Interview: Paleontologist Steve Brusatte on the Awesome Age of Dinosaurs
For the latest edition of 'Imagining History Recommends' we are delighted to present our chat with paleontologist, best-selling author and renowned Dinosaur hunter, Steve Brusatte. Steve wrote one of our favourite ever dinosaur books, 'The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs', a tome that made the painstaking discovery of dinosaur fossils just as exciting as learning all about the dinosaurs themselves.
On the 13th of May, Steve's next book, 'The Age of Dinosaurs: The Rise and Fall of the World's Most Remarkable Animals' will launch. This book is looking all kinds of awesome! It is aimed at a young audience with a reading age of 8 - 12 years (though we're totally going to read it too!) What better time then, to chat with Steve about all things Dino? There's no better time, so let's get started!
Imagining History: When did you first become interested in Dinosaurs? What was it about them that you found so fascinating?
Steve Brusatte: I was not one of those five-year-olds who was obsessed with dinosaurs, knew all of the names, knew how to spell and pronounce them. But my brother Chris was! He's four years younger than me, and for much of our childhood, he was fanatical about dinosaurs. He even turned his bedroom into a dinosaur museum, and I think he owned every Jurassic Park toy. It was through Chris that I eventually became interested in dinosaurs, over many years of him wearing me down. I was a teenager when it finally clicked, and for me, dinosaurs and other fossils are fascinating because they are the clues that tell us how the Earth has changed over time, and how evolution works.
IH: Could you tell us a little more about your upcoming book 'The Age of Dinosaurs: The Rise and Fall of the World's Most Remarkable Animals'? What was your inspiration behind writing the book? And finally, what do you hope readers will leave with once they've finished it?
Steve: The new book is meant for readers between about 8 and 12 years old. There are many dinosaur books for children, but I tried to make this one different. It's not a picture book, or an encyclopaedia, or a fact guide. There are already many of those types of books - they're great books, and useful, and I've written some of them myself. But why write another one?
Instead I wanted to write something that was more of a story, a narrative. I wanted to tell the story of dinosaur evolution. The story of where dinosaurs came from, how they diversified and spread around the world and grew to huge sizes, and how they (or at least most of them...) died out. And I wanted to weave in my own stories of digging up dinosaurs, studying dinosaurs, and working with amazing colleagues all over the world. I wanted to give it a sense of adventure, and show my readers that scientists are just regular people--which hopefully will inspire some young dinosaur enthusiasts to become paleontologists.
IH: Your previous book, 'The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs', was aimed at adult readers whereas The Age of Dinosaurs is aimed at 8 - 12 year-olds, what were the challenges and rewards in writing for a younger audience?
Steve: The new book follows a similar narrative structure as The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. It's the same basic story of dinosaur evolution, from origins through to dominance to extinction. But I rewired the story so that it would be more accessible for younger readers. That meant making it shorter, taking out some of the more complex analogies, and taking out a lot of the jargon and big words...although not all of them, because I didn't want to disrespect or underestimate my audience. I learned long ago to never underestimate the knowledge and intellect of young kids who love dinosaurs. Thankfully I had my wife at my side to help me. She is a primary school teacher, and has a sixth sense for understanding what kids want to read.
IH: Please tell us one (or more!) fascinating Dinosaur fact from you book that will blow our minds.
Steve: The largest dinosaurs that ever lived were long-necked sauropods like
Argentinosaurus and Patagotitan. They weighed more than 80 tons. That's larger than a Boeing 737 aircraft! These were actual living animals, which hatched from an egg and grew up, which had to eat, which had to move around. It's mind-boggling to envision just how big they were.
IH: Do you have any tips for any young budding palaeontologists out there on how to achieve their dreams?
Steve: If you have a passion, keep stoking it, and follow it wherever it leads you. Maybe you'll turn it into a career, maybe you'll turn it into a hobby, maybe you'll eventually let it go. But more than anything, as a young person, it's wonderful to have a passion for something. So if dinosaurs are your thing, do whatever you can to learn more. Read as much as you can. Use the internet and follow scientists on social media, and use news alerts to keep updated on the latest discoveries. Visit natural history museums if you can, to see dinosaur skeletons on display.
And if you have the opportunity, start collecting your own fossils! Get a geology guide to your local area, and see if there are any places to find fossils. Maybe they won't be dinosaurs, but instead corals, or shells, or fish bones, or plants. It doesn't matter. It's just magical to find your own fossils, to be the first person to see something that lived and died millions of years ago.
IH: And, we've got to ask, what's your favourite Dinosaur and why? I have a soft spot for Iguanodon (it was the first Dinosaur I learnt about as a child), whereas Laura opted for the Spinosaurus because, in her words, "It's cooler than a T. rex".
Steve: I will be cliched. It's T. rex. I know, I know. But to me, T. rex is the ultimate dinosaur. It is the most incredible animal that has ever been produced by evolution. It was the size of a bus. 40 feet long, 13 meters or so. Weighed seven or eight tons. Had a head the size of a bathtub, with more than 50 banana-sized teeth that were so strong they crushed through the bones of their prey. How can you not be fascinated by an animal like this?
IH: You make a very good point! Any other awesome T. rex facts you can send our way?
Steve: Here's another factoid: T. rex (which lived 66 million years ago) is actually closer in time to us than it was to Brontosaurus (which lived 150 million years ago). When T. rex was chasing Triceratops, every Brontosaurus fossil was already in the ground!
An Argentinosaurus sized thank you to Steve for taking the time to have a chat with us - we found his answers absolutely fascinating and we hope you did too!
To find out more about Steve's books and all his work, head over to his website: https://sites.google.com/site/brusatte/
If Twitter is your thing then you can find Steve over at @SteveBrusatte
Check out The Age of Dinosaurs here:
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