Skip to main content

Dino Gangs - Josh Young ***

This is a book with an identity crisis. When I first saw the publicity material for it I assumed it was a children’s book. After all Dino Gangs is hardly an adult title. But no, it appears it is aimed at an adult audience. And then there’s the strange case of the author. The book cover is very clear there is one author, Josh Young. And in the ‘about the author’ section of the press release, there is also just one author. Dr Phil Currie. What? At the top of the press release the book is by ‘Dr Phil Currie & Josh Young.’ Totally confused. I turn to the copyright page as the definitive source, but the copyright belongs to ‘Atlantic Productions’, whoever they are.
The reason for all this confusion is that in many ways this isn’t a book at all. Atlantic Productions is a TV production company that made a documentary about the work of palaeontologist Phil Currie for the Discovery Channel. What we have here is an attempt to turn the script of the documentary into readable form. This comes through most painfully in Phil Currie’s contributions. Despite being labelled the author and/or co-author (except on the cover), we only ever see Phil Currie as the written equivalent of a talking head in a documentary. We keep seeing things like ‘”The whole world went a little crazy for a while,” Curry says.’ That present tense is the give away. After a while the recital of ‘Phil Currie says this’ and ‘Phil Curry thinks that’ becomes a trifle nauseating, like a sort of literary hero worship.
So the presentation is weird and more than a little off-putting, which is a shame, because at the heart of it there is a really good book trying to get out. Currie has an interesting theory that tarbosaurs, a particular type of tyranosaur, hunted in packs, rather than the way they have been traditionally portrayed as lone hunters, or more recently as scavengers.
Once we get the rather childish scene setting about how ‘dino hunters’ have to be able to live rough in tents, and a truly dull chapter that is just about the background of Currie and some of his contemporaries, there is a really interesting development of the group hunter concept, taking us through various analyses from how the animals could run (comparing legs with ostriches and humans among others), modern analogues (from komodo dragon to lion) and more. It was telling how well this part of the book works, where I suspect the author has been given a little more freedom, that at the end of one chapter I was left thinking ‘Hmm, but how intelligent were these dinosaurs?’ Then the next chapter… discusses the intelligence of these dinosaurs.
Overall, I couldn’t give the book more than three stars because the format has such a deleterious effect on it – but it’s a shame, because under the fake teeth smile of the TV documentary there is a really good book trying to get out. If it had been left to the author just to write a book, it could have been so much better. We would hopefully have seen rather more of the people who pop in briefly with ideas that oppose those of Dr Phil, for example – and would have had a much better journey. Even so, I think the book as it stands is worth persevering with. It’s a quaint oddity of what happens when TV people get too much control of a different format, but the subject matter is interesting enough to make it worth reading.

Hardback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The God Game (SF) - Danny Tobey *****

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever read a book that was quite such an adrenaline rush - certainly it has been a long time since I've read a science fiction title which has kept me wanting to get back to it and read more so fiercely. 

In some ways, what we have here is a cyber-SF equivalent of Stephen King's It. A bunch of misfit American high school students face a remarkably powerful evil adversary - though in this case, at the beginning, their foe appears to be able to transform their worlds for the better.

Rather than a supernatural evil, the students take on a rogue AI computer game that thinks it is a god - and has the powers to back its belief. Playing the game is a mix of a virtual reality adventure like Pokemon Go and a real world treasure hunt. Players can get rewards for carrying out tasks - delivering a parcel, for example, which can be used to buy favours, abilities in the game and real objects. But once you are in the game, it doesn't want to let you go and is …

Uncertainty - Kostas Kampourakis and Kevin McCain ***

This is intended as a follow-on to Stuart Firestein's two books, the excellent Ignorance and its sequel, Failure, which cut through some of the myths about the nature of science and how it's not so much about facts as about what we don't know and how we search for explanations. The authors of Uncertainty do pretty much what they set out to do in explaining the significance of uncertainty and why it can make it difficult to present scientific findings to the public, who expect black-and-white facts, not grey probabilities, which can seem to some like dithering.

However, I didn't get on awfully well with the book. A minor issue was the size - it was just too physically small to hold comfortably, which was irritating. More significantly, it felt like a magazine article that was inflated to make a book. There really was only one essential point made over and over again, with a handful of repeated examples. I want something more from a book - more context and depth - that …

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …