on 10 December 2012
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.