________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life.

Tim Haines & Paul Chambers.
Richmond, ON: Firefly Books, 2006.
216 pp., cloth, $39.95.
ISBN 1-55407-125-9.

Subject Heading:
Animals, Fossil.

Grade 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

**** /4


(Meganeura: an eagle-sized dragonfly, 75 cm wingspan)

An accomplished flier, Meganeura spent most of its time in the air, flapping or gliding its way through the forest in search of food. It would hunt on the wing, plucking other insects, including dragonflies and mayflies, from the air. It could also take small, ground-dwelling animals by swooping downwards and grabbing them with its legs. It rarely stopped flying, and may have landed only in order to mate and lay its eggs. The larvae, which would have been around 30 cm long, were also voracious predators. They would have lived in vertical burrows on water-logged land, and would have emerged periodically to hunt for spiders, insects and small amphibians. Once caught, the prey would have been dragged back to the burrow and eaten.


For anyone, child or adult, with a fascination for the prehistoric world, The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life is a treasure chest of amazing facts and stunning illustrations. It was inspired by a BBC television series created by the author team (scientists with expertise in zoology, geology and paleontology) whose goal was to educate as well as entertain. Along with the latest data about discoveries worldwide, the book comes alive through the full-color illustrations. They are photos of the animated models created by the wizardry of the computer for the TV series. As such, they fairly leap off the pages from the realistic backdrops (actual landscapes that match prehistoric environments) in poses to show appearance, behavior, and lifestyle.

internal art

     The book is divided into three sections: Rise of Life (543-248 million years ago), Age of Reptiles (248-65 million years ago) and Age of Beasts (65 million years ago-10,000 years ago). Each section is introduced with a detailed summary of the geological time periods it covers. Individual examples of animals are prefaced with a chart showing name with pronunciation key, type of animal, range of time when it lived, size, diet and where fossils have been unearthed. As well, the creature is shown in outline next to an upright human figure for size comparison. Descriptive text uses an inviting and accessible writing style to present facts and discuss theories. A Fascinating Fact box on most pages delivers one more punch of 'Wow!' factor: eg. It has been estimated that Tyrannosaurus rex would have needed to eat the equivalent of 265 people a year in order to stay alive. Many entries are illustrated with both model and fossil photo.

     At the back of the book, a Timescale of the Earth and a Tree of Life graph give the reader an overall perspective of prehistory, showing relationships between species. A comprehensive index will help readers find specific entries, whether they know the actual name or merely the classification.

     Besides being visually outstanding, this book is as up-to-date as the field of paleontology allows. As the authors suggest in the Introduction, "...new discoveries are constantly overturning established scientific 'truths' ..." The 2003 discovery of a previously unknown species of human, Homo Floresiensis, in Indonesia, would appear to support that statement. And in November 2005, fossils of yet another beast (centrosaurus brinkmanii) turned up in Alberta. It's new, alright: I couldn't find it in the Index.

     The depth of research is impressive: "one fossil hominid is thought to have died of excess Vitamin A poisoning after eating the liver of a carnivore." If that sort of intriguing information doesn't astound adult readers or their children, the use of appealing subheadings will be too tempting to resist. What might an "aircraft-sized pterosaur" look like? What could "sabre-tooth cat food" be?

     Great for browsing, selective research or reading from cover to cover.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson, who lives in BC, is a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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