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review 2017-11-13 06:59
How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner & James Gorman
How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution - Jack Horner,James Gorman

TITLE:  How to Build a Dinosaur:  Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever


AUTHOR:  Jack Horner & James Gorman




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  978-1-101-02871-1




This is a horribly written book. There is a ridiculous amount of completely irrelevant filler, a few interesting dinosaur bits and pieces that have nothing to do with the book title (and presumably subject) and then a magazine article length section on "how to build a dinosaur" by fiddling with chicken genomes, along with how the general public is going to freak out about it. The author spends the entire first chapter babbling about a town in the middle of nowhere, how to get there, local gossip and a bit of local history i.e. irrelevant filler. Then there is a section on finding evidence of dinosaur blood cells and collagen, with some pointless pot-shots at creationists (they might be crazy but do you really have to include it in the book, especially since it doesn't accomplish anything?), and too much details about the scientists personal life. The sections dealing with the techniques used was interesting, but there was too little substance and far too much filler. The writing is also simplistic but overly verbose, and got boring after a while.


NOTE: The book was published in 2009, so some of the scientific data discussed may well be out of date by now, especially anything related to genetic alterations.





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review 2017-11-09 07:58
My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs - Brian Switek

TITLE:  My Beloved Brontosaurus:  On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs


AUTHOR:  Brian Switek




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  9781466836761




This book provides an entertaining though broad overview of dinosaur life, including such topics as dinosaur evolution, feathers, society, sounds, parasites and movement.  Brian Switek takes a chatty road trip through North America visiting a variety of Dinosaur Museums, reminiscing about his childhood obsession with dinosaurs.   There isn't anything new in this book for me and the personal musings about dinosaurs I found rather irritating, but this would make a good book for a dinosaur obsessed youngster.  The inclusion of a large number of diagrams and photographs is a bonus.



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review 2017-11-06 08:27
Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods - Danna Staaf

TITLE:  Squid Empire:  The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods


AUTHOR:  Danna Staaf




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  978-1-61168-923-5



Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods is a book that does exactly as "described on the tin". This is the fascinating tale of the evolutionary rise and fall (and possible rise again) of Cephalopods - everything from ammonites, nautiloids, squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and the other odd prehistoric creatures that get lumped in the "head-foot" category. 


The author takes an evolutionary approach starting off with the first Cephalopods in the Cambrian, and ties in several threads of anatomy, biology, ecology and other aspects of marine life. She covers such topics are the swimming revolution, the invention of jet propulsion, shell development and abandonment, their co-evolution with fish, development of ink, paleontology, intelligence, how they deal with extinction events, how they deal with the current anthropocentric age, the ecology of these "swimming protein bars", and why modern squid don't fossilize. 



Danna Staaf has a lovely, clear writing style that is fun, while at the same time maintaining the science of the topic. She also includes numerous helpful diagrams, illustrations and photographs.


This is a superbly written, entertaining and informative book about the evolution of certain mobile, tentacled, squishy creatures that live in the ocean.








Other books on Cephalopods include:


~Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid by Wendy Williams


~Octopus: The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate by Jennifer A. Mather, Roland C. Anderson, James B. Wood





"But without the shell they were vulnerable, so a new defensive tool arose: ink. Never seen in nautiloids or ammonoids, ink is often preserved in coleoid fossils, thanks to the stability of the pigment melanin. In some cases, the ink has been so well preserved that it could be reconstituted and used to illustrate the animal itself."


"However, unquestionably the cephalopod with the most frightening name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which means “vampire squid from hell.” he animal’s appearance is also quite spooky.  Its skin is a constant deep red —like many other deep-sea cephalopods, the vampire squid has mostly abandoned its color-changing abilities as useless in this dark environment.  Red is just as good as black if you want to hide in the deep sea, since red light is absorbed most readily by water and is virtually absent below a few meters. And then, vampire squid have blue eyes. You might think these “baby blues” would offset the hellish red, but consider this:  the eyes are completely blue —there’s a pupil, but you can’t see it.  Now add to this the fact that one of the animal’s habits is to turn itself partially inside out, wrapping its arms and the webbing between them around its body.  The underside of the arms bear rows of sharp-looking tendrils. [...] So: it’s a red squid with vacant blue eyes that encases itself in apparent spines.  We can have some sympathy for the scientists who named it."




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review 2017-08-10 07:47
The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen
The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions - Peter Brannen

TITLE:  The Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses


AUTHOR:  Peter Brannen




FORMAT:  e-book


ISBN-13:  9780062364821




Peter Brannen explores the 5 great extinction events, and in the process offers the reader a glimpse of our future.  Everything from striking meteors, supervolcanoes, anoxic oceans, ice-ages, heat-waves, plate tectonics, supercontinents, too many trees, and the role of carbon dioxide are discussed.  This is ultimately a climate change book, with the author continually bashing the reader over the head with how destructive humans are.  The author manages to discuss the science aspects of the 5 great extinction events in a reasonably decent manner considering that this is a popular science book and doesn’t include many technical details.  However, the exaggerated “evil humans / climate change” diatribe inserted approximately every 4th paragraph is annoying and detracts from the extinction story of the earth.  He could have included those sections in a separate chapter or even at the end of each chapter if he felt that strongly about the matter.  In addition, when the author does include numbers, he often doesn’t tell us where he comes up with them and I find his maths a bit off.  The book includes photographs but it could have done with a geological timeline.  This isn’t a bad book; it is certainly interesting and reads like a mystery novel if you ignore the anthropogenic global warming hysterics.  I found this book to be an interesting and useful summary of the possible causes of the 5 great extinctions that this planet has experienced. 


NOTE:  The footnotes of the e-book don’t link up to the notes section. 





  • -The Goldilocks Planet: The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
  • -The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth’s History by David Beerling
  • -When Life nearly Died by Michael J Benton
  • -The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall
  • -Under a Green Sky by Peter D. Ward
  • -Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane
  • -Extinction by Douglas H. Erwin


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-29 15:20
The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall
The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions - Paul B. Wignall

TITLE:  The Worst of Times:  How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions


AUTHOR:  Paul B. Wignall


PUBLICATION DATE:  2017 (Second printing, first paperback printing)


FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-0-691-17602-4





260 million years ago, life on Earth suffered several waves of catastrophic extinctions, with the worst extinction wiping out over 90% of species on the planet.   In this book, Professor Wignall investigates the worst 80 million years in Earth’s history, a time marked by two mass extinctions (the end Permian and the Triassic) and four lesser crises; and sheds light on the fateful role the supercontinent of  Pangea  might have played in causing these global catastrophes.   These global catastrophes all have two factors in common:  (1) they occurred when the world’s continents were united into the single continent of Pangea; and (2) they coincided with gigantic volcanic eruptions.  The period covered in this book begins in the middle of the Permian Period, spans the entire Triassic, and finishes in the Early Jurassic. 


This book examines what happened during the Permo-Jurassic extinctions of Pangea, evaluate what may have caused these catastrophes (more specifically, to ask, how volcanism could have done it?), and finally to understand whether the resilience of the biosphere has changed in 260 million years or whether it has just become luckier thanks to continental separation i.e. are supercontinents bad for life.


Wignall examines each of the extinction events in chronological order, with numerous illustrations/diagrams as necessary to help clarify the text.  One complaint other reviewers have written about is the scientific jargon used in this book, but I have no idea how the author was supposed to make a strong argument for his hypothesis without the relevant terminology.  However, I did not consider the use of scientific terms to be excessive or complicated - the author does not go into excruciating chemical detail; he states what happens and why in understandable terms. 


This is primarily a book about a time when Earth was very different, a time of supercontinents, super-oceans, and super-eruptions, and above all, an age of mass extinctions.  I found the writing to be clear and logical and the book to be thoroughly enjoyable and informative.





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