Top positive review
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An excellent book
on 24 June 2013
Pterosaurs are perhaps the most interesting, bizarre, extraordinary and extreme of any extinct animals, and have been the subject of some of the finest books, combining popular science with academic rigour, on any palaeontological subject. Peter Wellnhoffers "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs" (1991) is regarded by some - including myself - as the best of all such books, and David Unwin's "The Pterosaurs: From Deep Time" (2005) a worthy successor. When Mark Witton set out to write a book on pterosaurs, it must have been a daunting prospect to match the quality of older works.
He has succeeded admirably. It may seem unnecessary to publish a new volume on pterosaurs only a few years after Unwin's but, as Witton makes clear, the volume of new finds and the light they cast on existing material makes it a timely addition to the literature. Of particular note is the recent discovery of pterosaur eggs which have had a considerable impact on our understanding of pterosaur behaviour and growth.
The first few chapters cover general areas such as the history of pterosaur research, a overview of their anatomy and what can be deduced of their behaviour and flying abilities. They introduce a relatively high level of technical detail, but general readers should not be put off by this as it gives the information necessary to understand some of the detail in subsequent chapter.
The chapter on pterosaur diversity forms a link to chapters on particular clades which form most of the book. Each of these chapters describes the taxonomic relationships of the clade and how it has been interpreted by different authors. The fossils are described and in many cases illustrated with both drawings and photographs, and from this what is understood of their anatomy. Their possible forms of locomotion on the ground, in the air and in some cases in water are explored, as are inferences on their behaviour.
The concluding chapter gives an overview of the rise and fall of pterosaurs over geological time, and their decline towards extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period. Several issues are raised, such as the patchiness of the fossil record and if apparent declines in diversity are real, or are the result of collection bias and the low probability that the thin-walled bones of such animals become fossils.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Witton's style is rather informal, but his coverage of the subject is academically rigorous, and his excellent illustrations convey both his knowledge of and passion for his subject. It tells a great story of the history of extraordinary animals, and should appeal to anyone interested in science, let alone palaeontology. It is worth its cover prices for the illustrations alone, many of which are the work of the author and presented with a quirky sense of humour.
My only criticism is minor, and perhaps reflects my pedantry: something is unique or it is not unique. It can't be "very unique". Sorry Mark - and I hope the calcaneal spur heals now that you've learned the folly of persistently wearing high-heeled shoes!