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About Donald R. Prothero
Donald R. Prothero has taught geology for over 33 years as Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and currently at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, CA. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 33 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and three trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).
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Every rock is a tangible trace of the earth’s past. The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks tells the fascinating stories behind the discoveries that shook the foundations of geology. In twenty-five chapters—each about a particular rock, outcrop, or geologic phenomenon—Donald R. Prothero recounts the scientific detective work that shaped our understanding of geology, from the unearthing of exemplary specimens to tectonic shifts in how we view the inner workings of our planet.
Prothero follows in the footsteps of the scientists who asked—and answered—geology’s biggest questions: How do we know how old the earth is? What happened to the supercontinent Pangea? How did ocean rocks end up at the top of Mount Everest? What can we learn about our planet from meteorites and moon rocks? He answers these questions through expertly chosen case studies, such as Pliny the Younger’s firsthand account of the eruption of Vesuvius; the granite outcrops that led a Scottish scientist to theorize that the landscapes he witnessed were far older than Noah’s Flood; the salt and gypsum deposits under the Mediterranean Sea that indicate that it was once a desert; and how trying to date the age of meteorites revealed the dangers of lead poisoning. Each of these breakthroughs filled in a piece of the greater puzzle that is the earth, with scientific discoveries dovetailing with each other to offer an increasingly coherent image of the geologic past. Summarizing a wealth of information in an entertaining, approachable style, The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks is essential reading for the armchair geologist, the rock hound, and all who are curious about the earth beneath their feet.
Some 73,000 years ago, the huge dome of Mount Toba, in today's Sumatra, Indonesia, began to rumble. A deep vibration shook the entire island. Jets of steam and ash emanated from the summit, followed by an explosion louder than any sound heard by Homo sapiens since our species evolved on Earth. The eruption of the Toba supervolcano released the energy of a million tons of explosives; seven hundred cubic miles of magma spewed outward in an explosion forty times larger than the largest hydrogen bomb and more than a thousand times as powerful as the Krakatau eruption in 1883. So much ash and debris was injected into the stratosphere that it partially blocked the sun's radiation and caused global temperatures to drop by five to nine degrees. It took a full decade for Earth to recover to its pre-eruption temperatures.
When Humans Nearly Vanished presents the controversial argument that the Toba catastrophe nearly wiped out the human race, leaving only about a thousand to ten thousand breeding pairs of humans worldwide. Human genes today show evidence of a "genetic bottleneck," an effect seen when a population of organisms becomes so small that their genetic diversity is greatly reduced. This group of survivors could be the ancestors of all humans alive today. Donald R. Prothero explores the geological and biological evidence supporting the Toba bottleneck theory; reveals how the explosion itself was discovered; and offers insight into how the world changed afterward and what might happen if such an eruption occurred today. Prothero's riveting account of this calamitous supervolcanic explosion is not to be missed.
Every fossil tells a story. Best-selling paleontology author Donald R. Prothero describes twenty-five famous, beautifully preserved fossils in a gripping scientific history of life on Earth. Recounting the adventures behind the discovery of these objects and fully interpreting their significance within the larger fossil record, Prothero creates a riveting history of life on our planet.
The twenty-five fossils portrayed in this book catch animals in their evolutionary splendor as they transition from one kind of organism to another. We witness extinct plants and animals of microscopic and immense size and thrilling diversity. We learn about fantastic land and sea creatures that have no match in nature today. Along the way, we encounter such fascinating fossils as the earliest trilobite, Olenellus; the giant shark Carcharocles; the "fishibian" Tiktaalik; the "Frogamander" and the "Turtle on the Half-Shell"; enormous marine reptiles and the biggest dinosaurs known; the first bird, Archaeopteryx; the walking whale Ambulocetus; the gigantic hornless rhinoceros Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; and the Australopithecus nicknamed "Lucy," the oldest human skeleton. We meet the scientists and adventurers who pioneered paleontology and learn about the larger intellectual and social contexts in which their discoveries were made. Finally, we find out where to see these splendid fossils in the world's great museums.
Ideal for all who love prehistoric landscapes and delight in the history of science, this book makes a treasured addition to any bookshelf, stoking curiosity in the evolution of life on Earth.
The ultimate illustrated guide to the lost world of prehistoric mammals
After the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, mammals became the dominant terrestrial life form on our planet. Roaming the earth were spectacular beasts such as saber-toothed cats, giant mastodonts, immense ground sloths, and gigantic giraffe-like rhinoceroses. Here is the ultimate illustrated field guide to the lost world of these weird and wonderful prehistoric creatures.
A woolly mammoth probably won't come thundering through your vegetable garden any time soon. But if one did, this would be the book to keep on your windowsill next to the binoculars. It covers all the main groups of fossil mammals, discussing taxonomy and evolutionary history, and providing concise accounts of the better-known genera and species as well as an up-to-date family tree for each group. No other book presents such a wealth of new information about these animals—what they looked like, how they behaved, and how they were interrelated. In addition, this unique guide is stunningly illustrated throughout with full-color reconstructions of these beasts—many never before depicted—along with photographs of amazing fossils from around the world.
- Provides an up-to-date guidebook to hundreds of extinct species, from saber-toothed cats to giant mammoths
- Features a wealth of color illustrations, including new reconstructions of many animals never before depicted
- Demonstrates evolution in action—such as how whales evolved from hoofed mammals and how giraffes evolved from creatures with short necks
- Explains how mass extinctions and climate change affected mammals, including why some mammals grew so huge
Aliens. Ley lines. Water dowsing. Conspiracies and myths captivate imaginations and promise mystery and magic. Whether it’s arguing about the moon landing hoax or a Frisbee-like Earth drifting through space, when held up to science and critical thinking, these ideas fall flat.
In Weird Earth: Debunking Strange Ideas About Our Planet, Donald R. Prothero demystifies these conspiracies and offers answers to some of humanity’s most outlandish questions. Applying his extensive scientific knowledge, Prothero corrects misinformation that con artists and quacks use to hoodwink others about geology—hollow earth, expanding earth, and bizarre earthquakes—and mystical and paranormal happenings—healing crystals, alien landings, and the gates of hell. By deconstructing wild claims such as prophesies of imminent natural disasters, Prothero provides a way for everyone to recognize dubious assertions. Prothero answers these claims with facts, offering historical and scientific context in a light-hearted manner that is accessible to everyone, no matter their background.
With a careful layering of evidence in geology, archaeology, and biblical and historical records, Prothero’s Weird Earth examines each conspiracy and myth and leaves no question unanswered.
Weird Earth is about the facts and the people who don’t believe them. Don Prothero describes the process of science—and the process of not accepting it. If you’re wondering if humans walked on the Moon, if you’ve wondered where the lost City of Atlantis went, or if you’re wondering what your cat will do before an earthquake, check out Weird Earth.” —Bill Nye
The theory of evolution unites the past, present, and future of living things. It puts humanity’s place in the universe into necessary perspective. Despite a history of controversy, the evidence for evolution continues to accumulate as a result of many separate strands of amazing scientific sleuthing.
In The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero explores the most fascinating breakthroughs in piecing together the evidence for evolution. In twenty-five vignettes, he recounts the dramatic stories of the people who made crucial discoveries, placing each moment in the context of what it represented for the progress of science. He tackles topics like what it means to see evolution in action and what the many transitional fossils show us about evolution, following figures from Darwin to lesser-known researchers as they unlock the mysteries of the fossil record, the earth, and the universe. The book also features the stories of animal species strange and familiar, including humans—and our ties to some of our closest relatives and more distant cousins. Prothero’s wide-ranging tales showcase awe-inspiring and bizarre aspects of nature and the powerful insights they give us into the way that life works.
Brisk and entertaining while firmly grounded in fundamental science, The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries is a captivating read for anyone curious about the evidence for evolution and what it means for humanity.
Donald R. Prothero’s Evolution is an entertaining and rigorous history of the transitional forms and series found in the fossil record. Its engaging narrative of scientific discovery and well-grounded analysis has led to the book’s widespread adoption in courses that teach the nature and value of fossil evidence for evolution. Evolution tackles systematics and cladistics, rock dating, neo-Darwinism, and macroevolution. It includes extensive coverage of the primordial soup, invertebrate transitions, the development of the backbone, the reign of the dinosaurs, and the transformation from early hominid to modern human. The book also details the many alleged “missing links” in the fossil record, including some of the most recent discoveries that flesh out the fossil timeline and the evolutionary process.
In this second edition, Prothero describes new transitional fossils from various periods, vividly depicting such bizarre creatures as the Odontochelys, or the “turtle on the half shell”; fossil snakes with legs; and the “Frogamander,” a new example of amphibian transition. Prothero’s discussion of intelligent design arguments includes more historical examples and careful examination of the “experiments” and observations that are exploited by creationists seeking to undermine sound science education. With new perspectives, Prothero reframes creationism as a case study in denialism and pseudoscience rather than a field with its own intellectual dynamism. The first edition was hailed as an exemplary exploration of the fossil evidence for evolution, and this second edition will be welcome in the libraries of scholars, teachers, and general readers who stand up for sound science in this post-truth era.
The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.
“Prothero’s treatise will give the science-minded something to cheer about, a brief summary of the real data that supports so many critical aspects of modern life.” —Publishers Weekly
Today, any kid can rattle off the names of dozens of dinosaurs. But it took centuries of scientific effort—and a lot of luck—to discover and establish the diversity of dinosaur species we now know. How did we learn that Triceratops had three horns? Why don’t many paleontologists consider Brontosaurus a valid species? What convinced scientists that modern birds are relatives of ancient Velociraptor?
In The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero tells the fascinating stories behind the most important fossil finds and the intrepid researchers who unearthed them. In twenty-five vivid vignettes, he weaves together dramatic tales of dinosaur discoveries with what modern science now knows about the species to which they belong. Prothero takes us from eighteenth-century sightings of colossal bones taken for biblical giants through recent discoveries of enormous predators even larger than Tyrannosaurus. He recounts the escapades of the larger-than-life personalities who made modern paleontology, including scientific rivalries like the nineteenth-century “Bone Wars.” Prothero also details how to draw the boundaries between species and explores debates such as whether dinosaurs had feathers, explaining the findings that settled them or keep them going. Throughout, he offers a clear and rigorous look at what paleontologists consider sound interpretation of evidence. An essential read for any dinosaur lover, this book teaches us to see an ancient world ruled by giant majestic creatures anew.
The fascinating group of animals called dinosaurs became extinct some 65 million years ago (except for their feathered descendants). In their place evolved an enormous variety of land creatures, especially mammals, which in their way were every bit as remarkable as their Mesozoic cousins. The Age of Mammals, the Cenozoic Era, has never had its Jurassic Park, but it was an amazing time in earth’s history, populated by a wonderful assortment of bizarre animals.
The rapid evolution of thousands of species of mammals brought forth many incredible creatures―including our own ancestors. Their story is part of a larger story of new life emerging from the greenhouse conditions of the Mesozoic, warming up dramatically about 55 million years ago, and then cooling rapidly so that 33 million years ago the glacial ice returned. The earth’s vegetation went through equally dramatic changes, from tropical jungles in Montana and forests at the poles. Life in the sea underwent striking evolution reflecting global climate change, including the emergence of such creatures as giant sharks, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales.
Engaging and insightful, After the Dinosaurs is a book for everyone who has an abiding fascination with the remarkable life of the past.
Nothing fills us with a sense of wonder like fossils. What looks at first like a simple rock is in fact a clue that reveals the staggering diversity of ancient environments, the winding pathways of evolution, and the majesty of a vanished earth. But as much as one might daydream of digging a hole in the backyard and finding a Tyrannosaurus, only a few places contain these buried treasures, and when a scientist comes across a remnant of prehistoric life, great care must be taken. What do budding paleontologists need to know before starting their search?
In Fantastic Fossils, Donald R. Prothero offers an accessible, entertaining, and richly illustrated guide to the paleontologist’s journey. He details the best places to look for fossils, the art of how to find them, and how to classify the major types. Prothero provides expert wisdom about typical fossils that an average person can hope to collect and how to hunt fossils responsibly and ethically. He also explores the lessons that both common and rarer discoveries offer about paleontology and its history, as well as what fossils can tell us about past climates and present climate change. Captivating illustrations by the paleoartist Mary Persis Williams bring to life hundreds of important specimens. Offering valuable lessons for armchair enthusiasts and paleontology students alike, Fantastic Fossils is an essential companion for all readers who have ever dreamed of going in search of traces of a lost world.