This is a new and refreshing look at paleontology. While the book is nominally about turning a bird into a dinosaur, it is really about exciting new developments in paleontology. Horner shows how paleontology is expanding beyond digging for dinosaurs and moving into molecular biology and evolutionary development (evo-devo). Horner weaves several different fields of biology and shows how inter-disciplinary studies have revolutionized the field. He chronicles the work of Mary Schweitzer, who discovered red blood cells and (perhaps) cartilage in a 68-million year old T-rex, and Hans Larson, who is investigating ancestral genes in chicken embryos. I had followed news from paleontology relatively closely for a lay observer, but even I was shocked at some of the evo-devo research currently being done.
Hopefully, this book will inspire more students to go into biology. Turning a chicken into a dinosaur might be just the right hook to stimulate interest in these exciting new developments in evo-devo.
My one suggestion for the book is that because it covers so many fields, Horner ends up summarizing or quoting the works of others. He tells their stories effectively. But at some point, I wonder if perhaps it would have been better to produce a joint book, with articles from several of the contributors in the field. However, it is also useful to have one voice to guide the reader through the science. Since Horner is not a native to molecular sciences (his expertise is traditional paleontology), he is perhaps better suited to explaining the complexities of genetics to lay readers.
P.S. - Be sure to check out the Discovery Channel's documentary (
Dinosaurs: Return To Life?
) on this topic. It is a nice complement to the book.