on 1 September 2009
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.
This very readable work is packed with information about dogs and their origins. It's laid out in such a way as to make it easy to find what the reader is looking for. The evolutionary evidence with regard to dogs is so vast we can almsot see them evolving before our eyes as we read through the book. The work contains a chapter on domesticated dogs. All the evidence points to the fact that domestic dogs are a tame version of the grey wolf, Canis lupus. Domestic dogs and wolves are actually the same species able to breed with each other. At most they are sub-species: the wolf Canis lupus lupus and the dog Canis lupus familiaris. This makes one quite sad to see how some breeds of dog have been so distorted by selective breeding, especially those with bandy legs and pug noses. Sadly, some dogs have been bred to make them fierce and dangerous unexpectedly, which is not like wolves who are interested only in killing to eat or in being fierce only when they are protecting their cubs. The best dogs are those which are most like wolves. Jack Russells are like mini-wolves, expert at killing their prey, which is mainly rats.
The dog family has the best fathers in the Animal Kingdom, even better than humans. Male canines, unlike most cat species, have an important part to play in the rearing of cubs. Humans can be very cruel to dogs like when they breed them into bulldogs which have distorted jaws, cannot breath properly and have to have caesarians to deliver their pups. There are also many other breeds that suffer from selective breeding defects. This is what happens when humans interfere with evolution. Sheep dogs are very wolf-like because herding sheep is very like what wolves do when they are selecting game for the kill. The reason the sheep dogs don't kill the sheep is because they know the humans will give them their food. Dogs dentition is so arranged that they are able to eat vegetarian food as well as meat. Cats do not have this ability.
When you read this book you realise what truly wonderful animals dogs are. I won't go on. Let me just say that you need to buy and read this book, which will help you to realise what wonderful animals dogs truly are with their proud evolutionary history, devoted family life and devotion to humans despite how humans can so often mistreat them, not least in the way that they develop breeds of dog in which the dogs suffer because of distorted, unwolflike charcteristics bred into them through artificial selection. Dogs are tame grey wolves. The best way we can reward dogs for their service to us is to allow their wolf brothers and sisters room to roam. Wolves/dogs were on this planet long before humans. It would be a sad old world in which there was no wilderness left where the wolves can roam. Dogs are wolves and wolves are dogs. Let us never forget that. This is a brilliant book and I thoroughly recommend it.
on 26 November 2012
There have always been dogs in my family, and always a lot. I have always thought I knew these animals, and their wilder cousins. This book opened my eyes to the rich long history of canids which I had barely ever thought about.
Taking us across the whiole of canid evolution from primitive Miacid mammals to modern day canines. We see how the canids, who had spent the majority of their evolutionary history confined within north america, spread out to conquer almost the entire globe.
There are beautiful illustrations of every subfamily of canids, and the genuses and species within them aswell as prehistoric canid-like mammals such as hyaenodons, amphicyons ("bear dogs") and thylacines (tazzy tigers).
If you have ever owned a dog, or just have an interst in nature or paleontology then this book is a must. An offical and scientific book, it still remains very accessible, while pleasingly detailed.
on 18 November 2010
Excellent book, rich of high level scholarship but written for a large public, with wonderful illustration and reconstruction (Antón's drawing set on a photo background are the ultimate rendering of extinct animals). As good and fascinating as "The big cats and their fossil relatives" or maybe even more, which is saying a lot.