One does not need to be addicted to dinosaurs to be able to appreciate from Dr. Robert T. Bakker’s ‘Dinosaur Heresies’. Anyone can enjoy this book and gain something from reading it. This book shows why Bakker is one of the top paleontologist of his time and also explained why some of his colleagues are irritated by his theories. The observations he lays on this book will challenge some views held by either his colleagues or the rest of us.
Dinosaur Heresies basically talks about the errors in scientific understanding of dinosaurs. His thesis in The Dinosaur Heresies is that the generally accepted view of dinosaurs is that they are cold blooded, reptilian dullards and an evolutionary dead end. Bakker pointed out that this concept is wrong. As a matter of fact, dinosaurs were one of the most successful groups of land animals in history. The same way that mammals are warmblooded and active today.
To many, this seemed a new, radical idea. But Bakker quickly states that this is not a new idea at all. As a matter of fact, it was the most accepted view from the time the dinosaurs were first discovered until the 1920’s. This correct view however was replaced in the succeeding years particularly around 1920’s to the 1960’s by the foolish view that the dinosaurs were somewhat of a failure. Bakker did not try to explain how this erroneous idea evolved through the years. His focus on this book is primarily centered on the case for his theory of warmblooded dinosaurs rather than discuss the history of dinosaur paleontology.
In the book, Bakker presents his ideas in a clear, methodological method. He first examines the generally accepted theories and concepts to be able to show where its deficiencies are, and to show some evidence against the theory. Bakker does this by not just pointing out the characteristics in the dinosaurs themselves, but also looking at reptiles that are alive today. He compared the dinosaurs to the present-day reptiles and show us where they differe to each other.
After he showed us that the old theories about dinosaurs have serious flaws, he then proceed to show where dinosaurs lived in the past and what they lived on. This is again to show, in great details, the mistakes in the cold blooded theory and the idea that plant eaters like Brontosaurus ate mushy waterplants to be alive. The fact that dinosaurs ate in order to live that proves that if dinosaurs were coldblooded, they would not have needed food as much as warmblooded animals do; Bakker shows that dinosaurs could eat and probably did eat as much as mammals similar to their size do.
He then goes on to explain how the dinosaurs moved and lived. He also examined the relationship between plant eaters and predators. He also pointed out how an arms race erupted a number of times in dinosaur history between armored plant eaters and the very nasty predators. The plant eaters depended heavily on an active, warmblood style of defense instead of the coldblooded “wait it out” defense. In this part of the book Bakker made a controversial claim that there is a possibility that one kind of dinosaurs never died out.
Bakker also looks at the direct evidence for warmbloodedness in dinosaurs by looking at their sex lives, also by their fast rates of growth from hatchling or newborn dinobaby to adult size and the ratio of predators to prey, all of these shows that dinosaurs were indeed warmblooded.
Finally, Bakker puts dinosaurs into their new context, quickly sketching their rise and fall, with the interesting thing being that he does not believe in the idea that the dinosaurs died out due to a meteor impact, an idea that has been largely confirmed since then. He ends the book by argueing that dinosaurs deserve to be taken out of the class Reptilia and there should be a new class created just for them, Dinosauria, with birds as one branch of it, which are the sole surviving dinosaurs.
What The Dinosaur Heresies expounds in the book has now become the new orthodox view of dinosaurs and newer, more up to date books are pushing this view similar to Bakker’s. This book laid the foundation for this revolution in concepts of dinosaur paleontology. Most of the views it holds is still largely correct and it is highly readable and clear. You feel smarter for having read it. And the illustrations, all done by Bakker himself, both proper drawings and sketches showed some incredibly cute looking dinosaurs are very appropriate for the book.
Some of the science in it is subject to debate; but the enthusiasm with which the book is written is infectious. Bakker clearly love discussing all things pertaining to dinosaurs. It jumps around cheerfully from subject to subject, talking about subjects pertaining to dinosaurs such as anatomy, physiology, extinction and much more. The prose is easy to read and very interesting, and Bakker’s own beautiful black-and-white illustrations make it all the more understandable which capture his vision of fast, powerful, active dinosaurs.
Bakker knows that challenging generally accepted ideas requires innovative thinking backed by solid evidence. It’s probably the same problem that Darwin faced when introducing evolution through natural selection. The evidence is there, it simply takes a perceptive eye and logical thinking to point it out clearly. Bakker is able to do just that in this book. He is also good in writing and presenting his ideas and conclusions. Much of the fossil data has an extensive history. He has a very good ability to make field research understood by a wide spectrum of readers. The evidence and conclusions he presented are clear and unambiguous.
The nice thing about The Dinosaur Heresies is that Bakker provides his reasoning for his thoughts on the dinosaurs in a clear, accessible manner especially for those who are not dinosaur buffs. He discusses lizards and their niches and how this might or might not apply to dinosaurs, moas and how their digestive systems may have mirrored that of Brontosaurus. It helps that Bakker is also a decent artist and can illustrate his ideas well. There is, for example, a clean and informative drawing of a crane, a stegosaur, and an African elephant, showing leverage points and bracing that lead him to the conclusion that if an elephant can stand on it’s rear legs, then a stegosaur most certainly could; much better ligament bracing down it’s spine, and twice the leverage between spine and hip.
Bakker is also smart enough to admit that his theories are not new. Throughout the book he gives credit to papers published in the last century way before his book came out. He is more concerned about getting the idea right rather than credit.