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Academic & Professional Books  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

Popular Science
By: Steve Brusatte(Author)
500 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Publisher: Picador
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals thoroughly convinces that the evolutionary history of mammals is just as fascinating as that of the dinosaurs.
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals
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  • The Rise and Reign of the Mammals ISBN: 9781529034219 Hardback Jun 2022 In stock
    £17.99 £19.99
  • The Rise and Reign of the Mammals ISBN: 9781529034233 Paperback Jun 2023 In stock
Selected version: £10.99
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About this book

The passing of the age of the dinosaurs allowed mammals to become ascendant. But mammals have a much deeper history. They – or, more precisely, we – originated around the same time as the dinosaurs, over 200 million years ago; mammal roots lie even further back, some 325 million years.

Over these immense stretches of geological time, mammals developed their trademark features: hair, keen senses of smell and hearing, big brains and sharp intelligence, fast growth and warm-blooded metabolism, a distinctive line-up of teeth (canines, incisors, premolars, molars), mammary glands that mothers use to nourish their babies with milk, qualities that have underlain their success story.

Out of this long and rich evolutionary history came the mammals of today, including our own species and our closest cousins. But today's 6,000 mammal species – the egg-laying monotremes including the platypus, marsupials such as kangaroos and koalas that raise their tiny babies in pouches, and placentals like us, who give birth to well-developed young – are simply the few survivors of a once verdant family tree, which has been pruned both by time and mass extinctions.

In The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, palaeontologist Steve Brusatte weaves together the history and evolution of our mammal forebears with stories of the scientists whose fieldwork and discoveries underlie our knowledge, both of iconic mammals like the mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers of which we have all heard, and of fascinating species that few of us are aware of.

For what we see today is but a very limited range of the mammals that have existed; in this fascinating and ground-breaking book, Steve Brusatte tells their – and our – story.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Epic in scope and majestic in execution
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 24 Jun 2022 Written for Hardback

    Imagine being a successful dinosaur palaeontologist and landing a professorship before you are 40, authoring a leading dinosaur textbook and a New York Times bestseller on dinosaurs. Imagine achieving all that and then saying: "You know what really floats my boat? Mammals." After the runaway success of his 2018 book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, palaeontologist Stephen Brusatte shifted his attention and now presents you with the follow-up, The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. Taking in the full sweep of mammal evolution from the late Carboniferous to today, this book is as epic in scope as it is majestic in execution.

    Mammals shared our planet with the dinosaurs throughout their long reign, from the initial split of our amniote common ancestor into synapsids (us) and diapsids (them), to their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. Over the course of some 100 million years, a parade of lineages evolved—archaic mammals all—piecemeal developing the traits we recognize as mammalian today: pelycosaurs, therapsids, cynodonts, mammaliaformes, docodonts and gliding haramiyidans, multituberculates, and therians who gave rise to today's placentals, marsupials, and monotremes. However, the above must not be mistaken for a linear march of progress. "[M]ammals were a still unrealized concept, which evolution had yet to assemble" (p. 20). Simultaneously, it does not behove us to call these now-extinct groups evolutionary dead ends. "In their time and place, these mammals were anything but obsolete" (p. 88).

    With the extinction of the dinosaurs, the rise of mammals turned into a reign. Isolated on various land masses after the supercontinent Pangaea had fragmented, they were poised for a slow-motion taxonomic starburst that would play out over the next 66 million years. In the northern hemisphere, placental mammals replaced multituberculates and metatherians and rapidly evolved into primates and the odd- and even-toed ungulates. The latter two evolved giants: brontotheres, chalicotheres, and cetaceans.

    Brusatte's strength is to bring to life the above flurry of names. What kind of creatures were they? And how can we deduce this from fossil evidence? Somewhere between chapters 6 and 7, I became awestruck by his narrative as the enormity of the mammalian evolutionary trajectory started to come into full view: bats, elephants, South American native ungulates (origins: uncertain), metatherians migrating to Australia and spawning a spectacular marsupial radiation, grazers diversified as grasses went global, and somewhere at the end, hominins evolving and repeatedly spilling out of Africa, contributing significantly to recent megafauna extinction. What a wild ride!

    The macroevolutionary story is fascinating in itself, yet Brusatte makes it even better with some interesting observations of his own. We usually think of the dinosaurs as dominating the mammals, but, he suggests, this went two ways: "While it is true that dinosaurs kept mammals from getting big, mammals did the opposite, which was equally impressive: they kept dinosaurs from becoming small" (p. 95). Furthermore, DNA studies suggest that many modern mammal lineages originated back in the Cretaceous. But where are the fossils? Could some of the poorly understood archaic placentals such as condylarchs, taeniodonts, and pantodonts be the missing fossils that we have not yet been able to link to modern groups because of the lack of signature anatomical features? Excitingly, Brusatte is part of a research consortium that is building a master family tree based on both anatomy and DNA.

    As in his last book, Brusatte excels at explaining complex research methods and scientific concepts. One example is Tom Kemp's concept of correlated progression. Several times during early mammal evolution, a whole suite of anatomical, behavioural, and functional traits were changing together, making it hard to unravel what was driving what. For instance when cynodonts shrunk in size and changed their growth, metabolism, diet, and feeding styles. Then there is the revision of the mammal family tree based on DNA sequencing. The classic tree, championed by zoologist George Gaylord Simpson in 1945, was based on anatomical features. By the early 2000s, DNA-based genealogies suggested that many supposed relationships were actually cases of convergent evolution, resulting in a new classification that reflected geographical patterns rather than anatomy. The new groupings came with some tongue-twisting names: Afrotheria, Xenarthra, Laurasiatheria, and Eurarchontoglires. A final example is tooth morphology, an important diagnostic trait in this story.

    What helps with these explanations are some excellent illustrations. B/w photos show amazing fossils, Todd Marshall contributes both decorative chapter headings and explanatory artwork, and Brusatte's former student Sarah Shelley adds b/w diagrams, illustrating for instance the remarkable changes in jaw bones and how some of these were repurposed to become our inner ear bones! Woven throughout are stories of the people behind the research. Brusatte introduces both young scientists and many past scientists that are not widely known.

    In what is surely a hallmark of his love and enthusiasm for the field, Brusatte's bibliography has again been written as a narrative. It is like a chatty literature review in which he recommends books and papers, indicates where literature has become outdated, adds more technical details or clarifications, discusses where there is active debate and disagreement, and shortly touches on topics that he had to omit from the main narrative. Yes, this takes up more space than a regular reference section, and I am sure it is more time-consuming to write, but it is ever so useful. You could not wish for a better starting point if you wanted to read deeper into the technical literature.

    Finally, you might be left wondering how this book compares to Elsa Panciroli's Beasts Before Us which covered early mammal evolution up to the K–Pg extinction. There is overlap here in more than one way; Brusatte co-supervised her PhD project describing the docodont Borealestes from a Scottish fossil. I was therefore mildly surprised that he does not mention her book. There is some inevitable overlap as both books walk through the same groups, though Brusatte provides a fuller picture by covering mammal evolution up to today. Panciroli's book stands out for its fantastic writing, though, so you cannot go wrong by reading them both.

    The Rise and Reign of the Mammals is a more-than-worthy successor to The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. Brusatte convincingly shows that the evolutionary story of mammals is just as fascinating—if not more so—as that of the dinosaurs.
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Professor 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, and PhD in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Columbia University in New York. Steve is widely recognized as one of the leading palaeontologists of his generation. He has written over one hundred and fifty peer-reviewed scientific papers during his 15 years of research in the field, named and described over a dozen new species of dinosaurs and mammals, and led groundbreaking studies on how dinosaurs rose to dominance and went extinct and how mammals replaced them afterwards. Among his particular research interests are the evolutionary transition between dinosaurs and birds and the rise of placental mammals, and he is a noted specialist on the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of the carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor. His 2018 book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was a Sunday Times bestseller, and he is the science consultant for Jurassic World 3, the forthcoming film in the Jurassic Park franchise.

Popular Science
By: Steve Brusatte(Author)
500 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Publisher: Picador
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals thoroughly convinces that the evolutionary history of mammals is just as fascinating as that of the dinosaurs.
Media reviews

"Steve Brusatte, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, brings mammals out from the shadow of their more showy predecessors in a beautifully written book that [...] makes the case for them as creatures who are just as engaging as dinosaurs."
The Sunday Times, 'Best Books For Summer

"Terrific [...] a saga on the grandest scale [...] beautifully told [...] Brusatte brings well-known extinct species, the sabre-toothed tigers and the woolly mammoths, thrillingly back to life"
The Times, 'Book of the Week'

"Nothing short of a thriller, revealing the luck, evolutionary twists and near-apocalyptical catastrophes that have led to the mammals of today, us included [...] Fascinating revelations come thick and fast"

"Stands out for its brilliant balance of scientific detail and lively, efficient storytelling"
New Scientist

"Deeply researched and entertaining [...] Brusatte's real achievement is to show us that, for all its sheer weight of numbers and impact, Homo sapiens is just 'a single point, among millions of species over more than 200 million years."
– Mark Cocker, The Spectator

"Gorgeous book [...] fantastic writing, brilliant science."
– Alice Roberts, author of Ancestors

"Riveting [...] A real page-turner that proves science fact is more amazing than science fiction."
The Sun

"The epic story of how our mammalian cousins evolved to fly, walk, swim, and walk on two legs [...] [Brusatte's] deep knowledge infuse[s] this lively journey of millions of years of evolution with infectious enthusiasm."
– Neil Shubin, bestselling author of Your Inner Fish and University of Chicago paleontologist

"A fascinating account of how mammals survived the great extinction that destroyed the dinosaurs and evolved to their current position of dominance. A worthy sequel to [Steve Brusatte's] The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs.
– Venki Ramakrishnan, 2009 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry and Cambridge University biologist

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