The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte
The more we read about Skye the more one name kept popping up: Dugald Ross. It wasn't a name I was familiar with. He wasn't a paleontologist or a geologist or a scientist of any kind. Yet he'd discovered and described many of the dinosaur fossils found on Skye. Dugald was a local boy who grew up in the tiny hamlet of Ellishadder on the far north eastern arm of the island... He was raised in a household that spoke Gaelic. When Dugald was fifteen years old he found a cache of arrow points and bronze age artifacts near his family's home, and this sparked an obsession with the history of his native island.
He explained how he had taken the ruins of a one-room schoolhouse and built... the Staffin Museum. He founded the museum when he was nineteen. Today, this single room contains many of the dinosaurs he's found on Skye along with artifacts that trace the history of the island's human inhabitants. It's a surreal experience: big dinosaur bones and footprints displayed next to old mill wheels, iron rods for picking turnips, and antique mole traps once used by highland farmers.
This book is as much a memoir of Steve Brusatte's journey from nerdy teenager to international paleontologist (with dozens of stories about the people he's met) as it is a page-turner history of the dinosaurs. I especially enjoyed reading about how Brusatte called Paul Serano, one of North America's most prestigious paleontology professors and chatted to him about the Cretaceous extinction.
As well as straightening out which dinosaurs lived when and where, this is the sort of book that gives you a fascination for it's subject. Did you know that most dinosaurs had feathers? Or that a T-Rex had eyeballs as big as cantaloupe melons? I can also tell you that dinosaurs have unidirectional lungs, like birds, and that a T-Rex was probably about as smart as a chimp.
He's not Stephen Jay Gould or Bill Bryson, but he is amazingly well-informed, captivating, and so enthusiastic I still want to know more about dinosaurs. I look forward to any other books he will write.