Another book with my name on it has just appeared. Again it’s a kid’s book: Dorling Kindersley’s Know It All (Baines 2010) – a fantastically well illustrated, fact-packed encylopedia of everything science (and the successor to the highly successful 2009 Ask Me Anything). It’s a multi-authored book (authors: Simone Bos, Julie Ferris, Ian Graham, Susan Kennedy, Darren Naish, Jim Pipe, Carole Stott and John Woodward). My section – titled ‘Dinosaurs’ – isn’t just on dinosaurs; it also includes spreads on Palaeozoic tetrapods, ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs, Pleistocene mammals, and hominids. Does it really tell the Tet Zoo reader anything they don’t already know? No, of course not. But it’s still worth talking about, as I find it interesting that I’m increasingly able to get ‘new’ ideas on prehistoric tetrapods into popular books, and hence into ‘mainstream’ culture…
Look at the spread on sauropod necks, for example (‘How did dino giants hold up their necks’). This is basically Taylor et al. (2009), retold for kids. It discusses the presence of skeletal pneumaticity (well known to everyone properly interested in archosaurs, but thoroughly alien to the public at large) and promotes the idea that sauropods held their necks aloft (reference is made to head and neck posture in living animals). Diplodocoid rearing behaviour also gets coverage. This is far from a dumb idea: in fact, there’s every indication that diplodocoids could engage in bipedal feeding regularly and without difficulty (sigh… when is Heinrich Mallison going to publish?).
The pages on non-avian maniraptorans [shown above] promote another unarguable fact that should be more widely known than it is: that the earliest birds were NOT ‘special’, ‘different’ animals compared to other contemporaneous theropods. Rather, archaeopterygids and such were pretty much indistinguishable from early troodontids, dromaeosaurids and such, and were merely one among many lineages of small, feathered Jurassic theropod.
The pterosaur spread covers the Wittonesque idea that pterosaurs didn’t just hang around on beaches and fly over oceans, but refers to the strong terrestriality of such groups as anurognathids and azhdarchids (ironically, however, the main illustration shows Eudimorphodon out at sea. I protested, but it was too late). Research on pterosaur brain anatomy (based on Witmer et al. (2003)) is summarised, as is the Claessens et al. (2009) hypothesis on the mechanics of pterosaur respiration. A grounded, quadrupedal azhdarchid is shown (kudos to Peter Minister for the CG art: the adjacent picture by Peter is actually from another book… Dinosaurs Eye to Eye, also published 2010): in keeping with the meme, the pterosaur has a little baby sauropod in between its jaws. I tell you, grounded, terrestrial-stalking, sauropod-eating azhdarchids are everywhere these days… I know I’ve done my part ?
A spread on ichthyosaurs does more than talk about live birth in Stenopterygius and mention big eyes in Ophthalmosaurus (as seems to be typical for prehistoric animal books): it does a reasonable job of covering ichthyosaur diversity, with mention being made of Tholodus, Himalayasaurus, leptonectoids and such. And then there’s stuff on Pleistocene mammals, hominids and ‘bringing fossils back to life’ (read: reconstructing life appearance). None of this is as novel, I suppose because most of the big ideas in these fields are already well covered in the popular literature. I’m secretly pleased that I managed to get John Conway’s favoured term for ‘palaeo-art’ – viz, palaeontography – into the book. And – ha ha – a brief biography of Greg Paul is included in the ‘bringing fossils back to life’ section.
We, the revolution
Some years ago a highly respected senior palaeontologist said to me that we (as in, we who publish technical palaeontological literature) would do well to keep our heads down and stay humble, because the hypotheses and discoveries of the present day will be written about, by others, in the future.
I feel it’s slightly ironic – and I don’t mean this to sound at all arrogant – that I now find myself being one among several who plays the role of ‘scientific messenger’, passing on the Big New Ideas of the technical community (like terrestrial stalking in azhdarchids, pneumaticity and erect necks in sauropods, and morphological and behavioural diversity in ichthyosaurs) to children and other non-scientists. To those few who hate, or disagree vehemently, with these Big New Ideas, I’ve no doubt this is frustrating. But most of us who pay attention are on the same team, and hence (I hope!!) will enjoy seeing the promotion of such things. At the risk of sticking my neck out, I think that most popular books on prehistoric animals have been too conservative – or just plain boring – on such things as dinosaur biology, bird origins, and certainly on such topics as marine reptile diversity and behaviour, and pterosaur anatomy. I like the way things are turning out, and I like being part of it.
All going well, I’ll have two – or possibly three – book-related announcements to come over the next few days, weeks and months.
You can read more about Know It All at the Dorling Kindersley website here and can order it from amazon.co.uk here (it’s here on amazon.com, but doesn’t seem available at the moment). Seriously: if you know a child interested in science, the natural world, or the pursuit of knowledge in general, I strongly recommend you buy it for them.
For previous self-promotional articles on books see…
- It would seem that my new book is out (The Great Dinosaur Discoveries)
- It would appear that my other new book is out: Dorling Kindersley’s Prehistoric
- Dinosaurs Life Size, the book
And if you need more information on some of the subjects mentioned in this article, try…
- A life secretly devoted to fish-lizards (on ichthyosaur diversity)
- Epidexipteryx: bizarre little strap-feathered maniraptoran (for scansoriopterygids)
- Terrestrial stalking azhdarchids, the paper (for, err, terrestrial stalking azhdarchids)
- Pterosaurs breathed in bird-like fashion and had inflatable air sacs in their wings (on pterosaur respiration)
- Sauropod dinosaurs held their necks in high, raised postures (for, err, sauropod neck posture)
Refs – –
Baines, F. 2010. Know It All: Facts, Stats, Lists, Records and More. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Claessens, L. P. A. M., O’Connor, P. M. & Unwin, D. M. 2009. Respiratory evolution facilitated the origin of pterosaur flight and aerial gigantism. PLoS ONE 4 (2): e4497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004497
Witmer, L. M., Chatterjee, S., Franzosa, J. & Rowe, T. 2003. Neuroanatomy of flying reptiles and implications for flight, posture and behaviour. Nature 425, 950-953.