Donald R. Prothero's science books combine leading research with first-person narratives of discovery, injecting warmth and familiarity into a profession that has much to offer nonspecialists. Bringing his trademark style and wit to an increasingly relevant subject of concern, Prothero links the climate changes that have occurred over the past 200 million years to their effects on plants and animals. In particular, he contrasts the extinctions that ended the Cretaceous period, which wiped out the dinosaurs, with those of the later Eocene and Oligocene epochs.
Prothero begins with the "greenhouse of the dinosaurs," the global-warming episode that dominated the Age of Dinosaurs and the early Age of Mammals. He describes the remarkable creatures that once populated the earth and draws on his experiences collecting fossils in the Big Badlands of South Dakota to sketch their world. Prothero then discusses the growth of the first Antarctic glaciers, which marked the Eocene-Oligocene transition, and shares his own anecdotes of excavations and controversies among colleagues that have shaped our understanding of the contemporary and prehistoric world.
The volume concludes with observations about Nisqually Glacier and other locations that show how global warming is happening much quicker than previously predicted, irrevocably changing the balance of the earth's thermostat. Engaging scientists and general readers alike, Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs connects events across thousands of millennia to make clear the human threat to natural climate change.
Prothero, a prolific paleontologist (From Greenhouse to Icehouse) at Occidental College, says the goal for his new book is simply "to inject the human side of the profession into the story of the research topics" he has worked on during his 40-year career to show science as a human quest, not just dry conclusions. While the goal is admirable, the result is disappointing, largely because, unlike his previous books, this one doesn't have a central theme: it touches on a range of questions paleontologists have addressed and tentatively answered, such as how dinosaurs could have lived in the Earth's polar regions (as fossil evidence suggests). Prothero's constant shifting of focus makes it difficult to grasp all of the technical content, while the overwhelming minutiae he provides makes you feel like you are viewing an endless series of photographs from a friend's summer vacation. While small sections are powerful such as a discussion of how "global warming might paradoxically trigger the next ice age" and do so incredibly rapidly the book never gels into a coherent whole. Photos, illus.
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