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Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Comets, Craters, Controversy, and the Last Days of the Dinosaurs

4.5 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156007030
ISBN-10: 0156007037
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Powell is the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and taught geology at Oberlin College for 20 years. In 1980, a physicist father and his geologist son rocked the scientific world by their proposed theory that dinosaurs became extinct because of an impact by an asteroid or comet. Powell recounts the bitter debates over Luis and Walter Alvarez's idea and years of intense research that followed, culminating in the discovery of a gigantic crater deeply buried in the Yucatan Peninsula, which seemed to prove the probability that science and evolution are punctuated by random events. The author's presentation of the dramatic events surrounding the controversy, the bitter refutations, and, finally, acceptance of the Alvarez theory is fascinating by itself. But Powell also examines the equally interesting factors that inhibit science from making paradigm shifts. Some formulas and terminology are designed for specialists in the field, but the overall content here is geared to general readers and is utterly engrossing. [Interested readers may also want Walter Alvarez's own account, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, LJ 6/15/97.?Ed.]?Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., M.
-?Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., MO
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Scientific American

Powell lays out persuasively the evidence that has accumulated to give force to the Alvarez theory. He also maintains that the impact theory has transformed geology. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (September 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156007037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156007030
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,101,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
James Lawrence Powell's book is a scientific detective story that meticulously, exhaustively, and painstakingly lays out his case for why he thinks the dinosaurs got wiped out by a meteorite impact. And Powell makes his case by combining such disciplines as geology, paleontology, chemistry, ecology, astronomy, and biology.
Although many scientists still think the meteor impact theory is "controversial," Powell's diligent research makes his conclusion appear certain. He convinced me!
But scientists are human, too, and Powell's book recounts how some scientists rejected this theory so strenuously that they lost their sense of proportion, particularly geophysicist Charles Officer.
On pages 216-217, Powell asks, "How far will scientists on the losing end of an argument go? They employ a set of stratagems that seem hauntingly familiar; they are the very ploys used by creationists and others who have no platform or logic."
The following examples paraphrase Powell's findings against Charles Officer:
1. Officer's confident assertion: "There IS no evidence for a meteor impact at the KT boundary." 2. His straw men: "Nobody has found big dinosaur piles." 3. His red herrings: "There are similarities between livestock fatalities and dinosaur extinctions." 4. His plea for equal time: "The journal Science published eleven favorable impact articles, but only two against." 5. His blame of the media: "The Earth science community is biased." 6. His impugned motives: "Scientists fabricate theories and evidence." 7. His false alarms: "The meteor impact theory is pathological and dangerous!
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Format: Hardcover
This well-written book provides a complete and interesting account of how a brilliant and insightful father-son team scratched their heads, followed their instincts, and opened up a new window of understanding on the processes that have shaped the geological and biological history of the planet. The science itself is well-conveyed. Even the nonscientist will follow the compelling evidence that a large impact occured 65 million years ago in what is now the Yucatan. An impact of this magnitude would lead to such global devastation of the ecosystem that extinction of most forms of terrestrial life would seem an inevitable outcome. The disappearance of the dinosaurs during this same geological blink of an eye, after a reign of over 150 million years, is not plausibly coincidental.
While the science in the book is fascinating, the work is most significant for the insight that it provides into the process of the scientific enterprise. In art, music, and literature, value is fundamentally a matter of taste. In science, on the other hand, nature has the final say as to the ultimate value of an idea. A "more correct" idea should eventually win out over a "less correct" idea, regardless of the prejudices of the people involved. "Night Comes to the Cretaceous" is a testament to that process. The book tells the tale of how an originally unlikely idea successfully faced the challenges of experiment and observation, and in the process displaced scientific orthodoxy. It also tells the very human story of how honest, healthy skepticism on the part of a number of established scientists gradually became instead the unreasoned and sometimes vindictive attacks of those who had been left behind by the advance of knowledge.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't find this book to be a very good review of the dinosaurs-vs-meteorite controversy. The narrative is clear and captivating, and account of the several open (or closed!) disputes, rooted in disparate fields of Earth sciences, is made accessible to the layreader or those with just a modest background in natural sciences. Nevertheless Powell holds a one-sided approach right from the beginning, pointlessly crusading against some supposedly backward attitude in geologists and paleontologists that actually never was, except for a very few unfortunate cases. Everyone agrees on evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 65 million years ago, but the main issue is presently whether that was the cause of the mass extinction or other earth-bound factors played a role. Powell leaves no room for such developments. In particular, I'd have two main objections to specific cases presented in the book: 1)On pages 172-174 taxonomic analysis of dinosaur diversity in the highest stratigraphic stages of the Cretaceous in Montana is reported as evidence in favour of a sudden crisis of the original ecosystem. Pete Sheehan and co-workers carried on their studies at the taxonomic rank of families, which resulted numerically stable with time approaching the K-T boundary. Only, John Horner recently reviewed their work at a species level, likely to be statistically and biologically more reliable indicator of biodiversity, and found out a steady decrease of dinosaur types through time. Such reconsideration of Sheehan's research thus reverses evidence against the impact hypothesis! 2) The section "Did impact cause all extinctions?Read more ›
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