Friday, December 07, 2012

Amazon Review

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All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals
All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals
Price: $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Puts the "Gosh-wow!" in "Gosh-wow! Science.", December 7, 2012
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Back in 1977, I heard Ray Bradbury give a lecture where he said that if he was given control of a television network for two hours, he would make one hour about dinosaurs and the other hour about Egyptian mummies, because everyone loved dinosaurs and mummies. Given the success of Jurassic Park, Bradbury was, as always, well ahead of his time.

Dinosaurs fascinate. Their size and the oddness fascinate. Who hasn't wondered, what would it have been like to see these animals as they actually looked, rather than seeing their dessicated bones and the odd bits of life that an artistic imagination can breathe into their fossilized remains. Those artistic conceptions have become iconic - the T Rex roaring as muscular and sleek body chases down its prey, the herd of triceratops, their sleek bodies standing shoulder to shoulder in a defense perimeter, sauropods with their long necks extending horizontally out from their body for over a dozen meters, etc.

And, yet, according to All Yesterdays, those iconic images may be wrong or misconceived or simply need to be reconsidered. New findings from paleontologists in the field are suggesting that dinosaurs may not have looked uniformly like large, sleek iguanas, but may have sported feathers and "fur." Further, the tendency of artists to treat the fossil record as an opportunity to show off their knowledge of anatomy by conceiving of dinosaurs as "stripped down" versions of what they might have been. One of the most effective parts of All Yesterdays is its conceit of imagining the reconstruction of modern animals from fossil records bereft of knowledge of the "integuements" of the actual animal. The results are amazing and humorous, with sleek and graceful cows built for speed and elephants with "nose bulbs" and highland grazing manatees and vampire humming birds.

That kind of misconception delivers the message that dinosaurs may not have looked at all like what we've been trained to think they look like. And with that as the take-off point, the authors and illustrators give us puffball versions of cute polar dinosaurs, and dinosaurs so covered with feathers that their form is indistinct, and dinosaurs that look like hedgehogs, and spiny, non-sleek triceratops. We are also treated to artistic renditions of dinosaurs engaged in play and other odd behaviors that animals actually engage in when they are not running in fear from predators or engaging in predation, i.e., during most of their life.

This is a thin book, around 100 pages and 60 illustrations. The reader can gobble it up in under an hour, or dip into it as the spirit moves. It is not a scholarly book for those who want the academic low-down on recent discoveries, but it does have the great virtue of scratching that itch we all have for a time machine that will let us see what dinosaurs may have been like so very long ago.

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