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The Bone Museum:
Are birds descended from dinosaurs? The question has engaged natural historians and geologists for 200 years. Just when it seems settled by one generation, it's reopened by the next. That pattern promises to extend into the future, though the worldwide studies of Canadian palaeontologists offer hope of establishing, once and forever, that the theropods of old took to the skies--and flit among us today.
Grady's reportage on the results of their excavations is a pleasure to read, drawing on a vast range of references and travels to places including China, Patagonia, and Saskatchewan. The work of palaeontology itself, as he wryly notes, was nowhere near as pleasurable as the telling, for Grady and the scientists he accompanies spend most of their time in his book choking on dust and narrowly avoiding disaster on one remote road or another. When they are not doing so, they are engaged in formulating and testing hypotheses, practising science in the best tradition. As Grady writes, "Science is about accurate measurements, though percolated through time as groundwater sifts through layers of sand and rock, not conjectures bubbling up out of nowhere like hot springs."
But Grady's narrative is far from slow. Quite apart from describing the painstaking work of palaeontology, it touches on matters of pressing concern today--including the appalling number of species that, by the second, are being driven to extinction in a wave of death that rivals the one that closed the age of the dinosaurs. Drawing sobering connections between that era and our own, The Bone Museum will engage both readers interested in the distant past and those with a concern for contemporary environmental issues. --Gregory McNamee [via]