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 27.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From the Sea to the Amniotes - An Exciting Journey, 10 Dec 2012
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Despite the catchy "Dinosaurs" word of the title, the book pays scant attention to these big Stars of the evolution drama. The author's purpose is to lure the readers away from the "Terrible Lizards" and acquaint them with the equally exciting - and sometimes more successful in time and space - early amphibians and amniotes.
Well, he certainly got my attention! From the middle Devonian to the early Triassic, we get first the tetrapods' tale and their transition from an aquatic to a terrestrial existence (and back again in some cases!). And as if that evolutionary leap was not enough, then we get to the development of the great animal family of Amniotes (reptiles and from them birds and mammals), their hesitant steps away from the safety of the water environments, compliments of their hard-shelled eggs, and the first real blooming of families and genera which lead to many of today's vertebrate species.
The author is very careful in his choice of species, in order to illustrate those two evolutionary journeys. And he is adamant in his position that these transitions do not represent any kind of "progress" towards "higher goals", but rather random branching events of the tree of life and equally fascinating for that reason. All selected species are presented by fossil photos, skeletal sketches and, in the majority, excellent color illustrations - congratulations to M. A.Beneteau, the artist responsible for them. Furthermore, there are tentative hypotheses about the creatures' ecology, in order to get a better understanding of their whole world.
M. Steyer's concise and lucid text clearly aims for anyone interested in prehistoric life. It is true that, sometimes, he gets carried away with specialized vocabulary, particularly when discussing cranial or skeletal details for some of the species. But these points are few and the drawings offer a lot of help, so the reader's pleasure goes undiminished.
To put it briefly, it is a very good book for anyone interested in the History of Life on Earth, particularly because it sheds ample light to lost worlds of animal families, seldom presented or discussed, even by paleontology lovers.


Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart
Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart
by Steve White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Try - Not always Great Choices, 31 Oct 2012
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It seems awfully grumpy of me to give such a small grade, to a book that could have been a cherished dream come true. But to be honest, it was somewhat disappointing.
Of course I fully understand the Editor's conundrum: how can you be certain of your choice of only eight (8) artists, specializing in the representation of lost prehistoric worlds? Do these eight really represent the cream of the crop? Are they universally acknowledged, by scientists and the general public as the "Greatest"?
Well, there are of course no easy answers to all the above. In art, any art, choices are deeply personal - and Mr. White is just another person. Of course, when compiling such an anthology, you cannot ignore giants like Anton, Henderson, Sibbick or Martin. And Csotonyi (unknown to me) was a very pleasant surprise. But the remaining three did not really impress me.
Perhaps I am more of a traditionalist and I cannot abide to representations of prehistoric animals, based more on an abundance of poetic license, taken by the artist, than solid scientific hypotheses about the said animals and their ecology. And brilliant colors or "heretic" views on the creatures' shape, movement and / or environment are, for me at least, a really poor substitute for great design (Sibbick, Martin), masterful anatomical and dynamic representations (Anton) or rigorous insight in the animals' total ecological environment (Henderson, Csotonyi).
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. And the fold-outs of my favorite artists were a marvel! Most of the material is really good "Dinosaur Art". Sometimes even great "Dinosaur Art". But certainly not "The Greatest".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 6, 2012 1:33 PM GMT


Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Mammals
Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Mammals
by J. David Archibald
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 39.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From Dinosaurs to Mammals - How?, 9 Oct 2011
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This is definitely not the typical popular science book, even for adult and educated readers. It has more the form of a dissertation, meant for other scientists, minus (for most of the time actually) the specialized technical jargon of such a publication.

The dinosaurs' spectacular nature and their equally spectacular demise have insured for them a permanent position of high importance, both in the public's eye and in the intensity of scientific enquiries and debates. The book focuses on the time frame around the transition from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic, a crucial turning point in the evolution of life on Earth, since it presented a major biological and ecological shift from a world of dinosaurs to one of mammals.

The author describes first the state of things by the end of the Cretaceous, for a broad variety of animal families. Then he focuses on mammal ancestry and evolution, under the dinosaurs' shadow, a rather controversial subject, rife with scientific clashes. The problem is mainly one of connecting threadbare fossil evidence to the richness and variety of modern mammal families. And the extinction event which followed, around 65 million years ago, a complex phenomenon due to the combination of factors which attributed to it, does not make things easier. Even today, after many decades of concentrated research, there are many holes in our knowledge of the "how" and "why" the mammals took over the planet in a geological time eye blink.

The main problem I had was the author's style: it was rather dry, as if he was not particularly interested in the attractiveness of his text to readers. I am not in a position to question the scientific value of the arguments presented, but reading many of the book's sections, was a rather tedious business. Plus the stress is more on disproving scientific opinions contrary to those of the author, rather than positively offering what we actually know on various aspects of the subject. And this "negative" approach is perhaps the biggest problem with this book's appeal.


Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life
Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life
by SD Sampson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 34.14

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journeying Through Time and Mesozoic Life, 17 May 2011
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The book is an oddity of sorts: it is aimed at adults with an interest in dinosaurs but no significant background knowledge on the subject. This can be both an asset and a fault as we will see.

The author avoids the usual structuring of books dealing with the whole of the dinosaurs' story, namely the strict chronological periods / species within each period one. Instead he opts for a more generalist view in the "background building" section of the book, addressing topics such as solar system creation, tectonic plates movements, the ecology-evolution continuum within the story of Earth and all life on it, energy transfer in food webs, past and present and so on.

The point of providing all this data is to better set the stage for the dinosaur family and their astonishing 160 million years dominance of land life on the planet. Besides a brief, but fairly complete, exposition of the comings and goings of various dinosaur groups through space and time, the tale is told from an ecological standpoint, with separate chapters for herbivores, carnivores, decomposers etc. A host of thorny paleontology issues are meticulously presented, with painstaking effort to objectively put forward all the conflicting viewpoints, no easy task when dealing with deep time. The discussion on alternate solutions for dinosaur physiology and thermodynamics was particularly interesting. Armed with all this, the reader then follows three prehistoric ecosystems "case studies", one for each period of the Mesozoic, coming to the inevitable extinction event and the scientific battles raging around the "why" and "how" of the dinosaurs' demise.

If one has been reading about the subject for some time, many of the book's material - particularly in the "background building" section - will be redundant, but not boring, due to the author's lucid and attractive writing style. Any educated layman can easily follow the scientific arguments presented and the glossary at the book's end is of great help. Personally, I would have liked less background information and more thorny issues discussion, but you cannot have it all. And "Dinosaur Odyssey" offers a lot for dinosaur lovers, beginners and veterans alike.


The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
by Carl Zimmer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 29.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution made simple for everyone, 11 Feb 2011
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Writing popular science books is no easy task. The author has to strike a delicate balance, between providing all the scientific information in an organized way and not alienating a non scientific public with undue complexity in vocabulary or concept.

Well, I am a happy, and fully satisfied, reader. Because reading this magnificent book, gave me new knowledge about the nature, tools, processes and results of the evolutionary process on Earth. And this result was accomplished through a very well written text, solid subject structuring and a wealth of beautiful and informative illustrations.

After the introductory chapters, the author adopts a biological approach, well founded in modern genetics science, and presents every subject clearly and elegantly, frequently mentioning up-to-date results from research in relevant fields, thus documenting every step of the amazing story of evolution in the Natural World. Of course he cannot delve too deeply in some matters, however interesting it would be, since he aims to keep the "popular" character of the book. But the bibliography at the end is analytical - by chapter and section - and offers many exciting starting points for anyone interested in further reading.

The two last chapters are of particular interest, since they are about the evolution of harmful or helpful microorganisms ("Evolutionary Medicine") and the evolution of spiritual and behavioral characteristics in our species ("Minds and Microbes"). Both subjects are crucial for our survival and sharply remind us that, irrespective of any "high-minded" ideas we have about our exalted status on the planet, we still remain just a part of the vast, intricate and constantly evolving web of life.


The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World
The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World
by Brian Fagan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.47

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not always On the Mark, 30 Jan 2011
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Well, I have mixed feelings about the book. It is true that Ice Ages are a popular subject, and not only to paleontology lovers. Their occurrence in, geologically speaking, recent time, have left marks on the Earth we can follow and study. Rocks, landscapes, plant and animal fossils (including a good record of human ones), clues from geology, physics, biology, all have helped us to form quite a rich portrait of this most crucial and interesting period in the planet's history.

The book offers an all-around picture of the various data, theories, facts and controversies, concerning the climate rollercoaster which created the pattern of glacials and interglacials. It examines the geological record of plate tectonics and the consequences on the climate and then goes on with a quite detailed analysis of the hows and whys of whole ecosystems going berserk. It offers a picture of all life (animal and human) and how it coped with the challenges posed by a very hostile environment and, in the last chapter, gives a dire warning about severe climate change in the near future and its negative outcome for human life, mainly due to our activities in the past 200 years - industrial revolution, global warming etc.

All this is well and good, but I think that, because the book's sections were written by different authors, the reader gets an uneven result. Everything is kept as simple as possible, but a little more science would not hurt, and it certainly would clarify some issues. The "Ice Age Bestiary" chapter was good and to the point. Something that cannot be said for "The Human Journey" one, since, instead of focusing of the challenge the Ice Ages posed to our species and how we evolved, biologically and culturally, to face them, it offers a complete record on human evolution, totally irrelevant to the book's purpose. And the final chapter, although it spoke of crucial matters for out future, came through more as cheap alarmist demagogy than a serious scientific thesis.

Despite this oscillation between a popular science book and a coffee table one, it is a good book to read about the subject. And, if someone is thirsty for more, the bibliography section is a good start.


African Dinosaurs Unearthed: The Tendaguru Expeditions (Life of the Past)
African Dinosaurs Unearthed: The Tendaguru Expeditions (Life of the Past)
by Gerhard Maier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 31.94

4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Tale of Scientific Discoveries, 2 Dec 2010
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Sub-Saharan Africa is currently one of the richest fields of paleontological research, with an abundance of sites covering many geological periods. Tanzania in particular is justly famous for the key discoveries about hominid ancestors but equally for the spectacular dinosaur discoveries at Tendaguru.

The book follows, in minute detail, the whole series of expeditions, findings, triumphs, disasters, human and national destinies, hopes and sorrows, concerning the bringing into light of a world lost in the mists of time. A world dominated by huge sauropods, ferocious theropods and a host of other animals and plants, flourishing from the Middle Jurassic up to the Lower Cretaceous.

The tale is told in strict chronological order, from the first glimpses of bones, in the colony of German East Africa in 1907, to the last studies from multinational and multidisciplinary teams at the beginnings of the 21st Century. The expeditions covered various sites but, of course, Tendaguru shines as the most visited, explored and productive. Furthermore, we get an extensive account of all studies, discoveries, controversies and frustrations, following the examination of these rich findings. Germany and the United Kingdom made the most crucial contributions, but other nations and their scientific communities followed, through the tumultuous history of the 20th Century (two World Wars, Cold War, Decolonization, economic and social upheavals etc.).

The only drawback is that,sometimes, so much detail drowns the tale. Too many technicalities, quite interesting to experts, make some sections difficult for laymen, particularly those covering geological / stratigraphic issues. To be fair, the author tried to gather most of the hard science details in the epilogue, but enough escaped to the main text, to make some parts of the book less appealing.

Nevertheless for passionate dinosaur fans, this is a very good opportunity to follow real life Indiana Joneses in one of the greatest adventures in the history of Paleontology.


The Age of Dinosaurs in South America (Life of the Past)
The Age of Dinosaurs in South America (Life of the Past)
by Fernando E. Novas
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 32.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Wealth of Information Strictly for Scientists, 6 Dec 2009
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I knew the book was a challenge from the first cursory look I gave it upon arrival. And my assumption was more than verified upon reading it, or at least trying to.
South America and Patagonia in particular, is currently one of the hottest points for paleontological exploration in the world, especially for Mesozoic life. And of course Dinosaurs figure prominently in the pertinent scientific literature. The discoveries made, through painstaking excavations and research, these last decades are extremely interesting due to the differentiations between dinosaur faunas of the northern and the southern hemispheres. Numerous species have emerged, many with articulated skeletons, which, along with geological and climate data, give a very rich and complex picture of Mesozoic ecosystems and animal interrelationships.
All these are fairly presented in the book, in chronological order (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous), with greater emphasis given to the Cretaceous dinosaurs, since there is more material about them. All species are meticulously described and analyzed, along with hypotheses about their ecology and behavior. Even partial fossil bones are mentioned with all relevant information science has managed to extract from them. Plus, each section concerning a period closes with a summary of the findings about it and general observations about these worlds lost in time.
The problem is that this great wealth of data is presented through a completely obscure scientific text, full of technical jargon in Greek, Latin and tongue-tying 15 syllable words. A layman, even an educated one, is hopelessly lost in this terminology labyrinth and the information ones manages to painfully glean from the text is quite meager. Obviously the author aimed the book exclusively at his colleagues of the paleontological community and not the general public. It is his choice to make but one feels frustrated, being essentially barred from such an interesting subject for prehistoric life aficionados. We are still waiting for a popular science book on the topic of South America Mesozoic worlds.


Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet
Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet
by Donald R. Prothero
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 21.69

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Subjects, sometimes difficult for non-scientists, 14 Sep 2009
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First of all the title is a bit misleading. It refers to the first of the book's ten essays on various subjects in paleontology and most of them have to do with issues pertaining to prehistoric mammals - the author's specialty - and not the "catchy" dinosaurs.
But that's not a problem. Mr. Prothero's prose is as clear as ever and the way he approaches his subjects show the proper mix of boyish enthusiasm and scientific caution, since in many occasions data in support in one thesis or another are scanty or altogether missing. And the conscientious way he points at his (and our) gaps of knowledge, only serves to strengthen those of his conclusions which are based on very concrete scientific evidence and rigorous research.
There are problems though. All subjects are quite interesting in themselves but there is no overall unifying concept connecting them, no big idea or clear message to the reader. Sure, climate change and its dire consequences pop up here and there but it is only one of many broached ideas, not the main or even the strongest one. Also, in quite a few places, the text gets too technical and downright difficult for non-specialists. Finally excavation procedures and problems descriptions, along with the occasional funny incident, are of some value to the reader but not so the author's analytical description of his education and eulogy to his teachers, almost always described as "brilliant" or "outstanding". Of course good teachers are a blessing but not a very interesting subject for popular science reading.
The overall impression is that this is interesting stuff, sometimes great stuff, but addressed more to prospective paleontologists than the general public.


Dogs Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History
Dogs Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History
by Xiaoming Wang
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 23.17

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Look at Canid Evolution, 1 Sep 2009
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I had mixed feelings buying the book. I love dogs and admire their wild relatives, sure, but they somehow did not seem that interesting, at least compared to the other big carnivore family, the cats.
Well I was wrong. Prehistoric dogs, wolves, foxes and other canids without modern descendants are every bit as exciting as the most spectacular felids. And that point was clearly driven through, compliments of the authors and Mr. Anton's illustrations.
The book has a very good structure, beginning with the origins of the various canid groups, presenting a handful of key species for every branch of the family tree. Then comes the anatomy section, usually difficult for amateurs. Not this time. Every part of the dog body is clearly presented (Mr. Anton again) and analyzed, with the technical vocabulary kept to the barest minimum and all key scientific terms explained. And finally, we come to the really juicy stuff: Hypotheses about primitive canids ecology and general behavior, based on observations of their various modern descendants and data form other scientific disciplines. The authors trace the family's evolutionary fortunes through space (dispersal all over the world) and time (changing environments with new challenges) and conclude with a very interesting analysis on dogs' domestication and common life with man.
The text manages to balance wealth of content with brevity and charm. The latest receives a more than generous boost from Mr. Anton's simply gorgeous work. The black and white sketches are very good, particularly the anatomical ones, but the artist's talent really shines at the color plates - alas only eight of them.
The book is a very good option for anyone interested in prehistoric mammals and / or dogs in particular. And if one is prepared to go further, the appendices and bibliography are there to help.


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