Review: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte

Ratings: 3 out of 5

It’s not often that a book takes me a year and a half to complete. When one does, there’s a reason for it. In this case, I was reminded of this reason every time I picked it up again—but with a bit of squinting, it can be overlooked for the very well presented story of the dinosaurs that one can access through this history.

Mr Brusatte’s narrative is generally strong. I enjoyed the tangents where descriptive passages of the dinosaurs’ lives were mixed in with the dry paleontological narrative of much of the rest of the text. Though not uninteresting, it is a bit much when it carries on from one bone to the next, but the colourful imaginations—for that is all they are—put everything into context.

What I felt was lacking were graphical descriptions of the families and classes. Too often, a name of a family was linked to another, without there ever being a decent conceptual graphic that would put it together. Instead, the space that was deemed suitable for graphics was often spent on “person A looking at rocks” which, while no doubt interesting in the field, is much less so on a black-and-white printed page.

However, this I could have overlooked if a different problem didn’t pester the reader from page 1. Namely, the author is so far up himself that the generally false modest statements of “I’ve done very little in this field” as written in the Acknowledgements could be outright recognised for a lie, because, after all, the author had spent the last three-hundred-and-fifty pages plugging how he’d done data analysis, put together spreadsheets, and talked to experts here and there.

This was the biggest problem of this book, and it absolutely permeated it. I didn’t want an autobiography of Steve Brusatte—I wanted a story about dinosaurs, and for many long pages those poor critters take a back seat to the ‘real’ hero of this story. In this light, the author’s detailed descriptions of other palaeontologists (and *why* should we care that a friend of the author’s prefers absinthe over wine?—we are reading this for the dinosaurs!) take on a different hue.

So… I do recommend this, but with some caveats… Some of the descriptions—especially for the historic palaeontologists who pioneered the field—are well thought out, but for many of the modern scientists this book describes could have been left out to give more space to the actual subject of this book.

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