Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds by science writer John Pickrell is coming out in December. As you know I’ve written a lot about the bird-dinosaur thing (most recently, this: “Honey I Shrunk the Dinosaurs“) so of course this sounded very interesting to me. In a way, Pickrell’s book is a missing link, in that he writes a lot about the history of paleontology associated with the discovery, undiscovery, and rediscovery of the early bird record and the dinosaur link.
Birds have rewritten dinosaurs. Not all dinosaurs are directly related to birds, but a large number of them are, and the features we reconstruct for them were once based on lizards, because it was thought dinosaurs were big scary lizards. Now we know many dinosaurs were big scary birds. Feathers are today a bird thing, but back in olden times — very olden times — they were probably just the normal covering for this entire category of dinosaurs (though they may have been very different). Dinosaurs were once thought of as greyish lumbering terrifying beasts. We now see them as highly active, aerobically efficient, socially dynamic, sexy (as in they had a lot of secondary sexual characteristics such as bright colors) terrifying beasts.
Pickrell covers the history of changing thought on dinosaurs and the bird-dinosaur link. In a way , this book is about dinosaurs, focusing primarily on the bird kind. Or, it is a book about birds, focusing on their dinosaur-osity. Pickrell also goes into detail on the behavioral biology of dinosaurs reinterpreted in the context of birds.
Pickrell’s book is well written and accessible, and thus is an excellent companion to the more scholarly literature that I know you all follow.
John Pickrell is an award-winning science writer and the editor of Australian Geographic magazine. He has written for New Scientist, Science, Science News, and Cosmos, and won man awards.