Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Elsa Panciroli. Bloomsbury Sigma, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-472983-82-4
Panciroli, a research fellow at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, debuts with a fascinating survey of recent discoveries in evolution. Making use of findings from big data and CT scans of fossils, Panciroli explains how much of what’s generally believed about the origin of mammals has been wrong. Contrary to popular belief, she writes, mammals did not come into their own after the extinction of the dinosaurs—“they ‘ruled the Earth’ when dinosaurs weren’t even a twinkle in the planet’s eye”—and the notion that mammals that coexisted with T. rexes “merely scooted underfoot like terrified snacks” is “dead wrong.” Also, mammals didn’t evolve from reptiles, she writes, though they do share a common ancestor with them: amniote tetrapods, which were neither mammal nor reptile. Panciroli’s passion for her subject is palpable, and as she shares her globe-trotting finds, she argues that paleontology is more than a curiosity: it provides a framework for understanding “how life has responded to extinction events in the past, and most crucially, how it has recovered,” which is especially relevant in the face of climate change. Her eye-opening study offers just the right level of detail and plenty of wit. This impressive study hits the mark. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/24/2021
Release date: 09/07/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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