Monday, 5 July 2010

The Late, Late Book Review


This review of Tyrannosaurus rex: The Tyrant King was originally written at the back end of 2008 but I never published it. But now, having received a few enquiries about the viability of the book, I’ve decided to share it. Remember, that this is simply my own personal review, and there is no substitute for reading it yourself. Your glass will either be half full or half empty at the end of it!

With more than one reference to this book in a few threads and, since I’ve just finished reading it, I thought I’d make a few comments of review.

Firstly, as is often the case with books of this nature, it depends on your level of understanding as to whether this book is suitable for you. If you think this is an “everything you wanted to know about T.rex but were afraid to ask” then you will be somewhat disappointed. It isn’t. Rather it is a collection of the most up to date chapters /papers that deal with selected anatomical slices of this magnificent tyrannosaur as well as the ecological niche it filled and the palaeoenvironment it lived in.

The book itself consists of twenty one chapters and, naturally enough, I found some of great interest and a few somewhat routine. That isn’t a slight on their content as such, rather, they just weren’t that interesting to me personally. The very first chapter, however, by Neal Larson, is a complete listing of T.rex skeletons (at time of publication) including location of discovery, stratigraphical data, skeletal remains and completeness etc etc and is a very, very useful reference document.

Peter Larson’s work on variation and sexual dimorphism is very interesting and, on the face of it, it does seem likely that the female of the species was bigger but, as usual, tyrannosaurid splitting at a taxanomic level can pose the odd question or two.

I’m not too sure what to make of Lockley et als’ holistic work with regards to T.rex’s forelimbs. It seems to be some form of “reverse” chaos theory and, despite reading the chapter twice, I was perplexed by their apparent continual contradiction of themselves. Or maybe I just didn’t understand it.

Lipkin and Carpenter’s work on the same subject was much more like it and I was particularly interested in their take on the functional morphology of the furcula and their overall analysis of the biomechanical function of the entire forearm. Good stuff.

The next few chapters concerned the tyrannosaur at rest, its possible speed and an atlas of the skull bones. All useful papers although Phil Manning’s speed chapter, although extraordinarily thorough, was hard work but the skull atlas, by Pete Larson, is another handy reference document.

Both Hans Larsson and Ralph Molnars’ papers on palatal kinesis and jaw musculature respectively, represent good solid, albeit unspectacular, work and go rather nicely together.

Molnar, again, and Bruce Rothschild’s work on tyrannosaur pathologies I really enjoyed. For me this is the meat and drink of tyrannosaurid investigative science. This chapter brings to the fore what it meant to be a tyrannosaur in life. Fractures, infection and bite marks are just a few of the injuries highlighted. Sue had such a torturous forty years!

I have to say that I am big fan of Greg Paul and I was always going to like his chapter. His work on the lifestyle and habits of T.rex is written with a style that takes you back to the days of Bakker and the dinosaur renaissance. Paul takes no prisoners and makes it quite clear that rex was an agile, quick, active hunter at the peak of its tyrannosaurid power and it’s hard not to agree with him when he writes as passionately as this.

Happ’s work on the much talked about Triceratops skull that shows evidence of tyrannosaurid aggression puts to bed, once and for all, the question as to whether these two famous dinosaurs “inter-acted”. They most certainly did. Of course the question then becomes whether the tyrannosaur was attacking the trike for predation purposes or maybe, as already intimated, the ceratopsian was seeing him off. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Tom Holtz then proceeds to debunk the scavenging theory piece by piece but does so in a very matter-of-fact way by arguing that, not by simply rejecting certain points out of hand, but rather by showing that whatever argument put forward to support a scavenging lifestyle can equally be used to support hunting tyrannosaurs. I was particularly impressed by his comparative ratio analyses of the hind limb proportions of the tyrannosaur and his arguments regarding their incrassate teeth are compelling.

Overall the book feels like a missed opportunity and would have benefited from a more comprehensive approach as I did feel that there was much more that could have been featured. Is it worth buying? Absolutely but it is more of an additional volume to the overall library on the subject of T.rex and is definitely not the definitive volume with regards to this fantastic animal.

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