Tell me I’m not alone: sometimes I’m sitting somewhere, minding my own business, when the thought intrudes, “I can’t believe that dinosaurs were real.” It just seems so impossible. Surely they are made-up movie creatures. How can such amazing beings have once roamed (and dominated) the world? Well, Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World tells you all about it. And I loved every second of it.
Beware: this book will give you an existential crisis when you realize how transitory everything is—species, the passage of time, our existence. The earth is billions of years old and relatively speaking humans are not even a blip. Think about the diversity of creatures the earth has hosted over hundreds of millions of years. Just the fact of an elephant sometimes blows my mind.
Some of the most fascinating facts Brusatte presents relate to how certain dinosaurs evolved into birds. He goes into detail about the feathers dinosaurs had (including T Rex), the colors of those feathers, and the fact that today’s birds are dinosaurs. Not related to—are.
Brusatte is an amazing writer. I like science writing, but it can be dense sometimes. Not so with Brusatte’s book. It flies by, so entertaining that I lost track of time and gulped the book down. He is a brilliant storyteller and he explains complicated things incredibly well. He’s funny, endlessly enthusiastic, and somehow manages to cover hundreds of millions of years briskly. He seems as amazed by the story of the dinosaurs as the reader is. The book also has photos, which I think is essential when you’re talking about fossils and great discoveries.
Towards the end of the book, he writes this passage:
“It is a stark reminder that we—you, me, all of us humans—had ancestors that were there on that terrible day [the dinosaurs were wiped out], that saw the [asteroid] fall from the sky, that endured the heat and earthquakes and nuclear winter, that eked out passage around the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, and then once on the other side, evolved into [a primate]. Another 60 million years or so of evolution would eventually turn these humble proto-primates into bipedal-walking, philosophizing, book-writing (or reading), fossil-collecting apes. If the asteroid had never hit, if it had never ignited that chain reaction of extinction and evolution, the dinosaurs would probably still be here, and we would not.”
I highly recommend The Rise and the Fall of the Dinosaurs. As a lay person, it’s the best book you can read about the history of the dinosaurs while curled in bed shaken by your own fleeting existence.