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Your prehistoric safari guide
on July 30, 2009
In this book, Prof. Alan Turner and Mauricio Anton try to synthesize our understanding of Africa's natural history from the Miocene (approximately 35 million years ago) to the present. The book is unique in focusing on the entire continent as a source of mammalian evolution, rather than a particular species or ecosystem. It produces mixed results. Sometimes it becomes just a list of extant and extinct species. However, the last chapter synthesizes the story of African evolution quite well by showing the rise and fall of certain families of mammals.
What makes this book really useful though is the pictures of the extinct African mammals. A picture can be worth a thousand words, and Anton's pictures are certainly worth quite a bit. Each illustration starts with the underlying skeleton, then builds muscle and skin onto the fossil The final result gives the reader an idea of how prehistoric mammals differed from their modern counterparts. The drawings make it much easier to visualize the Miocene landscape. There are many color insets, but I only wish there were more.
While the book claims to be accessible to both lay and scientific readers, I suspect that it will be more useful to lay readers with some background in evolution or paleontology. Because of the book's broad scope, it cannot go into detail about the scientific method or interpreting fossils. Thus, lay readers might be puzzled when the authors start classifying mammals based on the number of toes or dental cusps they possess.
Ultimately, I think this book would be really helpful for anybody casually interested in paleontology who is going or has gone to Africa. I actually picked it up in preparation for a safari to Africa later this year. I found that understanding the evolution of everybody's favorite safari mammals really helps you appreciate them more, as well as appreciate the extinct animals you won't see out in the field.