The Last Days of the Dinosaurs by Riley Black [7/10]

Science writer Riley Black takes no prisoners in her barnstorming “The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction and the Beginning of Our World,” an exuberantly portrayed depiction of the “dinosaur extinction” event that took place around 66 million years ago when an asteroid eleven kilometers in size ploughed from space into Arizona. Using extravagant, lyrical prose that would not be out of place in a wild space opera sci-fi novel, she brings to life the panoply of lumbering beasts on land, in air, and undersea that dominated the planet, and then works forward from the point of impact in gradually escalating time shifts to indicate the workings of evolution in the aftermath, capturing the rise of birds (my particular interest) and pointing toward the advent of mammalian humans. This is a bold approach that eschews the usual academic cautiousness when dealing with the uncertainties of fossil evidence, but the author, at the end of her narrative, doubles back to explain the scientific underpinnings, including the necessary caveats. It is tough for the layperson to absorb the workings of deep time; The Last Days of the Dinosaurs enables just that, and in style.

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