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The Riddle of the Dinosaur

By (author) John Noble Wilford
Genres: Palaeontology
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Faber & Faber, London, United Kingdom
Published: 31st Aug 1986
Dimensions: w 140mm h 220mm
ISBN-10: 0571146171
ISBN-13: 9780571146178
Barcode No: 9780571146178

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Kirkus US
New York Times reporter Wilford, so often writing about contemporary science and space, here reveals his true colors: he's a dinosauraphiliac, a fan who has never outgrown the love or lore of the big beasts of yore. Moreover, he is not content to join the bandwagon of polemical authors out to argue revisionist points of view. Rather, he has decided on a fresh retelling of the paleontological history, bringing readers up to date with an eminently fair and spirited recounting of contemporary controversies. He begins with some firsthand experiences in the field with old pro Jim ("Dinosaur") Jensen, a self. taught fossil collector, now retired from the post of curator of a vertebrate paleontology research lab. Wilford rode the back roads of Utha with Jensen, learning how the pros work - by sense, gut feeling, luck and listening to the natives - where to look for fossils and how to tell when they've struck pay dirt, i.e., bones. Parts of North America, particularly the badlands of Wyoming and Montana, are fertile fields for dinosaur hunting, with fossil treasures that span the enormous Age of Reptiles - from the Triassic period, which began some 225 million years ago, down to the close of the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago. They are abundant, too, in types; not just the well-known Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, but scores of little and medium-sized creatures, some fleet of foot, running on two legs, some loping on all fours, and some, presumably taking to the air - possibly ancestors to the archaeopterix - the oldest known bird. There's a dispute about that, and about many other aspects of dinosaurs' lives and times. These new debates began to percolate in the 60's and 70's as new generations of scholars pondered the social lives and behavior of dinosaurs. Were dinosaurs warm-blooded like mammals? The "young Turk" Bob Bakkar thought so, and said it loud and clear, based on anatomical studies that suggested certain species must have been extremely agile and dexterous, requiring the kind of high metabolism that warms us mammals. Not long after, debate revived about how and why the dinosaurs became extinct. That debate continues today with the physicists and astrophysicists getting into the act. They postulate (on the base of high levels of "extraterrestrial" iridium at certain strata) that cometary or asteroid collisions with Earth dramatically changed climate. These impacts may, in turn, happen periodically, wrought by a dark "Nemesis" companion star to our sun. Alternatively, the "Not with a bang, but a whimper" school maintains that dinosaurs were on their way out anyway, for a variety of reasons accumulating toward the end of the Cretacious. Clearly, the jury is still out. . .which makes reading Wilford's fresh-eye, impartial point of view particularly appealing - and the book a great treat for the dinosaur lover that lurks in most of us. Lots of illustrations, too. (Kirkus Reviews)