The Rise and Fall of Di­nosaurs

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Steve Brusatte

Macmil­lan, hard­back, 416 pages, €23.99

JK Rowl­ing may have crafted a sec­ond (or is it third?) ca­reer with her Harry Pot­ter spin-off book and film Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As we learn in this tremen­dously en­joy­able work of nat­u­ral his­tory, how­ever, even her fer­tile imag­i­na­tion is no match for the real thing.

Di­nosaurs were just so strange, so un­earthly, scarcely believ­able, close to mag­i­cal. And as au­thor Steve Brusatte re­minds us through­out this book — sub­ti­tled The Un­told Story of a Lost World — they were just an­i­mals, bizarre and won­drous though they may have been.

Not fic­tional in­ven­tions, not in­ter­stel­lar life­forms beamed from deep space. No, di­nosaurs were an­i­mals of this planet, borne of the same pro­cesses of evo­lu­tion that made ev­ery other liv­ing thing, in­clud­ing us.

(One of many as­tound­ing and de­light­ful facts pep­per­ing The Rise and Fall of the Di­nosaurs is that, ge­net­i­cally speak­ing, they were closer to hu­mans than to frogs and sala­man­ders. Di­nos, and rep­tiles and mam­mals and birds, all de­scended down one branch of the tree of life, am­phib­ians down an­other.)

Nat­u­ral se­lec­tion, in­ci­den­tally, pro­vides a straight­for­ward answer to that sta­ple ques­tion of in­quis­i­tive chil­dren: why did the di­nosaurs be­come ex­tinct? The answer is, not all of them did.

Their de­scen­dants live on to­day. They’re all around you. You might be look­ing at one right now. You’re al­most cer­tainly lis­ten­ing to some. These days, we call them birds. (Iron­i­cally, the most fa­mous “fly­ing di­nosaurs” — ptero­dactyls — weren’t di­nosaurs at all, but closely re­lated rep­tiles.)

This is such a beautiful no­tion, it’s worth

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