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The Atlas of the Prehistoric World Hardcover – 17 Nov 1999
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The Earth is not the spring chicken it was 4.6 billion years ago. With the passing of the millennia, earth's face, weathered by heat and ice and subject to tectonic friction, has erupted, wrinkled and sagged, as do all our faces ultimately, only more so. Continents have shifted, merged and split apart. Seas have turned to land and land has been submerged by seas. And micro-organisms have evolved into the vast diversity of flora and fauna that exists today. Douglas Palmer's Atlas is a digest of what is known so far about the history of the Earth, enhanced with brilliant maps, photographs and illustrations, and explained in lucid, enjoyable prose.
The Atlas starts off with "The Changing Globe", 36 beautiful pages of maps that chart the changing face of the earth from Vendian Times some 620 million years ago, when land was massed in two continents called Northern and Southern Gondwana. Flipping through the vivid pages, one sees how Siberia, during Early Cambrian Times, began to move north from its South Pole location, how in Odovician Times (460 million years ago) the Iapetus Ocean was beginning to close while the Rheic Ocean was starting to open and how a volcano in what's now Virginia spewed volcanic ash as far away as what's now Minnesota, while in Carboniferous Times (a mere 354 million years ago), there were swampy forests in Nova Scotia that are the coalfields of today.
"Ancient Worlds," the next section of the atlas, charts life, from the aquatic microbes formed 3.5 billion years ago and the multicelled organisms of the Vendian Period, the early-Cambrian brachiopods and the Silurianspiny trilobites, on through to the Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs, the Tertiary mammals, and the entrance of hominids just 5 million years ago. The extinction of the dinosaurs is explained, the Ice Age is described and, in the "Earth Fact File", 200 years of scientific discovery are chronicled.
Douglas Palmer, a professor of natural and earth sciences at Cambridge University, also writes science articles for Science and New Scientist and is the author of many books on paleontology. His Atlas is an excellent layperson's reference for families and students, rendering a vast amount of history and science in a highly accessible, entertaining format. --Stephanie Gold, Amazon.com
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Top Customer Reviews
When I'm reading about ancient life forms that once occupied the earth I allways wondered where for example Africa lay 100 million years ago. This book provides an excellent view on how the world may have looked like during its existance. And it turns this also around by describing each period, and not only the dino-era, with the animals that lived then. The concept of describing the earth this way, accompanied with lots of illustrations gives a good idea of how nature might have looked and is very entertaining.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That is one thing I learned from the ''Atlas of the Prehistoric World,'' a coffe-table book from The Discovery Channel's publishing imprint.
The highlights of the book, of course, are the lavish illustrations, which chart the movement of the world's contients from before the forming of the Pangean supercontinent to modern times -- and which always show you where things were in relation to where they are today.
It's a little awe-inspiring to realize just how much change the world has undergone in just the last 620 million years.
A bit less impressive, unfortunately, are the sections later on that explain what forms of life were around at what periods of time. Author Douglas Palmer's text probably is as detailed as that you'll find in any other coffee-table volume, but that isn't saying much. Books like this always excel at pictures and disappoint with the explanatory text. In this case, the text reads like something intended for intelligent junior-high students, which may not be a bad thing if you are one or are buying this book for one.
Anyway, if prehistoric times interest you, you'll probably find, as do I, that the illustrations' merits outweigh the text's faults.
The authors have done a really 1st class job in packing in so much information, arranged in a way that can be understood and perused according to the tastes of the reader. Not to mention the fantastic illustrations/and or real photographs-from in situ-stegosaur fossil finds, to early Cambrian Hallucegenia, to T rex skeletons, to giant kangaroos, to mammoths being dug out of the Russian steppes, to Mongolian dinosaur eggs, to Hominid illustrations on the African savannah.
A fantastic book, one well above the average 'atlas'-type compilation, for both scientists and the general reader.
There are many nice maps of the Earth throughout its history showing the appearence and disappearance of the continents, tracing the rise and fall of Pangea, Gondwanaland, and Laurasia.
The book has several appendices about a number of subjects, such as volcanoes, plate tectonics, fossil formation, sedminentation, and biographies of major paleonotologists. They are rather basic, but help make this a great book for those new to prehistoric life and would make this an excellent text for middle school or high school students.
The book begins with almost fifty pages of global maps showing the position of the continents and the condition of earth from Precambrian times to the present. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to picturing and describing life forms during the same periods. Chapters at the end of the book deal with plate tectonics, types of rock, fossils and dating techniques and many other appropriate subjects. And yes, dinosaur fans, there is a section on the K-T boundary, that period 65 million years ago when the Chicxulub meteorite ended their reign.
I'm currently reading a book on oceanography, in which the author describes a late Cambrian creature called Hallucigenia which had stiff spikes on one side and flexible appendages on the other side. The creature was so strange that for a long time scientists could not determine which sides were top or bottom. There was no picture of this oddity in my oceanography book, and being very curious about Hallucigenia's appearance I grabbed my Atlas of the Prehistoric world. Sure enough, there was a good picture of the fossil. The atlas is packed with fossil photos and artistic renderings of what these creatures probably looked like. Paper quality and layout are excellent, and I like the fact that each section is presented by earth's ages. Trying to remember just what the Devonian period is famous for? Finding the answer (it is fish) is easy.
be a child's book. However, reading it my first impression quicly went away. Its colourfulness makes it a good, amusing reading; the good paleo-art is combined with good scientific standards, and I learned a lot from it.
There are two things that I would like to suggest for a later edition:
1 ) I would like to see some taxonomic trees. That would help me to understand a few things that weren't clear from reading the book. For instance, did the synapsids evolve from reptiles, or were they never reptiles, and evolved directly from aphibian ancestry? Perhaps some explanation on the cladistics studies that have been made is in order.
I think the taxonomic trees would make relationships between the different families and animals clearer. And I would appreciate trees not centered on mammals, but showing these on par with all the other big divisions that evolved from the amphibians, like the lizards, birds, turtles, etc (some of which we group under that ill-defined label of "Reptiles").
2 ) My other complaint has to do with precisely this human self-centrism: did the fish stoped evolving after the Devonian? I understand that the book needs some sort of direction, but I think the formula "first microbes" -> "us " (which this book has to some point evaded) is a tired one, and forgets too many branches, and perhaps the most important, of life's evolution. For instance, I would like to see a few pages on the evolution of plants, which had a major influence on the evolution of animals (where would we be without that great invention, the tree?).
But I agree that space in this book is limited, and its intended readership wide, so given that, I think a good compromise was reached, with the exception of the taxonomic trees.
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