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Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet [Kindle Edition]

Donald R. Prothero
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Donald R. Prothero's science books combine leading research with first-person narratives of discovery, injecting warmth and familiarity into a profession that has much to offer nonspecialists. Bringing his trademark style and wit to an increasingly relevant subject of concern, Prothero links the climate changes that have occurred over the past 200 million years to their effects on plants and animals. In particular, he contrasts the extinctions that ended the Cretaceous period, which wiped out the dinosaurs, with those of the later Eocene and Oligocene epochs.

Prothero begins with the "greenhouse of the dinosaurs," the global-warming episode that dominated the Age of Dinosaurs and the early Age of Mammals. He describes the remarkable creatures that once populated the earth and draws on his experiences collecting fossils in the Big Badlands of South Dakota to sketch their world. Prothero then discusses the growth of the first Antarctic glaciers, which marked the Eocene-Oligocene transition, and shares his own anecdotes of excavations and controversies among colleagues that have shaped our understanding of the contemporary and prehistoric world.

The volume concludes with observations about Nisqually Glacier and other locations that show how global warming is happening much quicker than previously predicted, irrevocably changing the balance of the earth's thermostat. Engaging scientists and general readers alike, Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs connects events across thousands of millennia to make clear the human threat to natural climate change.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Prothero, a prolific paleontologist (From Greenhouse to Icehouse) at Occidental College, says the goal for his new book is simply to inject the human side of the profession into the story of the research topics he has worked on during his 40-year career—to show science as a human quest, not just dry conclusions. While the goal is admirable, the result is disappointing, largely because, unlike his previous books, this one doesn't have a central theme: it touches on a range of questions paleontologists have addressed and tentatively answered, such as how dinosaurs could have lived in the Earth's polar regions (as fossil evidence suggests). Prothero's constant shifting of focus makes it difficult to grasp all of the technical content, while the overwhelming minutiae he provides makes you feel like you are viewing an endless series of photographs from a friend's summer vacation. While small sections are powerful—such as a discussion of how global warming might paradoxically trigger the next ice age and do so incredibly rapidly—the book never gels into a coherent whole. Photos, illus. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Prothero has woven together a gripping tale that will fascinate readers with many levels of expertise.

(Fossil News)

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs should be on the suggested reading list for any undergraduate interested in pursuing paleontology, and as a paleobiological statement, shows that paleontology is more than (fossilized) sticks and stones.

(Geology Today 1900-01-00)

...this is a very enriching, stimulating, and, of course, enjoyable reading.

(Zentralblatt fur Geologie und Palaontologie 1900-01-00)

Product Details

  • File Size: 4724 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 1, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009G1SLQY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,376,749 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Dinosaurs done gone long ago October 4, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs is a meaningless title. The dinosaurs are long since gone and the major portion of this book deals with the dating of the dramatic change from the Eocene hot greenhouse earth to the cold Oligocene snow ball earth. A better title would be "Greenhouse after the Dinosaurs (and a clutter of other unrelated things)". This volume seems to have been written with no master plan or aim. It is a collection of after thoughts, anecdotes and dropped sections from the authors voluminous and generally top grade other writings. That is what is so frustrating in trying to review the present volume. Some sections are excellent and relevant to understanding questions of the day in evolutionary biology and paleogeology. These include one of the best discussions yet of "Punk Eek" puctuated equilibrium and it's tremendous effect on evolutionary theory today, plus a meaningful and incisive examination of the events in the "last days" of the dinosaurs and the impact of the bolide out of the sky on the Cretaceous Tertiary Extiction, together with a fine and comprehensible presentation on the revolution in classic taxonomic methodologies brought about by the "invasion" of the standard historic principles by the new field of cladistics. All these sections are presented with a history of the individuals involved, "the Young Turks vs. the Old Guard", the personalities of the players often with the authors personal obervations. There is so much good information and insightful observation here that makes the book worthwhile reading through more than once. But there is also a lot of clutter; the search for paleomagnetic dates and who made the coffee on that trip gets to be a little tedious. This along with other side issues seems like deliberate filler. Yes but --I'm glad I have the scholarly volume warts and all.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pop science with teeth! August 14, 2009
Prothero has done it again - by adding personal stories, opinions, and photos, he takes a comprehensive discussion of the science around climate change & extinction and makes it fun to read! I must disclose that Don is a personal friend of mine, and I was lucky enough to work with him in the field several summers collecting paleomag samples. I can say that Don's style, which is so well characterized in his book, is what got me into geology as a profession.

Don's encyclopedic knowledge of his subjects lets him show how a topic is connected to other topics, and throw in the spice of "behind the scenes" trivia as well. I never fail to be amused (and a little horrified) at how the insanely competitive personalities of the early 20th-century fossil collectors in the western US defined paleontological study for the rest of the century! But Prothero never leaves you scratching your head; his explanations are clear, and include the actual data needed to draw conclusions (my pet peeve with many pop-science books these days.)

One thing Don makes clear is that science can be messy, and our understanding of past extinction & climate change episodes is far from complete. What we do know, however, is critical for confronting the human-induced warming we are experiencing now on planet Earth.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A View Into the Past and Paleontology July 9, 2009
During the first Congressional hearing on the IPCC report on human-induced climate change in 2007 Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher floated a rather unusual idea. Citing warmer global climates of the distant past, like that which dominated the Eocene about 56 to 34 million years ago, Rohrbacher implied that the current warming trend was just the symptom of a natural phenomenon. If past warming events were triggered by unknown causes, Rohrabacher suggested "dinosaur farts" as the cause of the Eocene hothouse, then perhaps present rises in temperatures had nothing at all to do with human activities.

For years anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming critics have claimed that what we are going through now is just part of a cycle that has been going on for millions of years. It's not our fault and there's nothing we can do to stop it, they say, so we might as well kick back with some umbrella drinks and enjoy the endless summer. This logic might comfort politicians with oil company money lining their pockets, but it just isn't so. As paleontologist Donald Prothero points out in his forthcoming book (due out in late June), Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs, studying the climates of the past only bolsters the case that humans are altering the global environment in dramatic ways.

As the old uniformitarian saying goes "The present is the key to the past", but the converse is also true. By studying ancient climates and environments we can learn something about how the gases in the atmosphere, the constant shifting of the continents, and the paths of ocean currents influence the atmosphere.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Details of Fossil Dating August 9, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The title is probably too "pop" for a book that treats fossils and magnetic dating in such detail. But I was able to follow along as a mechanical engineer, the sure sign of good authorship when a nonspecialist understands the topic afterwards. The description of a much warmer world where the poles were tropical was especially good -- I did not realize that the equatorial regions were not much hotter and had never considered that it was still dark for 6 months above the Arctic Circle. It was also surprising to find out that there is not universal agreement that an impact caused the instantaneous extinction of all the dinosaurs. Is this similar to the "unanimous" scientific agreement that global warming is a dire immediate threat?
The final chapter on the climate change "emergency" was unconvincing. The author just spent a whole book convincing us that for much of its history the Earth was naturally warmer and the atmosphere sometimes contained ten times the CO2 it does now. Natural changes in the orbit and inclination of Earth and continental drift have plunged us into ice ages far more challenging to life than anything contemplated by melting even all the existing ice caps. So how is it that a scientist so well educated in the long history of the planet can underestimate human adaptability and overestimate our power over nature so much?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational
My son and I chose this book because it was recommended to my 10-year-old son by a classmate. he has been engrossed in it since we received it!
Published 23 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Scenes Look and More
A very different book then I expected. Based on the title I had thought the focus was simply going to be ancient climate; however, I found myself on a ride through that topic as... Read more
Published on May 7, 2012 by Joseph Iacovino
4.0 out of 5 stars A romp through a career in paleontology!
I greatly enjoyed learning about the author's career in paleontology from when he first started in the 70's leading up to his current and ongoing work. Read more
Published on April 26, 2011 by CranesNotSkyHooks
5.0 out of 5 stars rather stunning
Ok, you may be saying, same last name. Suspicious. Yes, Don is my older brother and I got this for a Christmas present. Read more
Published on February 13, 2010 by James Prothero
5.0 out of 5 stars Climatic changes over time...understanding the process
First off, I truly enjoyed this book from a paleontological point of view and as one who enjoys reading of the history and experiences of other paleontologists - especially of... Read more
Published on December 15, 2009 by CLG
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent from several perspectives
This book is a fascinating update of North American paleontology, with a clear overview of paleoclimatology with lucid presentation of some of the inherent controversies given our... Read more
Published on November 9, 2009 by J. Morris
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More About the Author

Donald R. Prothero has taught geology for over 33 years as Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and currently at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 33 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and three trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

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