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T. rex and the Crater of Doom [Paperback]

Carl Zimmer , Walter Alvarez
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

21 July 2008

Sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid larger than Mt. Everest slammed into the Earth, causing an explosion equivalent to the detonation of a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Vaporized impactor and debris from the impact site were blasted out through the atmosphere, falling back to Earth all around the globe. Terrible environmental disasters ensued, including a giant tsunami, continent-scale wildfires, darkness, and cold, followed by sweltering greenhouse heat. When conditions returned to normal, half the genera of plants and animals on Earth had perished.

This horrific story is now widely accepted as the solution to a great scientific murder mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? In T. rex and the Crater of Doom, the story of the scientific detective work that went into solving the mystery is told by geologist Walter Alvarez, one of the four Berkeley scientists who discovered the first evidence for the giant impact. It is a saga of high adventure in remote parts of the world, of patient data collection, of lonely intellectual struggle, of long periods of frustration ended by sudden breakthroughs, of intense public debate, of friendships made or lost, of the exhilaration of discovery, and of delight as a fascinating story unfolded.

Controversial and widely attacked during the 1980s, the impact theory received confirmation from the discovery of the giant impact crater it predicted, buried deep beneath younger strata at the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The Chicxulub Crater was found by Mexican geologists in 1950 but remained almost unknown to scientists elsewhere until 1991, when it was recognized as the largest impact crater on this planet, dating precisely from the time of the great extinction sixty-five million years ago. Geology and paleontology, sciences that long held that all changes in Earth history have been calm and gradual, have now been forced to recognize the critical role played by rare but devastating catastrophes like the impact that killed the dinosaurs.



Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (21 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691131031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691131030
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.9 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 332,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

One of the great mysteries is what happened to the dinosaurs and it has taken great detective work to give us an answer. In T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, some brilliant, not to mention determined, scientists roam the world and seek out the clues. What they conclude is that the earth withstood a colossal impact with a meteor (or perhaps a comet) 65 million years ago. The resulting cataclysm destroyed half the life on the planet.

Walter Alvarez, a geologist at the University of California at Berkeley, and one of the four scientists who present this theory on the mystery, tells the story in a clear narrative that contains a wealth of scientific material. The book does require an investment of attention, but the presentation is quite readable and the story itself is fascinating. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"[D]eft and readable . . . T. rex and the Crater of Doom gets the facts across in a lighthearted, almost playful manner. But it's also solid science, a clear and efficient exposition that conveys plenty of cogent detail while keeping an eye on the subtle interplay of thought, action, and personality that makes scientific research such arresting human behavior. . . . [An] estimable account from the world's leading authority on death from above."--Timothy Ferris, New York Times Book Review

"A geologist (who happens to be a kind of working philosopher) gives a deft, readable explanation of the extinction of the dinosaurs."--New York Times Book Review

"The book is very well written and so engrossing that a reader with little or no background in the earth's geologic history will enjoy an easy and vastly entertaining summary of how we came to our present understanding of the past. It is a wonderful adventure in science."--Dale Russell, The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"An unfolding story told by its leading protagonist. . . . Very clearly and entertainingly written, and illustrated with fascinating colour plates, it is accessible even to nonspecialists."--Arthur C. Clarke, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"A fascinating proof of a once ridiculed theory. In fitting together the puzzle of dino demise, Alvarez excitingly shapes the story for the widest audience."--Booklist

"Every library with geology holdings will want to have this book. . . . Alvarez offers a great detective story. . . . "--Choice

"A first-rate, swiftly paced tale of how science can propel its participants down avenues of surprising discovery to breathtaking conclusions."--Charles Petit, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

"This personal account of the search for a geological Excalibur makes fascinating reading. . . . [It] reads like Arthurian legend, full of temptations which lead the hero astray and distract him and his followers from the true path."--Douglas Palmer, New Scientist

"Alvarez's book recounts this scientific detective story in an authoritative yet consistently engaging manner. Once considered absurd, the idea that extraterrestrial factors were involved in some of the great crises in the history of life has become widely accepted."--Hans-Dieter Sues, Toronto Globe and Mail

"A nicely told and well-written tale of scientific discovery."--Library Journal

"Appealing and accessible, an excellent introduction to the subject."--Kirkus Review

"Reading Alvarez's book is a bit like reading a letter from an old friend you haven't seen for 30 years. . . . Serious passages are offset by cheeky commentary and humble asides that keep the book from becoming overly solemn or preachy."--Rachel Berstein, Berkeley Science Review

"If you love mysteries and enjoy science, this is a wonderful book to read."--Wildlife Activist

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's interesting to see that this book is now being used as a text in high school and even junior high school science classes in the US. I had a great laugh from the reaction of a young reader who wrote that it was "boring" and that "Innocent eight graders shouldn't have to read this stuff"!
Ah, yes. Innocence. But 14-year-olds aside, this is a fascinating and delightful story of scientific discovery and triumph second to none. It can be compared to James D. Watson's The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, both in terms of the importance of the discovery and for bringing to the reader some of the excitement and adventure of the quest. It is not, however, as the title might imply, the reading equivalent of watching a Stephen Spielberg movie! And perhaps we can be thankful for that.
T. Rex and the Crater of Doom is the story of one of the great scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. Prior to Alvarez's work, it was not known what had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Volcanism, disease, climate change, etc., were put forward as possibilities. But in1970 Alvarez began to believe that a large meteor or a comet had struck the earth with enormous force causing the extinctions. But how to prove it? At first it wasn't even imagined how a meteor could bring about such a catastrophe; but gradually it was seen that the debris thrown into the atmosphere by the force of impact would encircle the earth and block out the rays of the sun for months or even years at a time, thereby killing off plants both on the land and in the sea, thereby collapsing the food chain and starving the dinosaurs and most other creatures.
This was the breakthrough idea, and an exciting idea it was.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The worst thing about this book is its title. The best thing is everything else. Its theme is the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous and how the cause was proved to be the impact of the earth with a comet (or was it an asteroid). The author's interest in the K/T extinction began when he studied magnetic polarity reversals in the Cretaceous and Tertiary. He studied deep sea limestones exposed in the Apennines of Italy and dated them using their foraminifera content. And at the K/T boundary big forams disappear. Then he was told that the dinosaurs disappeared at about the same time. His interest in the thin clay at the K/T boundary began to develop.
The explanation of Lyell, the father of uniformitarianism, for the faunal differences either side of the K/T boundary was that it was an unconformity. It marked a large time gap. But the author's work on polarity reversals had cut the K/T gap to less than half a million years, probably less than a hundred thousand years.
Iridium Anomalies
Discussion started with his father, Luis Alvarez, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, about how long a time period the boundary clay represented. The surrounding limestones contained 5 to 10 per cent clay. So was the clay layer deposited when limestone deposition stopped, in which case it represented several thousand years. Or was there a pulse of increased clay input? In which case it represented only a few years. How to do this? Use meteorite dust! (measured as iridium content). The assumption was that meteor dust falls constantly (in tiny amounts) and the amount of dust would tell you how long a bed took to deposit. So if it was deposited in a short time there would be no iridium and if it represented several thousand years there would be about 0.1 parts per billion.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Walter Alvarez has done a great job of describing the solution to a great scientific mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? It is now well known that a large meteor hit the earth 65 million years ago creating a monstrous explosion and dust cloud, blocking the earth from the sun. The proof that was given to us by nature was the Chixculub Crater, created by the asteroid 65 million years before. He lost me a third of the way into the book, as he started to talk of the chemical bases of the iridium and how different machines used certain chemicals to trace other chemicals. It was not that I disliked the book. The pictures were stunning and I thought that for the most part the book was really intriguing from a scientific point of view. The reason for the three points taken off was that, perhaps, in order to make the chronical book length, he combined difficult information with more interesting and less difficult information. I think he was aiming at too wide an audience. Was he talking to high school students? College students? Overall I really enjoyed the book and I recommend this book to anyone over the age of sixteen. It is most certainly a book for someone who has studied some biology, chemistry, or geology in school.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Alvarez commands a mind of genius proportions 28 April 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Walter Alvarez commands a mind of genius proportions, and thankfully he put that mind to the task of producing a wonderful book about the thrill of scientific discovery. The book explains how the scientist looks for patterns in nature that allow generalizing and unifying conclusions to be drawn.
Through our joint geological research in the Italian Apennine Mountains, I've had the very good fortune of getting to know Walter. Despite his being one of the world's leading and best known scientists Walter is an extremely friendly and modest person. In this regard he reminds me of Albert Einstein.
Shortly after visiting Walter in Berkeley last year I mentioned that Spielberg might be interested in a movie relating to the "impact" subject. I didn't know at the time that not one but TWO movies were already in production on this subject - one by Speilberg!
T.rex will inspire and lead many young people to choose careers in geoscience. In considering environmental issues and geosocietal hazards I believe this - inspiring young people - will prove to be the most important long-term outcome of Walter's book: T.rex and the Crater of Doom.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 day read
A fast read. It is possible to read this book in a day because it is short but mainly because the author keeps you interested all the way long. Read more
Published on 14 Aug 2011 by Eric le rouge
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
An excellent and easy read. A vivid and entertaining story of the science of the impact and the scientific process around the discovery. Read more
Published on 1 Aug 2009 by BRG
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book
This book is a nice account of the catastrophic event that wiped out the dinosaurs. I would give the book a rating of 5, but there is a wonderful 15 page narration of the event... Read more
Published on 7 Jun 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars A french look on this book!
I know Amazon since 5 months. This is the first book that I purchased. The book is very clear and can be read as a roman. The thought of the author is clear to understand. Read more
Published on 17 Feb 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars I was back in Prof. Alvarez' Geology 10 Class Again
Reading T. Rex and the Crater of Doom took me right back to the last semester of my senior year at Berkeley, taking Prof. Alvarez' Geology 10 class. Read more
Published on 5 Nov 1997
5.0 out of 5 stars Two good books in one
T. Rex is two books masquerading as one. On the surface it is about Walter Alvarez' theory of meteor impact and how he believes that it is the cause of the mass extinction at the... Read more
Published on 3 Oct 1997
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish my science teacher had told me Science can be cool
Alvarez has done what few grass roots scientists can, which is provide an intelligent and complete argument that is easily palatable by the layperson. Read more
Published on 10 July 1997
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