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T. Rex & the Crater of Doom (1997)

by Walter Alvarez

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4771342,404 (3.92)20
Sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid larger than Mount Everest slammed into the Earth, inducing an explosion equivalent to the detonation of a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Vaporized detritus blasted through the atmosphere upon impact, falling back to Earth around the globe. Disastrous environmental consequences ensued: a giant tsunami, continent-scale wildfires, darkness, and cold, followed by sweltering greenhouse heat. When conditions returned to normal, half the plant and animal genera on Earth had perished. This horrific chain of events is now widely accepted as the solution to a great scientific mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? Walter Alvarez, one of the Berkeley scientists who discovered evidence of the impact, tells the story behind the development of the initially controversial theory. It is a saga of high adventure in remote locations, of arduous data collection and intellectual struggle, of long periods of frustration ended by sudden breakthroughs, of friendships made and lost, and of the exhilaration of discovery that forever altered our understanding of Earth's geological history.… (more)
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English (12)  French (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Wow, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. If you've ever read a book with a more titillating title than that then, well, please tell me what it was because clearly you read more titillatingly titled books than I do. (Although [b:this one|15748663|The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas|Tom Fletcher|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391768028s/15748663.jpg|21441168] is certainly a contender.)

Despite sounding like a 1950s B-movie, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom is a popular science book by one of the scientists who proposed the impact hypothesis. This is the theory that a massive meteor strike wiped out the dinosaurs (and three quarters of all the other life on Earth) and that they didn't – as Alan Grant believes – turn into birds. The book was written nearly twenty years ago, which in science can represent either the latest new-fangled ideas or be embarrassingly old-fashioned. Here it's a bit of both.

In many ways this book is like Brenda Fowler's [b:Iceman|2840548|Iceman|Brenda Fowler|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327171406s/2840548.jpg|897903]. That book is about Ötzi the Iceman, or as he's better known “that frozen 5000 year old guy they found in the Alps a while back”. While Iceman is ostensibly about the science behind finding out more about early man, it was written before a lot of that science had been done so in fact it was more about the scientists involved, and the bitter disputes that arose among them. Similarly with T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, the meteor wasn't officially recognised as being (probably) the cause of the extinction until 2010; and to vilify Alan Grant it's now believed that the avian dinosaurs mostly survived and did turn into birds. Of course, as time passes the line between “avian” and “non-avian” dinosaur has become increasingly blurred. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Inevitably then, while much of the book concerns the science behind the impact hypothesis, there's plenty of material on the scientists too. A rival theory to the impact hypothesis was that the eruption of the supervolcano beneath India was responsible for the extinction. During the 1980s this hypothesis had the useful advantage that scientists knew the eruption had happened about 65 million years ago, whereas no sufficiently large meteor crater of that age had been found. The biggest difference between the two theories was that a meteor strike would cause an abrupt extinction event, while an eruption would spread things out over possibly hundreds of thousands of years. While “bitter rivalry” isn't a phrase that gives one a warm fuzzy feeling inside, Walter Alvarez takes pains to point out that in science it can be awfully useful. So vehement were the volcano-fans that a meteor was not responsible that they forced the meteor-fans to double check every bit of evidence they found and every hypothesis they came up with. Like some kind of turbo-peer-review, the effect was to refine their findings to a rare degree of precision.

I could write more about the book, about what I learned about geology or chemistry or how Walter Alvarez helped me understand geological time scales; but ultimately there's only one question that needs to be asked with a book like this. Is it better than that hypothetical B-movie of the same name? And the answer is a resounding: maybe.

( )
  imlee | Jul 7, 2020 |
Wow, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. If you've ever read a book with a more titillating title than that then, well, please tell me what it was because clearly you read more titillatingly titled books than I do. (Although [b:this one|15748663|The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas|Tom Fletcher|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1391768028s/15748663.jpg|21441168] is certainly a contender.)

Despite sounding like a 1950s B-movie, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom is a popular science book by one of the scientists who proposed the impact hypothesis. This is the theory that a massive meteor strike wiped out the dinosaurs (and three quarters of all the other life on Earth) and that they didn't – as Alan Grant believes – turn into birds. The book was written nearly twenty years ago, which in science can represent either the latest new-fangled ideas or be embarrassingly old-fashioned. Here it's a bit of both.

In many ways this book is like Brenda Fowler's [b:Iceman|2840548|Iceman|Brenda Fowler|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327171406s/2840548.jpg|897903]. That book is about Ötzi the Iceman, or as he's better known “that frozen 5000 year old guy they found in the Alps a while back”. While Iceman is ostensibly about the science behind finding out more about early man, it was written before a lot of that science had been done so in fact it was more about the scientists involved, and the bitter disputes that arose among them. Similarly with T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, the meteor wasn't officially recognised as being (probably) the cause of the extinction until 2010; and to vilify Alan Grant it's now believed that the avian dinosaurs mostly survived and did turn into birds. Of course, as time passes the line between “avian” and “non-avian” dinosaur has become increasingly blurred. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Inevitably then, while much of the book concerns the science behind the impact hypothesis, there's plenty of material on the scientists too. A rival theory to the impact hypothesis was that the eruption of the supervolcano beneath India was responsible for the extinction. During the 1980s this hypothesis had the useful advantage that scientists knew the eruption had happened about 65 million years ago, whereas no sufficiently large meteor crater of that age had been found. The biggest difference between the two theories was that a meteor strike would cause an abrupt extinction event, while an eruption would spread things out over possibly hundreds of thousands of years. While “bitter rivalry” isn't a phrase that gives one a warm fuzzy feeling inside, Walter Alvarez takes pains to point out that in science it can be awfully useful. So vehement were the volcano-fans that a meteor was not responsible that they forced the meteor-fans to double check every bit of evidence they found and every hypothesis they came up with. Like some kind of turbo-peer-review, the effect was to refine their findings to a rare degree of precision.

I could write more about the book, about what I learned about geology or chemistry or how Walter Alvarez helped me understand geological time scales; but ultimately there's only one question that needs to be asked with a book like this. Is it better than that hypothetical B-movie of the same name? And the answer is a resounding: maybe.

( )
  leezeebee | Jul 6, 2020 |
The story of the discovery of what lay behind the sharp boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary geological periods when dinosaurs were largely replaced by mammals.

An interesting story but the author seems unsure who the intended audience is, the educated public or experts in related disciplines. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Jan 17, 2019 |
Excellent well-written book on the impact theory of the extinction of the dinosaurs, not diminished by the possibility that Alvarez was too confident in his theories. Lots of good geology, which doesn't get enough attention in popular writing.
  lharris4 | Jul 2, 2017 |
Elegant and thrilling play-by-play from theorizing to the search for evidence in the fossil record to the identification of the meteor/comet crater off Yucatan; it's at once a great detective story and a great exposition of the scientific method. The language is clear and the science easy to follow. A great read, loved it. ( )
1 vote moekane | Jan 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Walter Alvarezprimary authorall editionscalculated
Horne, JennyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perez, VincentCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmer, CarlForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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This book is affectionately dedicated to Milly Alvarez

A skillful and compassionate leader in her own feld of mental health, and the perfect companion during thirty years of geological expeditions on five continents
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This is the story of one terrible day in the history of the Earth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid larger than Mount Everest slammed into the Earth, inducing an explosion equivalent to the detonation of a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Vaporized detritus blasted through the atmosphere upon impact, falling back to Earth around the globe. Disastrous environmental consequences ensued: a giant tsunami, continent-scale wildfires, darkness, and cold, followed by sweltering greenhouse heat. When conditions returned to normal, half the plant and animal genera on Earth had perished. This horrific chain of events is now widely accepted as the solution to a great scientific mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? Walter Alvarez, one of the Berkeley scientists who discovered evidence of the impact, tells the story behind the development of the initially controversial theory. It is a saga of high adventure in remote locations, of arduous data collection and intellectual struggle, of long periods of frustration ended by sudden breakthroughs, of friendships made and lost, and of the exhilaration of discovery that forever altered our understanding of Earth's geological history.

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