The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction
by Robert T. Bakker
The best book about dinosaurs I've come across. Eccentric paleontologist Bakker deconstructs common misconceptions about the extinct animals and gives a coherent picture of the dinosaurs' physiology and lifestyle, explaining how they were able to dominate the Earth's surface for so many millions of years against the competitive pressure of mammals.
Dinosaurs were warm-blooded, Bakker tells us. This might be conventional wisdom today, but the average reader in 1986 still pictured them as sluggish reptiles. Their skeletal structure, feeding habits, predator-to-prey ratios, and properties of the bones themselves are given as evidence to support the (then) radical thesis. Near the end of his book, the author goes so far as to call for reclassification of Dinosauria as a class of its own, rather than place dinosaurian Orders Saurischia and Ornithischia within Class Reptilia. Here we are nearly two decades later, though, and dinosaurs are still considered reptiles.
Bakker's prose is lucid and engaging, resorting to jargon only when compelled by absolute necessity. He succeeds in holding the reader's attention without sacrificing facts or scientific perspective. The illustrations really make this book stand out, though. Bakker is every bit as skilled an artist as a writer, and all the drawings and figures are his own work. His vivid (and often whimsical) drawings portray dinosaurs "in action" and illustrate anatomical structure and function, as well as paths of evolution, with admirable clarity.
While maintaining his focus on the dinosaurs themselves, Bakker brings birds, mammals, and reptiles into discussion, and explains relevant concepts of geology and mechanics wherever appropriate to the theme he's developing. His explanation of the dinosaurs' extinction is an unusual one; he suggests that the rising and falling of sea level was responsible for most extinctions as species could cross formerly water-covered regions and disrupt previously isolated ecosystems. Even if an asteroid strike did provide the final death-blow to the dinosaurs, they were already well on their way to demise.