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Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the…

Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's…

by Peter Ward

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I agree that this book doesn't live up to it's title. It's more about his experience than findings. I am glad I read it. Gave me some insight into paleontology and I am intrigued to learn more about Ward's work as a result. ( )
  wolfeyluvr | Jun 22, 2016 |
I found this book tucked away in my eldest's library. Intrigued by the picture of a seeming cross between a reptile and a saber-toothed tiger on the cover (also that catchy title), I decided to give it a go.

My, my, life is full of surprises. First, I was unaware (or forgot) except in the most rudimentary way that there were actual large-ish animals before the dinosaurs. Ward describes his life-long effort to discover more about them through studying fossils and rock strata in a place called the Karoo Desert in South Africa. He is concerned with figuring out how the animals became extinct. Over time, he and his colleagues find that the extinction was rapid (in geological terms--probably less than100,000 years or so)and eventually concluding that the die-out was caused by global warming. The warming was caused, he posits, by an excess of methane gas, which somehow or other--I'm no chemist--leeches the oxygen out of the air.

Okay, so far so good. But the real story here is how obsessed the scientists become: never giving up, living under the harshest conditions one can imagine, eternally picking at the rocks to find fossils. Family and health are given short shrift; these are dedicated people. The story of their lives is more interesting than the story of the Gorgon.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is the coverage of the internal feuds among scientists, who become heavily invested in their own theories.

The book is interesting and compelling, but the technical terms make it difficult for the layperson to keep track of what's going on in the science end of things. If you're interested in paleontology or global warming and can read Stephen Jay Gould's work, this would be a great choice for you. It will require strict attention if your level of interest in science is limited to the kind of book written by Simon Winchester.

1.1 *s knocked off for difficulty level and a slight lack of closure ( )
  bohemima | Jan 9, 2014 |
This book is great opportunity to see how a paleontologist goes about his work. This is written more like a travelogue than a science book, but I highly recommend it, if you want to see all the hard work that goes on in a paleontological ‘dig’ including the dating of a site. The book is also a great introduction to the great Permian extinction that resulted in the death of over 95% of all the species on the planet 250 million years ago. This is very very readable. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote davesmind | Mar 1, 2009 |
Great book, such interesting work by paleontologists but glad I'm not out there in the Karoo ( )
  siri51 | Jul 30, 2008 |
I was a bit disappointed with this book, since it was not so much about "the monsters that ruled the planet before the dinosaurs" as it was about Ward's experiences working in the Karoo Desert in South Africa. It was interesting to learn about what it's actually like to be a paleontologist, and he writes of his adventures in the wilderness with a great deal of wit. But there was comparatively little information about the actual creatures, and not nearly as much information as I was expecting about the catastrophe that wiped them out. I was left feeling as though I would love to sit down and talk with the author over a cup of coffee -- and then ask him why he hadn't written the book that I expected this to be! ( )
3 vote Crowyhead | Jul 5, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0670030945, Hardcover)

In Gorgon, geologist Peter Ward turns his attention reluctantly away from the asteroid collision that killed all the dinosaurs and instead focuses on a much older extinction event. As it turns out, the Permian extinction of 250 million years ago dwarfs the dino's 65-million-year-old Cretaceous-Tertiary armageddon. Ward's book is not a dry accounting of the fossil discoveries leading to this conclusion, but rather an intimate, first-person account of some of his triumphs and disappointments as a scientist. He draws a nice parallel between the Permian extinction and his own rather abrupt in research focus, revealing the agonizing steps he had to take to educate himself about a set of prehistoric creatures about which he knew almost nothing. These were the Gorgons, carnivorous reptiles whose ecological dominance preceded that of the more pop-culture-ready dinosaurs.

They would have had huge heads with very large, saberlike teeth, large lizard eyes, no visible ears, and perhaps a mixture of reptilian scales and tufts of mammalian hair.... The Gorgons ruled a world of animals that were but one short evolutionary step away from being mammals.

With characteristic enthusiasm, Ward transports readers with him to South Africa's Karoo desert, where he participated in field expeditions seeking fossils of these fearsome creatures. He suffers routine tick patrols, puff-adder avoidance lessons, stultifying thirst, and the everyday humiliations of being the new guy on a field team. Besides telling a fascinating paleological story, Gorgon lets readers feel a bone-hunter's passion and pain. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:44 -0400)

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