* Prices may differ from that shown
The title on this books sums up quite nicely what I was thinking over and over when watching the BBC series with my sons. Every now and then even my son would chime in with the exact same thing I was thinking - "How do they know.....?" So when I noticed this for sale on Amazon at a very reasonable price (£2.15 used with free delivery) I decided to give it a try.
The Amazon blurb on this book suggest this as the perfect book to keep your children occupied. In all honesty, I would not class this as a children's book - at least not unless you are considering for much older children. I tend to think of children's books as being primarily for primary age children, and books for teenagers as young adult books. I suggested this to dooyoo as adult non fiction, a category which I feel is far more appropriate to the book. Amazon themself list it as both a child's book and as an adult science and nature book. I have more dinosaur books than I care to count, and this is the only book I have classed as an adult's book - although many are suitable for all ages. I wasn't really expecting a child's book - despite the blurb - I often wonder if the person writing these actually reads the books first - so I wasn't dissapointed, but I do feel the average 5 -8 year old dinosaur would be very dissapointed by this book.
I have classed this primarily as an adult book, in large part due to the amount of text in relation to photos. there are some lovely photographs, but there are also a number of text only pages. I would also point out that the language in the book appears to be addressing an older reader with phrases like : " projections above the main body of the vertebrae, called zygapophyes". I believe my son is fairly advanced in reading at age 7, but there is no way he would be able to read and comprehend this on his own. If this book is purchased for children - it will not meet Amazon's claim "your kids should stay quiet and contented well into Boxing Day". Instead it will require a parent reading and explaining things, and even at that This was to adult for my children ages 4 and 7. Instead I read the book myself and showed them the pictures, and summarised a few facts for them.
But while I would rate this book as failure for a children's book, it is a very enjoyable read for an adult. I do realise some adults have outgrown dinosaurs - but I haven't. If you know a teenager or adult with an interest in natural history or paleontology, then this would make an excellent gift. I enjoyed it very much myself - even if it did not answer all of my questions in the way I wanted them answered. My biggest question from the series regarded the Cynodonts. Specifically - I wanted to know how the creators of this programme knew that these "proto mammals" produced milk to feed their young. In short they didn't. They have no evidence whatsover except the fact that platypus and echidna nurse their young, so they made a wild guess here.
This is not the only place the producers made some pretty wild leaps of faith based on guesswork, but fair enough, there is so much about dinosaurs we will never know. There is no way we can know the colouration of any of these creatures, instead scientists make guesses based on the colouration of modern animals. The same holds true for most theories on animal behaviour. Where there is fossil evidence to support a theory, such as the finding of the bones of an adult curled up beside a young animal then this is noted. And in one case where fossil evidence later contradicted the earlier theories used in the production of the show, this is noted as well. I did like this about the book - it gives both the book and the series more credibility. The producers are not presenting the series as absolute fact - only as a set of theories and impressions based on the the prevailing scientific theories of the time. If we limited to only what we could prove, we would have little more than dry bones and fossils. The BBC has used scientific theory, state of the arts computers, and most importantly the human imagination to bring these creatures to life.
I was surprised to learn that the size given in the series for Lipluerodon in the series is hotly disputed, and there is very little evidence to support this, but at least they have been quite honest is stating that no paleontologists believe the animal could have reached such immense proportions. The fossil evidence shows creatures of 5 -10 meters where some incomplete skeletons suggest a possible length of 17 - 20 meters in one case but it is unknown whether these skeletal fragments are even actually from liopleurodon. The BBC is simply taking the position that only a small amount of bones exist in comparison to the amount of creatures - and so it is quite possible that a much large one existed at some time.
I was also hoping for significantly more information of the idea of feathered dinosaurs. Instead the only information here is the same bit I have read over and over about a couple of discoveries in China of very small animals. The reason for this is simple though - there have not been any supporting discoveries to date - so there is no further evidence. It is still a widely held theory at this time and so was included with some of the animals in the series, especially ones where some dimpling has been observed in skin casts.
Although this book did not answer all of my questions - it did answer many - and some times just explaining that we really don't know is as good as one can get. I did especially love the fact that they had some very well presented evidence to support the idea that some dinosaurs were warm blooded though, and I enjoyed reading evidence supporting the theory that the large carnivores may have remained together in family groups as well.
This book clearly explains where they were following well established fossil evidence, and where they have had to employ more guesswork - so if like me - you watched this show wondering how much was established fact and how much involved guesswork - you are certain to really enjoy this book. And in the areas where the fossil evidence does exist this is fascinating as well. I think most adults will learn quite a bit from this book - and if you happen to have dinosaur mad children you can share what you learn with them.
I considered knocking one star off this book because it doesn't live up to Amazons claims., but then I decided the authors of this book have not made these claims themselves. This is an excellent well written piece for the older reader, and the perfect companion to the series. If you know anyone who really loved the BBC programme then this would make a perfect Christmas and at just over £2 it certainly will not break the bank.
**** Update : Since writing this review I have become aware of a groundbeaking new fossil discovery made only this year. A much larger feathered dinosaur has been found in China - and more smaller ones have been found since publication of this book as well. Of course none of this could be mentioned in the book - but these more recent discoveries do support the theory of feathered dinosaurs.