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More than a hundred years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a novel called The Lost World with the exciting premise that dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts still ruled in South America. Little did Conan Doyle know, there were terrifying monsters in South America – they just happened to be extinct. In fact, South America has an incredible history as a land where many strange creatures evolved and died out.
In Giants of the Lost World: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Monsters of South America, Donald R. Prothero uncovers the real science and history behind this fascinating story. The largest animal ever discovered was the huge sauropod dinosaur Argentinosaurus, which was about 130 feet long and weighed up to 100 tons. The carnivorous predator Giganotosaurus weighed in at more than 8 tons and measured more than 47 feet long, dwarfing the T. rex in comparison. Gigantic anacondas broke reptile records; possums evolved into huge saber-toothed predators; and ground sloths grew larger than elephants in this strange, unknown land. Prothero presents the scientific details about each of these prehistoric beasts, provides a picture of the ancient landscapes they once roamed, and includes the stories of the individuals who first discovered their fossils for a captivating account of a lost world that is stranger than fiction.
Introduction: The Lost World ix
1. The Island Continent 1
2. Tyrant Lizard Kings 17
3. Giants among Giants 31
4. Demise of the Dinosaurs 45
5. Living Dinosaurs 61
6. Land of the Reptilian Monsters 73
7. The Old Timers I: Killer Opossums 83
8. The Old Timers II: Pseudo-Elephants, Pseudo-Hippos, and Pseudo-Horses 95
9. The Old Timers III: The Slow Folk 111
10. The Castaways 123
11. Invasion! 135
12. Where Have All the Mammals Gone? 157
Epilogue: The Sixth Extinction 165
Donald R. Prothero specializes in physics, planetary sciences, astronomy, earth sciences, and vertebrate paleontology. He taught for 35 years at the college level at Columbia, Knox, Pierce, and Vassar Colleges, most recently as professor of geology at Occidental College, and lecturer in geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He has authored or edited more than 30 books and 300 scientific papers.
"Giants of the Lost World is packed with science and historical narratives that introduce readers to a menagerie of living and extinct South American vertebrates. Covering their evolution from the Permian to the present, Prothero shows us wondrous beasts – such as the largest dinosaurs that ever lived, rodents the size of rhinos, car-sized armored glyptodonts, and camel-like archaic ungulates with probosces – and artfully weaves in the geological context of these animals' evolution, reveals how our understanding of it has changed with new discoveries and ideas, and presents key concepts in biogeography, plate tectonics, and climate change. A wonderful overview of a complex and rich subject."
– Peter J. Makovicky, Associate Curator, Dinosaurs, Field Museum of Natural History
"If you wanted to take a complete tour of South America today, you would need a travel guide. But if you wanted to take a complete time travel tour of the continent over the past 300 million years, this is your guide. You meet not only unique animals that existed nowhere else in time and space, but also the people who made their discovery possible, and you witness how they did it against great odds and with much personal sacrifice. I’m ready to leave on my tour!"
– Michael Brett-Surman, Museum Specialist for Dinosaurs, Fossil Reptiles, and Amphibians, National Museum of Natural History
"South American fossils have revolutionized our understanding of dinosaur evolution, particularly as gigantic and bizarre new species have been described in recent decades. Prothero shares the tales of these unique reptiles and other amazing prehistoric beasts in a way that captures both the imagination and the intellect."
– Nathan Smith, Associate Curator, Dinosaur Institute, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
"There are non-scientists who write about popular science, and there are scientists who write technical papers, but Prothero is a rare species of scientist who does both. Giants of the Lost World is a type specimen of how to convey the adventure and importance of science in one volume, and his final warning on the Sixth Extinction and our role in it should be read by everyone who cares about the future of the planet and our own species' survival."
– Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic magazine, and author of Why Darwin Matters