My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)
First, I have to confess that this is not really a review. It’s mostly a chance for me to visit one of my favorite topics. I have been fascinated by dinosaurs for a very, very long time. As I read My Beloved Brontosaurus, my fingers began to itch for the feel of my old plastic toys, the ones that roared through my childhood and paced across my shelves. They are (and were at the time) scientifically inaccurate. However, they were (and still are) great fun.
Unlike my battered collection of mismatched toys, My Beloved Brontosaurus is equal parts good science and good fun. Much of it is a journey through paleontology’s growing pains, exploring name changes, skeletal puzzles, and feather mysteries. Chapter by chapter, the book details how Brontosaurus became Apatosaurus, how the upright posture that once defined a dinosaur was discovered in non-dinosaurs from the same time period, and how evidence hints that many dinosaurs had feathers or protofeathers (sometimes referred to as dinofuzz.)
My Beloved Brontosaurus is the most fun I’ve had with dinosaurs in years. Not only is the science interesting, the book strikes resonant chords in each chapter with elements of memoir, personal essay, and travel writing. As I turned the last page, I was filled with a deep yearning to pack a bag and head off on a multi-state museum tour. A few minutes later, coming to my senses and realizing that travel is not my favorite way to spend time, I headed off to the attic in search of a dusty box full of memories.
(I don’t know how the woolly mammoth [definitely not a dinosaur] made it into this batch of plastic dinosaurs. Nor the sail-backed Dimetrodon. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I found a blog post, yesterday, explaining how “Dimetrodon is #notadinosaur”.)
Since I started this post with a confession, it seems appropriate to end with one. I don’t remember some of these dinosaurs. They mysteriously appeared in my collection when Mother mailed off several boxes of old toys as she attempted to de-clutter her house. I can’t say with certainty which of the dinosaurs were mine and which ones became mine as Mother packed the boxes, but I’m happy to claim them all now.
(As an aside, it’s somehow logical to me that cats might have had something to do with most of history’s extinction crises.)