The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a sweeping narrative scientific history that tells the epic story of the dinosaurs, examining their origins, their habitats, their extinction, and their living legacy, from one of the most accomplished young palaeontologists in the world today.
In this ambitious and engrossing narrative history that spans nearly 200 million years, Stephen Brusatte, a young American palaeontologist who has emerged as one of the foremost stars of the field – discovering ten new species and leading groundbreaking scientific studies – tells the complete story of the life and death of the dinosaurs. Brusatte follows these magnificent creatures from the Early Triassic period at the start of their evolution, roughly 250 million years ago, through the Jurassic period to the end of the Cretaceous period (66 million years ago), when a giant meteor struck the earth and all non-bird species went extinct.
Brusatte traces their evolution from small shadow dwellers – themselves the beneficiaries of a mass extinction caused by volcanic eruptions at the beginning of the Triassic period – into the long-necked, armoured carnivores we are familiar with today. This gifted scientist and writer re-creates the dinosaurs' heyday, when thousands of species – including fearsome predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex – thrived, and winged and feathered dinosaurs, the prehistoric ancestors of more than 10,000 modern bird species, emerged.
Brusatte recalls compelling stories from his decade-long journey studying these legendary beasts during one of the most exciting eras in dinosaur research, and offers thrilling accounts of some of the remarkable discoveries he has made, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex, and raptor dinosaurs from China.
An electrifying scientific history and biography that unearths the dinosaurs' epic saga, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs will be the definitive narrative history of the subject for years to come.
"A must-have for fans of ancient reptiles and their lost world."
– Kirkus Reviews
"[Brusatte's] captivating text explores the excitement associated with searching for and discovering new dinosaur species, provides clues to many long-standing questions associated with dinosaurs [...] a mix of memoir, chronicling Brusatte's personal odyssey from a child smitten by dinosaurs to a member of a vibrant scholarly community, and first-rate science writing for the general public."
– Publishers Weekly
"Fantastic [...] Superbly illustrated with photos and art, this is popular-science writing at its best."
– Nancy Bent
"With his new book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs esteemed palaeontologist and author Steve Brusatte shows that the fun, fascinating and fact-filled story of the dinosaurs is still very much alive after 66 million years. Simply, a must read."
– Ben Garrod, BBC TV presenter
"As a scientist on the front lines of discovery, Brusatte delivers a cutting-edge account of Earth's most awe-inspiring age, and does so with great skill, humor and wonder. In his thrilling account of the revolutions and innovations that brought dinosaurs to rule the world for a near eternity, Brusatte captures both the majesty of the creatures he studies, as well as the breathtaking evolutionary ride that transformed these once scrawny also-rans into the myth-making tyrants of legend. It's the most epic chapter of earth history, and here it's told vividly by one of the world's top paleontologists."
– Peter Brannen, author of The Ends of the World
"Steve Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a triumph. Written by one of our young leaders of the field, he brings new discoveries, a taste for a good yarn, and his infectious enthusiasm to some of the epic tales of paleontology. It is hard to read Brusatte and not love lost worlds."
– Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
"The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a work of solid modern science, updating the fallacies and fancies of antiquated paleontology, revealing the quantum leaps in understanding of this modern science. But it is more than that. It is a personal quest full of enthusiasm and joy, getting beneath the dust to reveal the scales and the feathers of dinosaurs."
– Steve Backshall, Naturalist and BBC TV Presenter
"Steve Brusatte is doing some of the most exciting research on dinosaurs today, and he brings that excitement to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Whether he's recounting remarkable fossil discoveries or explaining millions of years of evolutionary change, Brusatte shows just how much our understanding of dinosaurs has changed in just the past decade."
– Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life
"An up-to-the-minute account of the long history and remarkable biology of the extraordinary animals that capture the imagination of every child. The dinosaurs are much more varied than the popular picture of lumbering giants and matching meat eaters. Steve Brusatte expertly leads the reader through the latest discoveries to unravel their great range of lifestyles in a vanished world. He explores the research that led to the realisation that dinosaurs Iive on – as birds. The book is an appropriate antidote to the hubris that puts our human species at the centre of the living world."
– Professor Richard Fortey
Dinosaurs. You could fill a library with the books written about them. Why write another one? Because the field is moving fast: new fossils are constantly being found, new species are being described, and new techniques allow us to ask completely new questions. Being a young career-palaeontologist at the top of your field is another good reason. And Steve Brusatte does not lack ambition. Rather than singling out any one topic, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs gives you the whole epic story, from the early beginnings right up to the abrupt end. Given the brief Brusatte has set himself he obviously doesn’t cover everything exhaustively, but he succeeds admirably in giving you a very relevant overview of where we are now.
Brusatte has previously authored the textbook Dinosaur Paleobiology. The current book, however, is a pop-science account of these fascinating reptiles. Ordered roughly chronologically, it starts off with the Permian mass extinction some 252 million years ago. Brannen’s recent book The Ends of the World did a marvellous job introducing the five major mass extinctions, but Brusatte can be equally evocative in his descriptions. As in Martin’s The Evolution Underground, Brusatte advances the idea that underground burrows were crucial to survival.
Brusatte introduces the dinosauromorphs, the close evolutionary forebears of the dinosaurs. He talks us through the Triassic, when all the world was united in the supercontinent Pangaea, small dinosaurs competed with early mammal relatives, and the world was ruled by a reptilian sister group that would leave us the crocodiles. After the end-Triassic mass extinction, the dinosaurs were left standing and rose to dominance during the Jurassic and Cretaceous. We meet the sauropods, gigantic long-necked herbivores, and the various theropod carnivores that terrorised them. Two chapters introduce the tyrannosaurs and its most famous representative: Tyrannosaurus rex, which Hone details further in The Tyrannosaur Chronicles.
And then there is the evolution of flight and the fantastic fossil discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in recent decades (some good entry-level books are Feathered Dinosaurs or Flying Dinosaurs). Brusatte ends with the Cretaceous mass extinction, Alvarez’s impact hypothesis, detailed in T. rex and the Crater of Doom, and the various lines of evidence leading up to it. The reign of the dinosaurs may be over, but Brusatte reminds us that some dinosaurs survived and are still with us today as birds, on which much more in The Ascent of Birds
Brusatte livens up the science with enthusiastic stories of discoveries in the field and the many talented palaeontologists he has worked with. Never too chatty of forcedly funny, these anecdotes are woven in skillfully and are relevant to the story at hand. Similarly, he introduces important historical figures such as, of course, Marsh and Cope, whose infamous rivalry known as the Bone Wars has been detailed in books such as The Bonehunters’ Revenge or The Gilded Dinosaur. But also Barnum Brown (the title of his biography, Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus rex, explains his fame), or the eccentric Transylvanian Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felsö-Szilvás who offered a credible explanation for why Transylvanian dinosaurs were so small (see more about this phenomenon of dwarfism in Transylvanian Dinosaurs). Brusatte successfully brings these figures to life, shining a light on what palaeontology involved in decades gone by.
The thing that really makes this book stand out for me, though, is that Brusatte excels at making understandable current scientific methods that have been crucial in the study of dinosaurs. Whether it is radiometric dating, morphological disparity analysis, photogrammetry or finite element analysis, Brusatte casually but skillfully explains these methods with an ease that is enviable. So much so that he doesn’t even need to use illustrations to make himself clear. Instead, the book is illustrated with both period and contemporary black-and-white photos of fossils and the scientists who discovered them.
As befits a book of this scope, the production is rather lavish. The American version, published by William Morrow, has a really nice cover illustration by Todd Marshall. I was initially a bit disappointed by the more abstract illustration of Macmillan’s UK version, but the embossing of the drawing and the title gives it class. And Marshall’s drawings are still present opening each chapter.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs has received rave reviews, and it is easy to see why. The enthusiasm Brusatte has for his profession virtually drips off every page. I used this phrase before when reviewing Squid Empire, and it applies here: this book is fiendishly readable – I tore through it in just two evenings. Brusatte is a masterful storyteller who knows how to keep your attention, and the book is both wonderfully written and admirably accessible. Be warned though, you might just want to become a palaeontologist after reading it.
Steve Brusatte is a palaeontologist on the faculty of the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He grew up in the Midwestern United States and has a BS in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago, MSc in Palaeobiology from the University of Bristol (UK), and PhD in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Columbia University in New York. At age thirty-one, Steve is widely recognized as one of the leading palaeontologists of his generation. He has written nearly ninety peer-reviewed scientific papers during his decade of research in the field, discovered and named ten new species of dinosaurs, and led groundbreaking studies on how dinosaurs rose to dominance and went extinct. One of his particular research interests is the evolutionary transition between dinosaurs and birds and he is a noted specialist on the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of the carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor.