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Book Review - The Rise and Reign of the Mammals - a Mammaltastic history

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

Written by: Steve Brusatte

Published by: Picador

Historical Setting: The history of Mammals

Recommended reading age: 14+

As a lifelong Dinosaur fan – my Labybird Dinosaur book is hanging together by a thread from having been thumbed through so much – it took until my 38th trip around the sun to discover the greatest Dinosaur book of them all. That epic tome would be none other than ‘The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs’ by palaeontologist Steve Brusatte. This book effortlessly brought together cutting-edge research, fascinating personal anecdotes, and the informative retelling of palaeontologist’s and their back-breaking work to discover Dino fossils. Now, Brusatte is back to do it all again; though this time bringing the study of ancient mammals to the forefront of our collective attention.

There’s no doubt about it, 'The Rise and Reign of the Mammals' is an intimidating read. This is a book cram-packed with detail, following the evolutionary journey of mammals from Therapsids to, well, us. It’s a credit to Steve Brusatte that he makes this material as accessible as it is, his clear and friendly prose keeping me engaged through the often hard-going early chapters. I place the blame purely on my puny brain but, early on, I found myself struggling to keep track of all talk of Morganucodons, Cynodonts, and Thrinaxodons. Perhaps, because I’m just not as familiar with mammals as I am with their Dinosaur rivals, the initial chapters felt like a marathon to get through. But get through them I did and I’m hugely relieved I committed because by the third chapter something within me clicked and I found myself utterly hooked.

This is a truly masterful book, one that weaves together millions of years of history to tell a singular story. Quite how Brusatte has managed this near-impossible feat is mind-boggling, to say the least. There’s just so much to unpack here, in what must be on course to become one of the must-read scientific books of 2022. So, how about I just pick out some of the elements that I found most fascinating? I can't hear anything you're saying actually, so I'll just go ahead and assume your answer is yes.

First off, there’s the revelation that Sabretooth Tigers were caring parents. How do we know this? From a fossil site in Ecuador where a mother and her two cubs were found buried together. The youngsters were at least two years old, which suggests they stayed with their mother long after birth. Then there are the walking whales, teeny-tiny proto elephants, and – most surprisingly – a fascinating assessment of grass. Not to mention many wonderful stories of the fossil hunters and the danger that they place themselves in to continue to progress our scientific understanding of mammals. I could go on continuing to list the many amazing discoveries to be found in this book but, hey, I’ve got a word count to think about.

To sum up then, it is a bit like Steve has a magical pen, or keyboard I guess, one that he can use to pick out key details, fascinating facts, and compelling theories with seeming ease, and then communicate them all with clear-sighted clarity are bring to life mammals that have been long dead. For the reader, 'The Rise and Reign of the Mammals' is like a real-life time machine, one that takes the reader on a thrilling time travel tour of discovery.

A huge thank you to Picador for supplying us with a review of 'The Rise and Reign of the Mammals'.

If you'd like to buy the book, please head to Picador's website by clicking here.


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