A leading American paleontologist records the landmark discoveries he has made on the continent of Africa, addressing, at the same time, many provocative questions about the world of paleontology in general.
Summary: The Crocodile's Nose?? Rating: 5
A enterprising editor might have boosted sales of this fine book using a different title. Steve Gould's Panda's Thumbs and Flamingo's Smiles do well. Jacobs' depiction of his search for African dinosaur fossils deserves no less. Along with a fine account of his field work in Malawi and Cameroon, Jacobs' assessment of fossil composition and what it tells us about past life is illuminating. As it happens, the structure of a crocodile's nose tells us whether it lived on land or water. This seemingly dry fact relates to how our own skulls are organized, and why. Deftly woven into his story of seeking dinosaur fossils, tracing the movement of continents over the face of the globe and the status of Malawi's culture in today's world, are the threads of his research. Evolution's had a busy time of it, and Jacobs explains how to read the record of its workings.
Jabobs' travels and observations demolish the image of the austere scientist who cares only for his research and status within his guild. The title isn't "The Dinosaurs of Africa" - he's done that before. Here, he's relating his journey to make those finds, updating information on what he's found. The broader approach means learning of the travails experienced in locating the fossils, what it's like to work a dig, and how he and his team dealt with their host countries. He leaves a valid image of a broadly caring person, untrammeled by his own cultural heritage. Jacobs is adept at bringing the reader into his world. That world has a long time span, with unceasing change the only constant. He traverses millennia more easily than countries. Justly so - there're no border guards at century boundaries.