2013 · 3 stars · non-fiction

Non-fiction alert! My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek

Title: My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs
Author: Brian Switek (twitter)
Pub. Date: April 16, 2013
Source: Publisher
Summary: Dinosaurs, with their awe-inspiring size, terrifying claws and teeth, and otherworldly abilities, occupy a sacred place in our childhoods. They loom over museum halls, thunder through movies, and are a fundamental part of our collective imagination. In My Beloved Brontosaurus, the dinosaur fanatic Brian Switek enriches the childlike sense of wonder these amazing creatures instill in us. Investigating the latest discoveries in paleontology, he breathes new life into old bones.
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Rating: star-half-64

Let’s face it: dinosaurs have been culturally demarcated as kitschy kid stuff – triggers for nostalgia and ironic whimsy, but not a subject to take seriously.

Unfortunately, Mr. Switek isn’t wrong. A fascination with dinosaurs is practically a rite of passage for children – I know I certainly spent the better part of my childhood obsessing over prehistoric creatures. That same fascination as an adult, however, seems to be frowned upon and shamed. Switek himself mentions these dinosaur-loving adults are seen as little more than oversized children playing in the dirt.

With My Beloved Brontosaurus, Switek sheds light on the world of paleontology and shows just how serious these scientists are.

“Brontosaurus” as I knew the beast – a hulking pile of flesh and bone that bathed in Jurassic swamps – never actually existed. Almost everything about the monstrous creature – its lifestyle, its skull, and, most regrettably, its name – were human inventions drawn from prehistoric skeletons that actually supported a different form. I had been fooled! The dinosaur I met was a petrified museum zombie, shuffling on even though scientists had shot it down decades before.

Brontosaurus, T. rex, Triceratops. All dinosaurs we fondly remember, right? I, for one, remember that dark day when I learned Brontosaurus was the dinosaur that never was: an error in labeling and classifying fossils led to this hulking beast being declared its own species, when in fact, it was an Apatosaurus all along. Switek also felt a loss and openly discusses his feelings regarding one of the most beloved dinosaurs.

At only 200 pages, My Beloved Brontosaurus is a lovely, bite-size bit of pop-science. Each chapter is dedicated to a different mystery surrounding dinosaurs: what color they were, their feathers, how they mated (cue much immature giggling on my end), what they sounded like, just how the extinction came about. Despite an abundance of scientific info and terminology, Switek has the ability to write in a way that I never felt lost or confused. I didn’t feel in over my head and I’m sure that aspect alone will appeal to many people.

Throughout the book I learned SO much! Things I had never even considered were suddenly brought to the forefront and I was thrilled. While I had been aware of certain dinosaurs having feathers – I’m looking at you, Mr. Velociraptor – I was shocked to learn that it’s now speculated that the majority of dinosaurs had at least a coating of fuzz. Sit back and conjure up an image of a fuzzy Tyrannosaurus charging at you.

When I finished My Beloved Brontosaurus I was overwhelmed by the thought of just how little is known about these creatures and their time on earth. So many significant discoveries were made in just the past two years alone! Scientists have begun testing fossils to determine dinosaurs’ coloring and those images we’re all familiar with? It’s now known that those dinosaurs were juveniles . From birth to death, dinosaurs changed so rapidly that what were originally thought to be completely separate species are now thought to be one and the same. Torosaurus, for example, is now being proposed as the fully formed, mature Triceratops.

Interspersed with many Jurassic Park scenes (in which Switek deftly separates fact from fiction), as well as a Star Wars moment or two, My Beloved Brontosaurus is a wonderfully smart book that can be easily digested with only a bare minimum of previous dinosaurs knowledge – in fact, I think Switek would prefer the reader NOT to have those false, preconceived beliefs. No longer are dinosaurs slow-moving, dim-witted mountains of flesh. Make way for a new breed of creature: agile, smart, capable of tracking prey. I’m pleased to say the age of the dinosaur is back.

An added bonus is the SUPER AWESOME dusk jacket! It unfolds to become a poster!
dustjacketposter

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4 thoughts on “Non-fiction alert! My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek

  1. This sounds like my kind of book! I remember having a book about dinosaurs when I was much younger (rite of passage indeed!). I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for this one at the store.

    Oh, and I had a talk before with my dino-loving about the Brontosaurus-turned-Apatosaurus. It got heated and emotional.

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