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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

on 20 January 2014
This has continued to grip my friend weeks after Christmas! A thoroughly researched engaging nd provocative read which updates the enthusiastic amateur paleantologist beautifully.
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on 16 January 2018
Arrived in good time , was a Christmas gift and has been well read already.
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VINE VOICEon 7 July 2013
The readability of this beautifully illustrated work by Mark P Witton, whose 'flippant prose has been turned into something that reads like science' (his words, not mine) by a lady called Sheila Dean, is first-rate. Mr Witton certainly has a great enthusiasm for his subject which is infectious and I found this book easy to read and absorb. He does all his own illustrations which are not only superb, but also inspiringly helpful.

Apparently, our knowledge of pterosaurs has developed at a rocketing rate over the past 25 years as more and more fossil remains of them have been discovered. We now know beyond all reasonable doubt that pterosaurs were covered in something after the fashion of fine hair and that they were very probably hot-blooded. This book also answers a question that has always puzzled me: why are pterosaur wing membranes attached to just the one elongated finger - the one corresponding to our little finger, in fact - and not to several fingers as in bats? The answer is because, when pterosaurs were on the ground, they moved around on all fours and needed the other fingers free to form front feet for walking on.

The book contains several excellent illustrations showing clearly how they did this. Several fossilised pterosaur tracks revealing how they walked on all fours, have been discovered in various places. It used to be thought that pterosaurs would have been very clumsy when grounded, but we now know that this was not the case. Unlike pterosaurs, bats cannot walk on all fours simply because most of the fingers of their front feet are used up for supporting the wing membranes. (There is a species of bat native to New Zealand which manages to move around on the ground fairly well after a fashion, but nothing like a trotting pterosaur)

Although pterosaurs were not dinosaurs, Mr Witton brings forward evidence to support the belief that they were rather more closely related to dinosaurs than previously thought. It's not yet clear whether or not the insulating down-like covering on pterosaurs was more akin to feathers or hair. We do know that some dinosaurs were covered in downy feathers and that many of them also were probably hot blooded like birds which are descended from them.

The book contains chapters on every known pterosaur family beginning with the earliest known pterosaurs which originated in the late Triassic. Pterosaurs continued to develop and branch out throughout the Jurassic period, reaching their zenith by the mid-Cretaceous, after which they gradually declined becoming extinct, along with the dinosaurs, in the great cataclysm at the end of the Cretaceous . Some of the very largest pterosaurs were also the most recent from the late Cretaceous and they were the largest flying animals ever known. One later pterosaur, known as Hatzegopteryx thambema, when it was walking around on all fours with its wings folded up its sides, was nearly as tall as a giraffe and had the largest wingspan of any known pterosaur, bird or bat.

This readily accessible work is well supplied with helpful map, diagrams and illustrations and you can actually see pterosaurs walking around on all fours as well as flying all over the place. Mr Witton occasionally indulges us with subtle touches of helpful humour such as the caption to the picture on page 245 depicting two walking and several flying Romanian Hatzegopteryx thambema pterosaurs above the caption: 'Realising that the next chapter is about pterosaur extinction, a flock of Maastrichtian Romanian Hatzegopteryx thambena tries to fly back to an earlier part of the book to avoid the chop.' This is a great work, which really makes you feel that you are living with pterosaurs and I love it. Buy and enjoy.
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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!
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on 16 June 2013
A beautifully illustrated book, it manages to be both accessible and in-depth. Mark Witton really brings the subject to life. If you only buy one book about flying reptiles this month - get this one.
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on 22 August 2013
I hesitate to add my review of Witton's masterpiece since so many more expert people than I have given their opinions. However for the ordinary reader I must say that this is a wonderful book for shedding light on a difficult and somewhat remote subject.There are only two comparable books published in the last few years so this really is the only way to get uptodate with the subject. Anyone with the slightest interest in the dinosaur / pterosaur field should have this book on their shelf.
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on 31 March 2014
This book is likely to entertain pterosaur enthusiasts whether they are knowledgeable on the subject or just beginning their reading on it. It goes into a reasonable amount of depth about various elements of pterosaurology and touches on the behavior, evolution and appearance of a wide variety of species, as well as looking at the different ways these have been interpreted over the course of history.

To add to this, the images and illustrations are done to a very high standard and really help to bring this vibrant prehistoric world to life.

Also the range of source texts that the author has used and references provides a huge library of reading for anyone who wants to go and look deeper into any of the aspects covered in the book.

I am thoroughly enjoying reading it.
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on 24 June 2014
If like me you have long deplored the absence of great popular books on non-dinosaurian archosaurs, and were holding out for the day when a talented young British researcher would publish a lavishly illustrated, well organised and entirely readable natural history of pterosaurs, well, wait no more. This is it. Buy.
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on 30 March 2014
I bought this as a general interest book and was captivated about how fascinating it was.
All of the speculative reconstructions are explained and justified by the detailed research of remains that are not always easily available.

Hopefully as new research uncovers more information M. Whitton may revisit this subject with new creatures and updated details of the ones he described.

It is an easy book for the non specialist to read, though I could wish for some snappier common names for the various animals, (not a fault of Mr Whittons I have to add), once I had the name in my head without having to sound it out everytime I read it, the text flowed and the analysis behind the described animal was clear, logical and easy to follow.
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on 20 January 2016
A very thorough look at our non feathered flying friends. What a wealth of information! Feels very weighty, proper science going on. You need to be able to follow a good deal of technical terminology if you don't already know it. Dorsal, posterior, caudal, proximate ... bit heavy at times. Witton starts with general overview of the pterosauria, evolution, general body plan, skeleton, flight info etc. Then a list of chapters for each of the families of pterosaurs that he reckons are warranted from the fossils. And what a list, so many species! My issue is with these chapters - they become very, very repetitive in content and by the end quite frankly were a bit of a slog. If you lifted one set of names out of a chapter and replaced it with an alternative set, even as a very keen but amateur dino and related creatures enthusiast in most instances I'd not be much the wiser apart from the obvious skull difference. The issue to be grappled with is that the remains are mostly so-so such that not an awful lot can actually be definitively said, and in fact the body plan differences between many species and genuses (plural?) are also so-so such that differences are minimal. No doubt Witton's wise hesitancy to be too definitive in his judgements springs from a career grappling with minimal and equivocal material, but the lack of punch in amidst the welter of technical detail means this is not a book for the fair weather pterosaurophile. Dinosaurs are my real passion - for me pterosaurs are the interesting walk on extras - and my enthusiasm did wane. But this is clearly an important book, and one I am very pleased to have on my bookshelf. One particularly charming aspect to the book is that it is packed with Witton's own illustrations, lovely colour works, hand done and of course informed by the most current thinking. Most refreshing and mature in an era of wall-to-wall, computer generated prehistorica. After decades immersed in dinosaurs and such like I had never read anything about the soft tissue crests apparently sported by almost all pterosaurs. This book was a revelation. It will take me some time to get used to pterodactylus with a huge semi circular crest along the top of its head, but the evidence is pretty conclusive, thanks to the forensic wonders of modern technology. In terms of writing style Witton is functional, eschewing or incapable of the wit and élan of Robert Bakker, but adopts a folksy tone that for me undermines his undoubted authority. I guess he's an American, and that's just their unfussy, democratic style. I'm afraid as an old fashioned European I want my learned authors to sound and feel like they know a lot more than I do rather than dispensing homespun commonplaces from their back porch. However Witton's illustrations have an eloquence and vivacity on an entirely elevated level and quite frankly, like the creatures to which this book is a heartfelt homage, they soar.
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