I like to read natural history now and then. A favorite book as a kid was William E. Scheele’s The First Mammals. A book I would love to have now but unwilling to pay the going rate.
Prehistoric mammals don’t get the love that dinosaurs do but illustrations of saber-tooth tigers, mammoths, ground sloths etc stir some buried ancestral memory.
Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Reign of the Mammals is a new book that will get you up to speed on prehistoric mammals. This is a companion book to his The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs which I have not read.
He starts out in the late Carboniferous Period where scaly creatures divide into diapsids and synapsids. Diapsids evolve into reptiles, dinosaurs, and birds. Synapsids become mammals in time. He devotes time the Permian when synapsids and therapsids dominated. The Permian extinction killed 90% of life and opened the windows for the dinosaurs to dominate by the end of the Triassic. Brusatte shows changes in mammals during the Jurassic and Cretaceous.
The asteroid strike of 66 million years ago and a few lineages of generalist mammals make it through and then proliferate. He has a chapter entitled “Extreme Mammals.” Another chapter is devoted to changing climates. There is a chapter on Ice Age Mammals and chapter on humans.
There is an epilogue on future mammals. I have thought if humans wiped out all the felids and canids, the mustelids (weasels and the like) or procyonids (raccoon family) would step into fill the gap.
This is a much better book than Elsa Panciroli’s Beasts Before Us which is half about her looking for fossils in Scotland, another 20% on female paleontologists, 10% on how paleontology has been too white, male, and filled with wrong thinkers, and maybe 20% on mammal evolution.
If you like reading popular science by the likes of Tim Flannery or David Quammen, check out Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. His Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs is on my to be read list.
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