Book Review

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

the rise and fall of the dinosaurs

It’s time for another of my rare forays into the realms of non-fiction!  The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for some time now.  I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs since I was a little girl, and it’s still an area of interest for me now, and this as much a dinosaur fangirling moment as much as it is a review.

66 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the earth. Today, Dr. Steve Brusatte, one of the leading scientists of a new generation of dinosaur hunters, armed with cutting edge technology, is piecing together the complete story of how the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years.

The world of the dinosaurs has fascinated on book and screen for decades – from early science fiction classics like The Lost World, to Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo, and the monsters of Jurassic Park. But what if we got it wrong? In The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, top dinosaur expert Brusatte, tells the real story of how dinosaurs rose to dominate the planet. Using the fossil clues that have been gathered using state of the art technology, Brusatte follows these magnificent creatures from their beginnings in the Early Triassic period, through the Jurassic period to their final days in the Cretaceous and the legacy that they left behind.

Along the way, Brusatte introduces us to modern day dinosaur hunters and gives an insight into what it’s like to be a palaeontologist. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is full of thrilling accounts of some of his personal discoveries, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex, and feathered raptor dinosaurs preserved in lava from China.

At a time when Homo sapiens has existed for less than 200,000 years and we are already talking about planetary extinction, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a timely reminder of what humans can learn from the magnificent creatures who ruled the earth before us.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs covers a huge period of history, starting around 252 million years ago as the Permian Period gave way to the Triassic.  It highlights the evolution of dinosaurs, from the creatures that were almost, but not quite, dinosaurs, and also how they became dominant during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods.  It also covers their ultimate, abrupt demise in the mass-extinction that marks the end of the Cretaceous Period, and the legacy that they have left in the present day.  Brusatte also covers the climate and geography of the time, from the supercontinent that was Pangea when the first dinosaurs walked the Earth, and how the landmass shifted over time, giving us the geography that we are more familiar with today.  The whole book is written in a friendly and accessible manner that allows the average Jo(e) to enjoy it and is blessedly jargon free, with just a few of the more complex dinosaur names to get one’s tongue around.

It’s fair to say that I learnt a great deal from this book.  I think that it’s easy to believe that once dinosaurs emerged that they were immediately a dominating force.  That’s certainly what I thought, at least.  But that’s not the case, and the first dinosaurs weren’t even the apex predators of the time, with that accolade going to psuedosuchians, the early crocodile relatives that were around at the time.  It wasn’t until the Jurassic period that dinosaurs began to diversify, grow, and dominate following the volcanic eruptions at the end of the Triassic Period, another mass extinction that made way for them.

The Jurassic period marks the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs proper.  Yes, the first true dinosaurs entered the scene at least 30 million years before the Jurassic began.  But as we’ve seen, these earlier Triassic dinosaurs had not even a remote claim to being dominant.

Tyrannosaurus Rex gets a chapter to itself, and it’s fascinating. Brusatte writes extensively about the evolution to the truly epic proportions of the T. Rex, which reached forty-two feet long, and weighed around seven to eight tons.

the largest predator that has ever lived on land in the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth.

Their evolutionary story includes the development of larger brains and greater intelligence, and then the physiological developments that allowed them to get so big, and the factors that made them a dominant force.  And it turns out that those tiny little arms weren’t entirely useless after all.  You might want to skip this chapter if you don’t want to have the various flaws of Jurassic Park pointed out – however entertaining it is (and I’m a big fan – it came out when I was 8 or 9 years old and already well into my dinosaur obsession), it’s never going to be considered factually accurate.  Reading this chapter, it’s easy to see why it takes its name from both the Greek Tyrannus (literally tyrant, but at the time meant an absolute ruler) and Latin Rex (king), making it truly the king of kings.

Throughout the book, Brusatte tells the reader about the work undertaken by palaeontologists, and how this has developed over time as we’ve discovered more, and the impact that new technology and new techniques have played in increasing our knowledge.  Brusatte looks back at old theories, and how some of these have gradually been disproved, as well as the theories that stand today, and the supporting evidence behind these views.  It’s a compelling narrative, and is a surprisingly easy read, even for those with little prior knowledge.  The text is supported with numerous photos showing both fossils and some of the palaeontologists working in the field today to bring the book to life.  There are still things that we don’t know, and Brusatte highlights the questions that are outstanding, and the areas in which palaeontologists are focussing their attention on these fascinating creatures.

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