It may surprise some people that I am an avid and enthusiastic Jurassic Park fan. I love the books by Michael Crichton, the movies (old and new), and the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that inspired it all. You can often find me carrying around my colorful dinosaur tote bag that I bought the first day I was in Oxford, a bag that traveled all over Europe with me and that has gotten me through many a grocery trip. Dinosaurs fascinate me. As someone who isn’t very scientifically minded, I do love learning about the history aspect of science, the timeline of it all. Although I was not very good at chemistry and physics and biology in high school, I genuinely enjoyed learning about the theoretical bits, how that field of science developed over time and came to be what it is today. Apparently paleontology also falls into these random interests of mine.
Imagine my curious delight when I stumbled upon The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of the Lost World by Steve Brusatte. A book about dinosaurs! Written for non-scientists! A dream come true!
Through the structure of this book, Brusatte effectively conveys the history of paleontology, the lifestyle of a paleontologist, his own work as a paleontologist, and the scope of paleontology itself. The entire book can be thought of as a timeline of dinosaurs, from before their empire on earth began to its final catastrophic moments. Scattered throughout this chronological narrative are anecdotes from Brusatte’s own work and explanations of how we have come to know all of this information. He describes all of the scientific bits using language and concepts that the average non-scientist would understand, and I was never confused or lost while reading. Brusatte also has a great voice in his writing, and there were many moments while listening when I actually chuckled to myself because he made such hilarious comments. I had initially been expecting a rather dry, arduous read; however, Brusatte’s account of dinosaurs’ rise to fame is anything but dull.
I genuinely learned so much from this book, which I love. The fun fact that shook me the most was that t-rex weren’t actually sprinters back in the day, so they wouldn’t be apt to chase their prey. Rather, they would use the push and pull method of attacking prey because they had the brute force to be able to do so. But do you know what this means? The entire t-rex chase scene in the Jurassic Park movie is wrong. In fact, Brusatte points out many common misunderstandings about dinosaurs promulgated by things like Jurassic Park. It was really interesting to see and think about how pop culture can alter and mar our understanding of science.
Strangely, the very last few lines of the epilogue may be my favorite part of this whole book. There were times while listening when I couldn’t help but think, Okay, but what’s the point? Paleontology is cool, but why should we continue to fund it when there are people starving and dying of diseases NOW. And then Brusatte hits you with it: that tie to modern day life and the fate of humanity. He explains how the dinosaurs went extinct suddenly and when they wouldn’t have expected it, when everything seemed to have been going smoothly. Brusatte then says he wonders when the same sudden moment will happen in human history. By studying which species of animals have survived mass extinctions and which have vanished from earth, we may be able to better understand how to increase our own chances of survival in the future. It is this scary but fascinating parallel between dinosaurs and humans that makes me better appreciate this text and the work of paleontologists in general.
Overall, I really enjoyed listening to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Not only did it teach me a lot about paleontology, but it also made me think about some of my favorite books and movies from a different perspective. I highly recommend this book, regardless of whether or not you carry around a dinosaur tote bag like me!
Have you ever read this book? Do you have any random interests that sometimes overlap with your bookishness like this? Any other dinosaur books you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!