Sunday, November 19, 2023

Book Review - Ocean Life in the Time of Dinosaurs - Princeton University Press

 


      It would appear to me that there has been a great resurgence of interest in prehistoric life of late, and not just among paleontologists and other scientists involved with studying it. It is perhaps the spectre of exponentially increasing extinctions looming on the near horizon that fuels a desire to understand more fully the events of the distant past. Mass extinction has occurred several times before, but always as a result of natural forces; here in the Anthropocene it is being driven by human excess and the lack of willingness to tackle the issue in any serious way.
     This book is a very welcome addition to the current literature, focussing as it does on oceanic life. Our seas are warming, ocean levels are rising, currents that control life as we know it are changing course; the book is timely indeed.
     A collaboration between four distinguished French scientists has resulted in a superlative volume, enhanced greatly by the evocative and factually accurate illustrations of Alain Bénéteau. I would be willing to wager that I am not unique when I say that these representations fill me with wonder, almost childlike in its dimensions. To muse about life in outer space is one thing, to contemplate the lives that preceded us here on Earth is quite another. There is wonderment in what has gone before.
     Not only are we treated to gripping coverage of the fantastic sea reptiles of the Mezozoic era, we meet some of the personalities in the evolution of knowledge; especially as it relates to fossil collecting. Most significant is the coverage of Mary Anning, the first paleontologist (although she would never have been accorded that title in the nineteenth century when women were little more than chattels) and her remarkable discoveries. 
     We make the acquaintance of icthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and mososaurs, we come to know thalattosaurs and archosauromorphs - and many others. Details of their anatomy are revealed, adaptations to their environment, breeding methods, feeding, their role as predator and prey, and we come to understand why and how many ancient creatures reverted back to a life in the sea and how this was accomplished. What of their descendants today, sea turtles and sea snakes?  All is revealed! 
     Fossil hunting has become greatly sophisticated in recent years and technological advancement facilitates analysis and understanding in ways barely dreamed of just short years ago.


     
The book contains a fine glossary and a very helpful bibliography for those seeking to know more.
     It's a marvelous read providing great knowledge, yet all the while stimulating one's interest and fuelling an ever greater level of curiosity about the past. To say that it is timely and topical, relevant in so many ways to the current human condition is an understatement. 
     Carbon dioxide levels are nudging upwards, ocean acidification is on the rise - conditions that led to extinctions in the past.  Winston Churchill famously said, "Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." The statement was made in the context of human experience but it is no less valid if we choose to ignore the history of life on Earth.
     This is the book to help you understand at least some of it - and yes, we do need to heed the warnings.


Ocean Life in the Time of Dinosaurs - Princeton University Press
Nathalie Bardet, Alexandra Houssaye, Stéphane Jouve and Peggy Vincent
Illustrated by Alain Bénéteau
Hardcover - US$29.95 - ISBN: 9780691243948
208 pages - 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm)
212 colour and black-and-white illustrations - 48 maps
Publication date: 21 November, 2023  
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.

34 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fascinating book and I wonder if dinosaurs lived in the ocean too...

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  2. También el futuro de la humanidad, está en peligro. Habrá un momento que desaparecerá la humanidad, los mismo que desaparecieron en su tiempo los dinosaurios.
    Feliz domingo.

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  3. Sounds like an interesting book, great review! Take care, have a wonderful week!

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  4. ...a subject that I've never thought of.

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  5. Love love the cover to the book both the front and the back. Yes I agree that we do need to h e e d

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  6. It sounds like a good book David.
    Greetings Irma

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  7. Back then dinosaurs were scary, now some people scare me muc h more! Enjoy your travels! Hugs, Valerie xxxxxxx

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    1. tRump is far more scary than T. Rex! With less brain power too.

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  8. I recently read a few books about dinosaurs - a subject which ceased to interest me when i was about ten years old. What caught my attention was the amount of information that can now be discovered from fossils. We can now get some idea of their colours, the sounds they made, their diet and some of their social behaviour, which makes it all so much more interesting than dry, old bones.

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    1. You have hit the nail squarely on the head, John. The ability to recreate the colours and sounds of the animals, and accurate reconstructions of landscape make it all so much more fascinating. If I may be so bold I would assert that I have a reasonable amount of knowledge in the scientific sense, but recent advances in knowledge of the total environment of these creatures fuels my still childlike preoccupation with them.

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  9. Hi David - this sounds really intriguing ... we've covered Mary Anning quite comprehensively in our geology/life science 'classes' - as the course leader is besotted (!) with Mary Anning and that part of the Jurassic Coast. She was one remarkable lady: as you say very little acknowledgement at the time.

    I've just read a snippet about the passing of Don Walsh - who went to the depths of the Mariana Trench back in the 1960s (11 km down). The last weekend I was at a geological assembly for our Wealden area - and heard a talk by Chris Duffin, of the Natural History Museum, on T-Rex ... he/it was fascinating - but at the end of day my mind was beyond taking much in - 7 subjects!

    I've also just seen a 'note' on the Tethys Ocean and a disappearing continent - see Big Think: How an entire continent went missing .... an interesting article. Apologies - brain dump for you!!! Cheers from across the pond - Hilary

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  10. Why am I not surprised, Hilary, that you would know of Mary Anning? What a pleasure it is to communicate with you!

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  11. This does seem like a wonderful addition to the "dinosaur literature." I might have to look it up. As always, thanks for the review.

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  12. Mary Anning fascinated me when I first learned a little about her several years ago. And fossils have always fascinated me, and I love that (some of us) are continuing to learn from them.
    Thank you for this review

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  13. Ja zawsze jak dziecko z ciekawością oglądam i czytam nowe wieści o odkryciach z prehistorii. Co roku dowiadujemy się o nowych odkryciach, czasami bardzo zaskakujących. Niby wiele już wiemy, ale znajdujemy coraz więcej znaków z tamtych czasów.

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  14. Nice review David. I love to read about dinosaurs. Winston Churchill had many great comments. The one you mention is very true.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

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  15. Many thanks for the review.

    All the best Jan

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  16. Funny--I am right now watching Life On Our Planet on Netflix and it is fascinating! All about the way the earth has changed and the various mass almost-extinctions over millions of years. Yes, we will help cause the next one, I think. Sad, but true.

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  17. Querido David tengo que reconocer que salvo los libros que leí con mis hijos de pequeños no me interese nada por este tema, pero después de leerte creo que tengo que tenerlo en cuenta. Abrazos y besos para ti y para Míriam

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  18. Seems like a most interesting book. I've seen sea turtles in the sea swimming in Queensland, it's just fascinating.

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  19. It is certainly a fantastic book.
    Thanks for sharing

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  20. "heed the warnings"...I wish!!!
    Looks like an interesting book..A favorite topic of mine...

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  21. That looks like a great book. My son would love it.

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  22. Are there any eras that don't have multi-syllabic titles? Also, do palaeontologists use the the words in full, say , during lunch-break or when having a quiet beer? So exhausting. If so, has no one told them that brevity is the soul of wit?

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  23. I think it's time that a bigger picture of the past becomes available to people. Maybe it is as you say, past extinctions. Maybe it is also all the youthful dinosaur lovers have now grown up. Or something. I think this book looks great, and I've added it to my wish list. Hope you're having safe travels. hugs-Erika

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  24. That seems like a nice book to me, David.
    Greetings Tinie

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  25. This seems like a wonderful book. The timing is right too. I love that you keep us all informed with books that are relevant. I hope all is well with you.

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  26. Hello, how are you my dear friend! i'm surprised because i don't see my comment here (i almost always come back to see if it was published) and don't see it... am I so clueless that I didn't hit "publish"? It could be, it wouldn't be the first time it's happened to me, jeje.
    I told you that i think it ´s a wonderful and impressive book.
    Have a beautiful week and have a good trip!

    👍💜👍

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  27. I read a book on Mary Anning a few years back. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. It was riveting. Extraordinary woman for that era. Your book looks wonderful David.
    XO
    WWW

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  28. Otro libro interesante. Besos.

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  29. Interesting. I do not recall reading about thalattosaurs and archosauromorphs back when I was a kid fascinated with dinosaurs.

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