Paleontology is one of the most visible yet most misunderstood fields of science. Children dream of becoming paleontologists when they grow up. Museum visitors flock to exhibits on dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The media reports on fossil discoveries and new clues to mass extinctions. Nonetheless, misconceptions abound: paleontologists are assumed only to be interested in dinosaurs and they are all too often pictured as bearded white men in battered cowboy hats.
Roy Plotnick provides a behind-the-scenes look at paleontology as it exists today in all its complexity. He explores the field's aims, methods, and possibilities, with an emphasis on the compelling personal stories of the scientists who have made it a career. Paleontologists study the entire history of life on Earth; they do not only use hammers and chisels to unearth fossils but are just as likely to work with cutting-edge computing technology. Plotnick presents the big questions about life's history that drive paleontological research and shows why knowledge of Earth's past is essential to understanding present-day environmental crises. He introduces readers to the diverse group of people of all genders, races, and international backgrounds who make up the twenty-first-century paleontology community, foregrounding their perspectives and firsthand narratives. He also frankly discusses the many challenges that face the profession, with key takeaways for aspiring scientists. Candid and comprehensive, Explorers of Deep Time is essential reading for anyone curious about the everyday work of real-life paleontologists.
Part I. Deep Time
1. Those Who Know the Past
2. We Have the Best Questions
3. I’m Not Ross (or Indiana Jones)
Part II. Exploring Deep Time
4. Attending Marvels
5. Safe Places
6. Cool Toys
7. Big Data and the Big Picture
8. The Ends of the Worlds as We Know Them
9. Lessons for and from the Living
Part III. Explorers of Deep Time
10. The Education of a Paleontologist
11. Living in the Real World
12. The Face of Paleontology
13. The Third Reviewer
14. Conferring, Conversing, and Otherwise Hobnobbing
15. Fighting Over Scraps
Part IV. Deep Time and the Broad World
16. This Land Is Your Land, Your Fossil Is My Fossil
17. For the Love of Fossils
18. Presenting the Past
19. Those Who Do Not Know the Past
20. Drawing on the Past
21. The World of Paleontology
22. Last Thoughts: SWOT-ing at Paleontology
Roy Plotnick is professor emeritus in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society.
"Roy Plotnick is an invertebrate paleontologist who loves his job. Here he writes an excellent tome filled with his personal experiences, friends, and numerous colleagues in the field. He provides a rare, very personal look at the aspirations and lives of paleontologists, including his own. Plotnick's detailed biographical perspective is important in how it personally documents this scientific profession today, and makes the case for its importance into the future. Even highly controversial issues are discussed, such as scientific vs commercial fossil collecting. The book is skillfully written in a way that engages professional scientists as well as members of the public with an interest in this field."
– Lance Grande, Field Museum of Natural History, and author of Curators: Behind the Scenes of Natural History Museums
"Plotnick has gone above and beyond to highlight as many of paleontology's contributors as possible, demonstrating that it is an increasingly inclusive, diverse field of study. Explorers of Deep Time is an invaluable tool for the budding scientist and a beautiful homage to the breadth and depth of this discipline."
– Emily Graslie, host of Prehistoric Road Trip on PBS
"Explorers of Deep Time is more than an examination of people who study fossils – it is a biography of the field of paleontology itself. As described by Plotnick, paleontology is cutting-edge, relevant, and full of people who bear absolutely no resemblance to Ross Gellar. A key resource for aspiring paleontologists and a call to action for those already part of the field, who are reminded of the challenges our discipline faces."
– Ellen Currano, coeditor of The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science
"An unexpurgated and entertaining romp through the world of fossils and the stories of the people who study them. Plotnick gives us an up close and personal view of the joy of paleontology and its transformation into a vibrant modern science that is ever more relevant to understanding our world and its future."
– Sir Peter Crane, fellow of the Royal Society, and senior research scientist, Yale University
"Dr. Plotnick's personal anecdotes about his journey through his paleontological career are enjoyable to read. He has had a lot of fun in what can be a very challenging field, and it shows – this book will inspire younger generations to pick up the torch."
– Victoria Arbour, Curator of Palaeontology, Royal BC Museum
"Plotnick neatly demonstrates why paleontology is relevant to the modern world of cloud data and smartphones – and perhaps more relevant than ever due to the accelerated rate of climate change in the twenty-first century. His frank discussions of some all-too-familiar issues facing paleontologists in their workplaces (be they museums or universities) will be helpful knowledge to students and professionals alike."
– Lee Hall, paleontology field professional, Museum of the Rockies
"Explorers of Deep Time is an enjoyable and practical introduction to the work of paleontology."
– Foreword Reviews
"Blends [Plotnick's] personal experiences with a cogent examination of the field of paleontology and the individuals who shaped it."
– The Clergy Letter Project
"Explorers of Deep Time is a fascinating look at paleontology as a whole, and is a must-have for anyone looking to better understand the field and the people within it. Every aspiring paleontologist should have a copy, as it gives an honest look at the joys, challenges, and opportunities that the science provides. Explorers of Deep Time gives paleontology the close-up it deserves.
"This is an excellent guide to the pros and cons of choosing palaeontology as a career Highly recommended."
– Everything Dinosaur