358 pages, 242 b/w photos and illustrations
Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In Riddle of the Feathered Dragons, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.
Advocates of the current orthodoxy on bird origins have ignored contrary data, misinterpreted fossils, and used faulty reasoning, the author argues. He considers why and how the debate has become so polemical and makes a plea to refocus the discussion by "breaking away from methodological straitjackets and viewing the world of origins anew." Drawing on a lifetime of study, he offers his own current understanding of the origin of birds and avian flight.
"[...] contains an immense amount of new information about the history of the contentious issue of the origin of birds [...] original and important."
– Frances James, Florida State University, Department of Biological Science
"[...] a marvelous essay on method and interpretation in paleontology. And it wonderfully captures the fluid state of our knowledge and the tenuous state of our interpretations."
– Keith Thomson, author of The Legacy of the Mastodon and The Young Charles Darwin
"Writing with passion and verve, Alan Feduccia challenges the prevalent view of bird evolution – arguing his case historically, philosophically, and scientifically. Right or wrong, this is a splendid read and simply should not be ignored."
– Michael Ruse, author of Darwinism and its Discontents
"Entertainingly contentious, this is a welcomed exposition and probing analysis of the new arena of bird and dinosaur evolution from one of the greatest paleornithologists in the Twentieth Century. Whether one agrees or disagrees, Riddle of the Feathered Dragons will stimulate more debates in future investigations."
– Zhonghe Zhou, Director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
"Riddle of the Feathered Dragons is a balanced, detailed look at the origin of birds, including their evolutionary relationships to theropod dinosaurs. These important issues have suffered an epidemic of both popular and professional misconception and foul play for decades. Alan Feduccia's insightful minority views should stimulate a healthy intellectual debate, and thus marginalize the hot-doggery."
– David W. Steadman, author of Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds
"Lucid and entertaining, Alan Feduccia's Riddle of the Feathered Dragons brings together and summarizes the issues in contention. This book will be a potential anodyne to received dogma."
– Storrs L. Olson, Sc.D., Curator Emeritus, Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.
"Riddle of the Feathered Dragons investigates whether birds evolved from advanced theropod dinosaurs or from an earlier, divergent archosaurian lineage. Emphasis is placed on fossilized remains rather than procedures of computer driven phylogenetic analysis."
– Robert Carroll, author of Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution
"Alan Feduccia has a long-standing disagreement with the 'birds from dinosaurs' theories. Although birds and dinosaurs may have come from a common ancestor and share some common features, Feduccia and his 300-page book, packed with research results, illustrations, and data, cast doubts on the majority opinion [...] I am pulling for the underdog, the brave North Carolina scientist who is not afraid to challenge the current prevailing opinion."
– D. G. Martin, Raleigh Telegram
"[Feduccia is] the perfect person to write a serious inquiry of the current reigning belief that the last dinosaurs evolved into present-day birds [...] Highly recommended for paleontologists, scientists, and specialists in this field."
– Gloria Maxwell, Library Journal
"Those who have followed Feduccia's work over the years will recognize that this conclusion is a major shift in his views, and that his ability to deal with the new evidence in such an unbiased and creative manner is the mark of a uniquely sharp and innovative scientific mind. Whether one ultimately agrees with Feduccia or not, Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China is a 'must read' for anyone interested in these questions and will prod its readers to rethink received wisdom on the subject of the evolution of birds."
– The Auk
1. Romancing the Dinosaurs: Blame to go Around 6
2. What Did Evolution's High Priest Say? 33
3. The Iconic Urvogel Was a Bird 55
4. Mesozoic Chinese Aviary Takes Form 93
5. Big Chicks: The Flightless Birds 190
6. Yale's Raptor: Towards Conscilience, not Consensus 230
Appendix 1. A Sliver of Urvogel Bone: Implications for Endothermy 269
Appendix 2. The Persisting Problem of Avian Digital Homology 275
General References 329
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Alan Feduccia is S. K. Heninger Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of numerous books, including the award-winning The Origin and Evolution of Birds, published by Yale University Press.