Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My 7th Pair of Reviews

As an Art Evolved member, I post a pair of my reviews here every so often, the 1st being positive & the 2nd being negative. I'd greatly appreciate you reading & voting "Yes" for said reviews in the bolded links below. Besides wanting to make sure said reviews give a good idea of what to expect, they need all the "Yes" votes they can get because 1) the 1st is for a very good book that deserves more attention, & 2) the 2nd is outnumbered by opposing reviews (which don't give a good idea of what to expect: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/walking-with-dinosaurs-mike-benton/1113109118?ean=9780789471680 ). Many thanks in advance.

P.S. For my previous reviews, see the following posts:
-"My 1st Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-1st-pair-of-reviews.html
-"My 2nd Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2013/04/my-2nd-pair-of-reviews.html
-"My 3rd Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2014/04/my-3rd-pair-of-reviews_21.html
-"My 4th Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2014/08/as-art-evolved-member-i-post-pair-of-my.html
-"My 5th Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2014/10/my-5th-pair-of-reviews.html
-"My 6th Pair of Reviews": http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2014/11/my-6th-pair-of-reviews.html


The best adult WWD book ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1NXSYJDL0LBHM/ref=cm_cr_srp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0563537434 ): 4/5

Short version: If you want the best adult WWD book, get Martill/Naish's "Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence - How Did They Know That?" (henceforth Evidence). I recommend reading Evidence in conjunction with other, more recent books (E.g. Holtz's "Dinosaurs").

Long version: Read on.

As far as I know, there are 3 adult WWD books: The 1st 1 is Haines' "Walking with Dinosaurs: A Natural History", a decent natural history of dinos with a chronological format; The 2nd 1 is Benton's "Walking With Dinosaurs: Fascinating Facts", a bad natural history of dinos with a Q&A format; The 3rd & last 1 is Evidence. In this review, I list the 2 main reasons why I think Evidence is the best 1.

1) Evidence does the same things as the other adult WWD books, but better:
-Like the 1st 1, Evidence has a chronological format with each chapter focusing on a different Mesozoic site (1 Late Triassic, 2 Late Jurassic, 2 Early Cretaceous, & 1 Late Cretaceous). Unlike the 1st 1, each chapter shows how we know what we know.
-Like the 2nd 1, Evidence has a Q&A format with each chapter divided into sections & each section having a sub-title (which is often a question). Unlike the 2nd 1, the questions are precise, the answers are concise, & the Q&As are good.

2) Evidence does things that the other adult WWD books don't:
-On the 1 hand, the 1st 1 "is transcribed natural history documentary...I don't know if it's actually the script from the TV programmes, but it's very similar in flavour if not detail. This means that it shares the programmes' fatal weakness that you can't tell what's fact, what's pure speculation and what's in between" ( http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/books/#gsc.tab=0 ). On the other hand, Evidence "admirably [fills] this gap" ( http://paleoaerie.org/recommended/ ).
-On the 1 hand, the 2nd 1 has almost nothing to do with WWD (There's a bit about the making of WWD in Chapter 2 & a series of color plates; That's about it). On the other hand, Evidence has everything to do with WWD ("Bringing these animals back to life for [WWD] relied on two primary sources of information...In this book we explore this information to show the scientific methodology behind the scenes of [WWD]").

At this point, you may be wondering why only 4/5 stars? For 1, "some of the animals, such as the Tyrannosaurus, were highly inaccurate" (See DK's "Ask Me Everything"). For another, there are several weird bits throughout WWD that pass without comment (E.g. The Diplodocus ovipositor). 2 more things of note: 1) Holtz's "Dinosaurs" gives the best idea of what we've learned since WWD (E.g. Compare the Martill/Naish quote to the Holtz quote); 2) Haines/Chambers' "The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life" does not (I.e. It either makes the same mistakes as WWD or comes up with new ones).
Quoting Martill/Naish: "While it is by no means impossible that Deinonychus and other dromaeosaurs did cooperate and hunt like this, other possibilities exist. Perhaps the dromaeosaurs exhibited mobbing behaviour...that is, they they did not live together permanently (like truly social animals, such as wolves and lions) but simply cooperated when prey was available. Some predatory lizards, crocodiles and birds still do this today. True pack behaviour for Deinonychus seems unlikely if it means that they routinely attacked an animal that usually ended up killing several of the pack members!"
Quoting Holtz: "If a pack of wolves or a pride of lions loses a couple of members during an attack, the group may become too weak to hunt effectively. But dinosaurs were not mammals. Because each adult female could lay a dozen or more eggs every year, they could replenish their numbers more easily than mammals. So a raptor pack could lose more hunters every year than a lion pride and still be successful."


The worst adult WWD book ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RA7SEUWSUPTX1/ref=cm_cr_srp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=078947168X ): 2/5

Short version: If you want the best natural history of dinos, get Gardom/Milner's "The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs". If you want the best dino Q&A book, get Norell et al.'s "Discovering Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Lessons of Prehistory, Expanded and Updated". If you want the best adult WWD book, get Martill/Naish's "Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence - How Did They Know That?". Benton's "Walking With Dinosaurs: Fascinating Facts" (henceforth Facts) fails at being any of these or even just decent in its own right.

Long version: Read on.

Benton & Brusatte are consistently good sources for the specialist (E.g. See Brusatte's "Dinosaur Paleobiology"). However, they're also consistently not-so-good sources for casual readers/the enthusiast. In my previous review, I referred to Martill/Naish's "Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence - How Did They Know That?" as the best adult WWD book. In this review, I list the 4 main reasons why I think Facts is the worst adult WWD book, among other things.

1) There are several weird bits throughout Facts, including illustrations that are tracings of famous reconstructions (E.g. GSPaul's "Tarbosaurus and Therizinosaurus" & Skrepnick's "Caudipteryx zoui" in Chapter 8 & 9, respectively) & captions that misidentify said reconstructions (E.g. Tarbosaurus/Therizinosaurus/Caudipteryx are misidentified as Sinraptor/Alxasaurus/"a troodontid-like dinosaur", respectively).

2) It's claimed that Facts is a natural history of dinos in the Introduction ("In [Facts], you can read all the background details and discover how dinosaurs moved and fed, how they mated and looked after their young, how they fought and defended themselves, whether they were warm-blooded or not, what noises they might have made, and the latest thinking on why they died out"). Being well-organized is especially important to a natural history of dinos given that it's "designed to be read from start to finish as the developing story of a remarkable group of animals" ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Natural-History-Museum-Book-Dinosaurs/dp/184442183X ). The problem is that Facts is anything but: A decent natural history of dinos wouldn't wait until Chapter 9 to define dinos ("Throughout this book, we've been flinging around terms with abandon such as "theropod," "sauropod," "stegosaur" and the like. It's time now to establish clearly just what these groups were"); Also, it wouldn't take physiology & shoehorn it into the middle of a chapter about attack & defense (as in Chapter 8 of Facts).

3) It is not claimed that Facts is a dino Q&A book, but it is implied by the format (Each chapter is divided into sections; Each section has a sub-title, which is often a question). As you may remember, I generally dislike the dino Q&A genre for 3 main reasons: 1) Redundant questions; 2) Vague answers; 3) Bad Q&As (I.e. Stupid or misleading questions & misleading or wrong answers). The problem is that Facts does all that & MUCH more:
-Redundant questions? Check (E.g. "Wild and preposterous notions", "Unfettered speculation", & "Untestable nonsense" are the sub-titles of 3 back-to-back Q&As in Chapter 10)!
-Vague answers? Check (E.g. See the 1st Benton quote; Notice that it doesn't explain what it means by "some astonishing new specimens" nor how they "allowed paleo-ornithologists to fill lots of gaps in the evolutionary tree of birds")!
-Bad Q&As? Check times infinity (E.g. 1st, see the 2nd Benton quote; Then, google "Dinosauroids revisited, revisited" for why it's bad)!

4) Despite its title, Facts has almost nothing to do with WWD: There's a bit about the making of WWD in Chapter 2 & a series of color plates; That's about it.
Quoting Benton: "Bird evolution after Archaeopteryx
Until 1990 very little was known about bird evolution during the bulk of the Cretaceous. Othniel Marsh had described in the 1880s some remarkable toothed birds from the Late Cretaceous of North America, Hesperornis and Ichthyornis. Only odd scraps of other birds had come to light before the appearance of modern birds at the very end of the Mesozoic, sixty-five million years ago. Then, some astonishing new specimens were announced, first four or five specimens from Spain, and then dozens from China...These new specimens were all exquisitely preserved, showing every bone, feathers, even beaks and claws. They allowed paleo-ornithologists to fill lots of gaps in the evolutionary tree of birds. Next time you see a sparrow twittering in the hedgerow, remember you are looking a cousin of Tyrannosaurus in the eye. And be very, very scared."
Quoting Benton: "Humanoid dinosaurs?
There is no doubt about the intelligence of the troodontids. Unlike all other dinosaurs, they have a bulbous braincase, more bird than reptile. In part, the brain was enlarged in the sensory regions: so troodontids had large eyes and a good sense of smell, as well as a good sense of hearing. But, it's been speculated, improved sense and pack hunting mean more actual intelligence. In 1982 the Canadian paleontologist Dale Russell speculated about what might have happened had the dinosaurs not died out 65 million years ago. Perhaps the troodontids would have inherited the earth, becoming ever more humanoid. He and sculptor R. S├ęguin created a model of a dinosaurian humanoid, based on the projected evolution of troodontids through another 65 million years. It has a bulbous cranium, large goggly eyes, and it walks upright without a balancing tail. Scary concept."