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Oceans of Kansas: A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea (Life of the Past) Hardcover – June 29, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


"... Oceans of Kansas remains the best and only book of its type currently available. Everhart's treatment of extinct marine reptiles synthesiszes source materials far more readably than any other recent, nontechnical book-length study of the subject.... Everhart is always headed somewhere, and the journey is informed by expertise..." ―Copeia

"... [The book] will be most useful to fossil collectors working in the local region and to historians of vertebrate paleontology.... Recommended." ―Choice

"Overall, at $39.95 for a hardback book, Everhart’s book is more than just a fun read. It is a reference book for the fauna of the Cretaceous and, for that reason, the price is a steal for the scientific information housed within these pages. The book also does a great job of delivering valuable, detailed information about the specimens... Many authors would probably skip some of these important details since they are very cumbersome to manage, but it is obvious to me that Everhart’s years of experience have taught him that sometimes the smallest detail can help another paleontologist now or perhaps even 100 years from now." ―Palaios

Despite its title, this book is not a general treatment of marine paleoenvironments in Kansas. It is a history of fossil recovery, particularly vertebrates, from the Smoky Hill Chalk, a geologic formation representing a five―million―year slice of time from the Late Cretaceous Period. Ten of the 13 chapters are devoted to specific groups of animals. Each starts with a short fictional day in the life vignette but discusses largely who found what types of fossils when in the Chalk. One may doubt that there is any better historical summary of the discovery of these fossils, but behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary aspects that might interest a wider audience only take center stage sporadically, e.g., in the chapters on mosasaurs and pteranodons. This book is partly biographical since Everhart (curator of paleontology, Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Hays, KS) is an accomplished fossil hunter. It will be most useful to fossil collectors working in the local region and to historians of vertebrate paleontology. The extensive use of anatomical terms without any general explanatory diagrams hinders access by nonspecialists at times. The 40 pages of references at the end likewise cater more to those with paleontological expertise than to a general readership. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper―division undergraduates through professionals.B. M. Simonson, Oberlin College, 2006jan CHOICE

"... excellent... Those who are interested in vertebrate palaeontology or in the scientific history of the American mid-west should really get a copy. You will not be disappointed!" ―PalArch's Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology

About the Author

Michael J. Everhart, Adjunct Curator of Paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas, is an expert on the Late Cretaceous of western Kansas. He is the creator of the award-winning "Oceans of Kansas" paleontology website at He lives in Derby, Kansas.


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Product Details

  • Series: Life of the Past
  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (June 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253345472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253345479
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael J. Everhart is a 1969 graduate of Wichita State University. After his military service (U.S. Army) he returned to Wichita State for his Masters Degree (1973). Mike has been an Adjunct Curator of Paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas since 1998.

Mike is an expert on Late Cretaceous marine fossils of central and western Kansas, and on the history of paleontology in Kansas. In addition, he has worked with the "T rex Sue" exhibition at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, and Exploration Place in Wichita. Mike was a contributor to the BBC documentary "Chased by Sea Monsters" and served as one of the senior science advisers on the 2007 National Geographic IMAX film, Sea Monsters. His work has been featured in five made for television videos on the History and Discovery channels.

Mike is the author of "Sea Monsters: Prehistoric Creatures of the Deep" (National Geographic, 2007) and "Oceans of Kansas - A Natural History of the Western Interior Sea" (Indiana University Press, 2005). The Sea Monsters book was awarded in 2008 by the American Library Association, and both titles were honored as Kansas Notable books. In addition, Mike has also written many papers describing the fossils of the Smoky Hill Chalk, including the 2005 naming of a new species of a marine reptile (mosasaur) from Kansas called Tylosaurus kansasensis. Most recently, Mike and co-author Alyssa Bell described two examples of the oldest bird fossils in North America, based on specimens that originated from Russell County, Kansas.

He is the creator and webmaster of the educational "Oceans of Kansas Paleontology" web site: which has been on the Internet since December, 1996. He served as an editor of the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science since 2006 and was President of the KAS in 2005.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Atheen on August 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found the description of this book intriguing and found it listed in a couple of different places, so I decided I was fated to read it. I wasn't disappointed either. Although in places the non-professional may find their eyes glazing, for the most part, it is full of interesting information on the faunal era of the Cretaceous Interior Sea of North America (roughly the entire Midwest from Northern Canada to the present Gulf of Mexico).

Particularly fascinating is Everhart's discussion of the famous fossil finders of Kansas: Professor Benjamin Mudge, the Sternberg family (George H., George M., and Charles H.), Theophilus Turner, and Samuel Williston, all of whom provided some of the earliest and finest material from this period now found in Eastern and European museums. Some of their finds formed the type basis of species and genus descriptions for the marine fauna of the age world wide.

Should anyone have the erroneous impression that scientists are totally objective and above petty squabbles, the author's frequent comments on the famous Cope and Marsh and their "bone wars," will totally disabuse you of the notion. Marsh from the Yale Peabody Museum and Cope from the Accademy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia conducted a personal battle to be the first to describe and name in print specimen arriving from the midwest that is virtually legendary in paleontology and geology departments. Both employed the local talent of Kansas to find suitable museum quality specimen for display. The 19th century seemed to have been the age of "collections" of every conceivable type. In an age before television and cinema, such collections drew large crowds, as P. T. Barnum's' menagerie of oddities illustrated.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By George Hanson on August 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Oceans of Kansas is an extremely well researched book. The author has been working in this field for a long time and his experience shows. I am pleased to review his book. I live in Kansas and I have been interested in this topic on an amateur basis. I have lived in other areas so I have been acquainted with other geological periods and other collections of fauna. I have seen many of the specimens that Michael Everhart discusses in his book. I have been to the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven several times and have seen Kansas fossils there. His insight into those specimens is enlightening.

The treatment of the topic within a chapter is progressive. The author starts with a short dramatization. He sets the stage and presents a description of the setting and environment that pertains to the creatures discussed within that chapter. The chapter on sea turtles follows this pattern, for example. Once the dramatic setting is presented, the author commences to add details about the creatures that are the subject of a given chapter. Details about the fossil specimens are then added. This information is extensive and thorough. The author presents these specimens within their historical and paleontological perspectives. Several important names recur throughout the book. These are historical names well known to readers in this subject area. The author, himself, is responsible for surprisingly many of the discoveries cited.

I was impressed by the scope of this book. Its breadth is great. The level of detail presented here is daunting. It takes careful reading to follow that level of detail though. This is a substantial book and should be a good addition to the library of anyone interested in this subject. Kansas readers should take pride in how important the findings that have taken place in Kansas have been to the understanding of this earlier time.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By mikeinLA on July 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is really a nice book. It is a throrough, comprehensive and up-to-date review of life in the interior sea - with chapters on sharks, fish, elasmosaurs, pliosaurs mosasaurs, and more. Unlike the other paleontology books I've ordered, including some from Indianna University Press, this one is not so technical as to alienate the casual reader - like myself. It's an interesting - and very enjoyable - way to learn about a scientific subject. I wish more of these books were written this way.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Noonan on November 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A fantastic story of what are now the Great Plains states, when they were covered by the Western Interior Seaway of the Late Cretaceous, some 65 to 90 or so million years ago. This book relates the fascinating expeditions of the great "bone hunters" during the early days of modern paleontology, when Kansas and other interior states were out in the comparative hinterlands, and the jouneys of these rugged individualists could occasionally be fraught with hardship. They were rewarded with an incredible array of some of the fabulous creatures of antiquity; giant mosasaurs, ancient turtles the size of automobiles, great flying reptiles, early toothed birds of the seas, and giant sharks, all found in the chalk beds that bear mute testimony to the existence of this ancient and wondrous place from a time out of mind.

The book is well illustrated, loads of pictures of the fossils in full reconstruction and disarticulated. The color plates by Dan Varner are maybe too few, but they're stunning, to say the very least.

The text may be a bit weighty for only the youngest of enthusiasts, but all others who have an interest in the great marine fossils of the Mesozoic should definitely get their hands on this book. I already consider it a classic; it really is that good.
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