Cover Image: The Rise and Reign of the Mammals

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals

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This book was unfortunately archived before I could finish reading it. However, I really did enjoy the bit of it that I was able to read, and will definitely be reading more Steve Brusatte books in the future. Since I was not given the chance to finish reading my ARC copy, I will not be posting a review on social media/Goodreads unless I finish the book independently at a later date.

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I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes non-fiction about dinosaurs and their associated eras and times can be dense and wordy and difficult to get through for people who are just dipping their toes into the topic or who are newer. Happily The Rise and Reign of the Mammals does not have that problem. This well thought out and structured book takes us from the era of the dinos, when mammals were just beginning to get under the big reptiles’ feet to their eventual rise and dominance of the known world.

Rise and Reign begins primarily within the Pennsylvanian era with stem-mammals and moves to our more modern times. One of my favorite things about this book is that as we move from large period to large period Mr. Brusatte regales us with a short narrative about something might have or might happen in the future to set the scene for what we’re about to see or have explained in the next section. He doesn’t focus in on the creature themselves, instead looking at each one in relation to what made it different and unique that added to the overall growth of the mammalian line (or bush if you want a more accurate descriptor).

There are plenty of wonderful illustrations, charts, photos, and figures to keep things clear. I ended up taking a plethora of notes on the figures and charts as well as the text as they really helped me visualize what I was reading. Mr. Brusatte also keeps it fairly personal. Often referring to friends he has in the field or digs he’s gone on to tie into the bones and their discoveries. This made it seem more grounded than simple facts and added to the approachability of the book.

Overall, this was a fantastic addition to my collection of dino and dino-adjacent shelves and I’d highly recommend for any other lovers of the topic and era in question. It’s long, yes, but take it in chunks or one long holiday and you’ll enjoy the journey, I promise!

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Another very interesting read. I didn't get into it as much as I did his book on dinosaurs because dinosaurs are awesome, but the mammal book is worth your time if you want to learn more about the history of mammals.

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This is the first book I've read, or rather listened to, from Stephen Brusatte. It's not really in my area of interest, but I love learning, and decided to give it a try. There is so much research and information provided, but in a way that anyone can really understand, so it's not over your head. There are quite a few nuggets I walked away with, from learning where the hammer and anvil were originally formed from, to learning how secretly guarded fossil finds were, to even how previous researchers argued on stances of their findings (Darwin, in particular). What a fascinating book that held me captivated to the very end. Very well researched and informative.
*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my own opinion*

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The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us
The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by Steve Brusatte

2022 has been a banner year for me in terms of non-fiction reading, and that trend continues with The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us, by Steve Brusatte, an epic and vividly told survey of how evolution bit by bit equipped our ancestors with the tools necessary to at first survive and then thrive. As with Brusatte’s earlier work, the excellent The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, this is popular science as it should be done: clear and compelling.

Brusatte begins before the mammal line as we think of it comes into existence, setting the context for what drove the evolution and doing so broadly, discussing not just specific creatures but eco-systems (i.e. including plants), climate, and the impact of extinction events. He also does a nice job of dealing with a common issue in popular science, which is not just informing readers but also sometimes having to “un-inform” them, by which I mean having to disabuse them of prior notions which are now in error (these may be the reader’s misconceptions/misunderstanding but just as often are formerly consensus scientific views that have been superseded by improved knowledge). For instance, early on he updates readers on the former phrase “mammal-like reptile” (which I’m old enough to recall in my popular science reading), which has been replaced by “stem mammal” for the pretty logical reason that any such creature, such as the well-known Dimetrodon, was “not a reptile nor did it evolve from reptiles.” Similarly, the idea that mammals only got their chance thanks to the dinosaurs going extinct is also debunked, with Brusatte making clear that the mammal antecedent were around well before then, mammals coexisted with dinosaurs, and also makes the nuanced point that while dinosaurs may have prevented mammals from growing large, mammals (thanks to filling their own ecological niche) conversely kept dinosaurs from radiating into small sizes. In that same “knowledge marches on” vein, he clearly explains how early relationship trees based on anatomical similarities have been refined (and often completely changed) thanks to DNA studies, which have shown that much of what was once thought to show ancestry/relationship was actually simply a matter of convergent evolution.

From these early stem mammals, Brusatte takes us on a lively tour (mostly chronological though that changes somewhat when he gets to evolution of specific animal lines such as whales and horses) of transformations that get us to, well, us. These include evolutionary changes in teeth, ankles, spine, placentas, diet, metabolism, and more. While I personally found it all fascinating, I can’t say that some people might not want less detail on, say, teeth. But that’s the reality of paleontology—if you’re going to distinguish creatures, you’re going to have to discuss, a lot, the nature of teeth. Not only because they are such a distinguishing characteristic but because of how, thanks to their makeup, they tend to survive a lot more frequently (and in quantity) than other body parts. Often, for long periods of time, teeth are the only body part we have for a particular creature.

While the entire work is excellent throughout, the book really soars (literally when it comes to the section on bats) when Brusatte narrows the scope a bit to focus on particular lines, including, bats, whales, and elephants. These chapters create that sense of awestruck wonder good nature writing can do, where one cannot help but marvel at the variety, fecundity, and audacity of nature, as mammals take to the sky and to the water to spread across the globe. None of it, btw, out of any sense of design or purpose, as Brusatte is careful to remind us of many times, as when he tells us “natural selection doesn’t plan for the future.” It’s also always nice when a scientist lets us see how they too share our sense of wonder, as when Brusatte waxes rapturously on how “the biggest animal that has ever lived is alive right now. Of all the billions of species that have lived during the billions of years of Earth history, we are among the privileged few who can say such a thing. How glorious is it that we breathe the same air as a blue whale, swim in the same waters, and gaze at the same stars?”

While the title includes an “Us” in there, and humans do make an appearance, it is only at the very end, as Brusatte is much more interested in our primate cousins. When humans do show up, we get a nicely concise overview of our evolutionary “bush” with a few dips into some star examples, such as Lucy, but really this is not the book to turn to if you’re interested in human evolution. In fact, Brusatte spends just as much time on our devastating impact on other creatures as our own development (though he does end on an optimistic, or at least, hopeful, note). On the other hand, individual humans come across much better than our species as a whole, as Brusatte takes the time to paint several engaging portraits of scientists — past and present — who have contributed to our knowledge.

The prose is clear, lively, engaging, and personable throughout. And some scenes are wonderfully vivid, particularly a narrative section depicting the volcanic devastation that killed a huge number of creatures in Ashfall, Nebraska, preserving them in ash (I’ve been to Ashfall several times and the bodies are as amazing as Brusatte makes them out to be). The prose is also nicely bolstered by a large number of illustrations that are particularly helpful when it comes to showing the evolutionary changes. Meanwhile, the bibliography is absolutely fantastic, not just for the breadth but because of how it takes a much more narrative, conversational form than most, with Brusatte detailing how or why he used some sources, or why he didn’t have time/space to use others and characterizing many of the sources as “exciting” or “masterful” or “required reading.” I always consider it the mark of an excellent non-fiction work when I find myself highlighting (a lot) the bibliography/chapter notes.

Finally, a year ago Elsa Panciroli came out with Beast Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and evolutions, which I reviewed here, and while the title obviously points to there being a lot of overlap between the two, if you haven’t read Panciroli’s excellent work I highly recommend reading both one after the other as the two strongly complement one another, are different enough in detail and style to keep both interesting and engaging, and the dual reading will cement things in your head.

I’ve been in love with dinosaurs since I was a child, and my office has several biologically accurate models of them in clear sight. I’m thinking now I’m going to have to add some early mammals to my menagerie as well.

[box] Published in June 2022. Beginning with the earliest days of our lineage some 325 million years ago, Brusatte charts how mammals survived the asteroid that claimed the dinosaurs and made the world their own, becoming the astonishingly diverse range of animals that dominate today’s Earth. Brusatte also brings alive the lost worlds mammals inhabited through time, from ice ages to volcanic catastrophes. Entwined in this story is the detective work he and other scientists have done to piece together our understanding using fossil clues and cutting-edge technology.
A sterling example of scientific storytelling by one of our finest young researchers, The Rise and Reign of the Mammals illustrates how this incredible history laid the foundation for today’s world, for us, and our future. [/box]

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Brusatte's The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World was one of my favorite books the year I read it, so I was very excited to pick up this new book and it did not disappoint. The sheer enthusiasm for paleontology that I found so enjoyable about The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was once again present and I loved that he continued to talk about the great work of his predecessors and his colleagues.

The book starts with mammal's ancestors before going into some of the traits of mammals and the specifics of how they work and why they evolved. Some of this gets a little bogged down, but I definitely know more about mammalian jaws/teeth than I ever thought I would know. He then talks about how mammals coexisted with dinosaurs, how they survived when dinosaurs didn't and how mammals became the dominant class whether that be the megafauna of the Ice Age or homo sapiens today.

I think if you had issues with the writing style in The Rise and Fall, you won't enjoy this book. However, if you read The Rise and Fall because you were also a dinosaur obsessed child and were less interested in this book because it's not about dinosaurs, you should give it a shot anyway and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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Unsurprisingly, another interesting book from Brusatte. I think he does a great job of covering all the bases of the super basic facts while throwing in some in depth details here and there. I also enjoy his storytelling aspects where we get into the mind so to say of whatever mammal the particular chapter is jumping off from. It definitely makes it more accessible for a general audience but even as an ecology student, I learned a lot.

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Steve Brusatte follows up his bestselling science hit The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by taking the next logical story telling step on the evolutionary chain by focusing on the inheritors of the Earth in the wake of the dinosaurs' fall, the mammals. If you loved Brusatte's writing style and informative take on the story of the Dinos, you'll find almost as much to like here as well, even if the subject matter is a bit less interesting this time around.

- Once again Brusatte excels at both being incredibly, densely scientific and weaving that jargon into an interesting story about his subject matter.
- Much like his take on the Dinos, Brusatte uses modern paleontological discoveries to explore our preconceived notions of early mammalian life and also dispels many incorrect tropes about the period (e.g., the common theme of Wooly Mammoths and Sabre-Toothed Tigers battling it out constantly.)
- Brusatte again details many of his own adventures and digs...this guy loves getting right into the trenches with his team.

- Apologies to my mammalian friends, but dinosaurs to me are just a far more interesting subject matter. I find it a bit easier to get bogged down in the weeds when reading about Dinos, less so here.
- I'm thankful for the ARC, but not having a Kindle download option and needing to read this on my phone was a bit of a drag.

FFO: Evolution, the Isle of Skye, a good underdog story.

**I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Mariner Books and Netgalley**

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Having all the necessary components for a great read, this immersive nonfiction book about mammals is sure to enthrall readers for years to come. Steve Brusatte has done excellent research and this book is both exciting and informative to read.

Even those readers who don't normally read nonfiction should give this one a try. It won't disappoint and you'll find yourself having fun while learning.

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Oh what a fantastic book! Steve Brusatte makes science so accessible and fun, while also filling your brain with tons of new knowledge. I loved his first book about the dinosaurs (The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs) and adored this one as well. Going back 325 to trace the earliest days of our lineage, I was absolutely captivated. I love both how he writes and what he writes about.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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After a bestselling book about dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte decided to take on a less popular topic – first mammals and their evolution. Again, he combines vivid descriptions of the bygone world with a story of scientific discoveries and the work of many paleontologists, himself included. If you liked 'The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs', you will definitely like this one as well, even if ancient mammals may seem less charismatic.

Many beautiful illustrations and photos were a big plus.

Thanks to the publisher, Mariner Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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This is a fascinating, informative, and highly entertaining read. It's a good reminder that the history of the mammals is every bit as stunning as the history of the dinosaurs. The largest creature that ever lived, the blue whale, shares the earth with us right now. And the mammals that lived alongside the dinosaurs weren't all the tiny, insignificant shrew-like creatures we've come to expect.

Intriguingly, the books suggests that in their own niche, mammals may have outcompeted dinosaurs and prevented them from growing smaller. Which matters because their very size may have prevented any non-avian dinosaurs from surviving the impact event at the end of the Cretaceous.

Mammals seem ordinary because they're here. Because they're us. This book is a good reminder of how cool they actually are.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

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ok so I'm literally going to use this as a handbook for who to contact for a PhD advisor. That makes me not exactly the general demographic,,,but obviously I was super excited for this book. And it delivered! Honestly I wasn't the hugest fan of the writing style but I am Rather Fond of tracing broad strokes of mammal evolution so I didn't notice the writing after like page 10. thank u Dr. Brusatte for making my brain cells crash into each other and create thoughts, and watch out for that email coming your way in fall 2024.

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“It was the Age of Dinosaurs, but in the smaller and hidden niches, it was already the Age of Mammals.”

There’s something fascinatingly majestic about dinosaurs. Those colossal creatures ruling prehistoric planet, cut down in their prime by an apocalypse from space. Mammals, on the other hand, seem to be getting the short shrift fascination-wise. Yeah, they lucked out and inherited the earth while poor dinosaurs got relegated to chirping in the angiosperms — but mammals are boring. They are everywhere. They are pests. They are us.

Normally when I think paleontology I think T. rex, not rodents.

But Steve Brusatte of “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World” fame does not think so. As a matter of fact, he tells is that after all the dinosaur adventures he has had an about-face and now is very much into prehistoric mammal fossils. And he’s clearly very passionate about this. Forget the brontosaurus and the triceratops — below their feet a fascinating parallel world of mammals was just waiting for its chance.

He gives us a very detailed look at the earliest mammals, with a lot of descriptions of teeth and jaw/ear bones. The minutia about what made mammals what they are now.

“Here paleontologists can gloat: it is only the fossils, and not DNA, that reveal the story of how whales moved into the water. It’s a tale of how Bambi turned into Moby Dick.”

But just as I resigned myself to accept that rodent-like creatures are still cool, Brusatte reminded us that mammals are still pretty awesome even if they are not T. rex. The largest living animals - blue whales. The flying mammals - bats who mastered flight in a new way, different from other flying creatures. The majestic elephants thundering through the savanna.

“What many of us—me included, to be honest—don’t often appreciate is that there are many superlative animals alive right now, which share the earth with us. Many of these are mammals. The blue whale is the most extreme of these “extreme mammals.” It is not merely the largest mammal alive today, but the largest living animal, period. Nobody has ever found a fossil of anything bigger, which means that the blue whale is the all-time record holder, the heavyweight champion of the history of the world.
It’s a simple but profound statement that bears repeating: the biggest animal that has ever lived is alive right now. Of all the billions of species that have lived during the billions of years of Earth history, we are among the privileged few that can say such a thing. How glorious is it that we breathe the same air as a blue whale, swim in the same waters, and gaze at the same stars?”

Not to mention the now-extinct megafauna of the last Ice Age. Woolly mammoths, sabertooth tigers - all that awesome megafauna that sadly is lost to us now.

It’s comprehensive and detailed and full of minutia which you may want to interpret as tedious or fascinating, based on your inclinations — but I dare say that if you willingly picked up a 500+ page book on mammalian paleontology, you may just fall into the “fascinating” camp. And just like his dinosaur book, it’s full of Brusatte’s slightly nerdy humor which I think is perfect.

4.5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mariner Books for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Hopefully we’ll leave a world of more than just fossils for generations to come.

“It comes down to this: if our human species had not spread around the world, then a lot of the megafauna would still be here. Maybe not all of them, but probably most. Dinosaurs like T. rex and Triceratops were felled by an asteroid. For mammoths and sabertooths, we were the asteroid.”

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Thank you to NetGalley and Mariner Books for this ARC!

Wow! Steve Brusatte's "The Rise and Reign of the Mammals" is a wonderfully worthy sequel to his "Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs". My knowledge of the evolution of mammals has always been pretty sparse; I'd always imagined early mammals as boring little rat-critters running around trying not to be stomped by giant reptiles. (Okay, I did know that they weren't actually rodents, but that's all I could picture.) This book showed me how incredibly wrong I was.

This book covers the mammalian journey from the evolution of the earliest stem mammals to the Ice Age megafauna, ending with our own hominid development. Other than the fascinating stories about the discovery of the fossils Brusatte describes, I particularly enjoyed the Ernest Thompson Seton-esque tidbits about the hypothetical lives of these animals.

I'd prefer not to give too much more away, so paleontology fans: check it out yourselves!

Easily 5 stars. Wonderfully done!

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Another great overview by Steve Brusatte (if you have not yet read The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, I highly recommend that you do). In this book, Brusatte covers the evolution of mammals from Carboniferous period mammal ancestors up through present-day species. One of my favorite aspects of the book are the fictional vignettes Brusatte includes at the beginning of many of the chapters. These short stories (which are based on fossil evidence) really enrich the reading experience and illustrate what these animals would have been like while alive. I also enjoyed the passages where he talked about his own experiences as a paleontologist. Like The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, which I sped through in a few days, this book is highly readable.

I think the only negative for me was that at some points during the book I felt like I wanted more. However, as the book covers over 300 million years of history, I can see why not every detail could be included. I’ll just have to pick up some of the titles mentioned in the extensive notes section of the book!

(Thank you to NetGalley and Mariner Books for the advanced reader copy.)

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** Thanks to NetGalley, Steve Brusatte, and Mariner Books for this ARC **

I absolutely ADORED Steve Brusatte's last book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, which came out in 2018. I read it in November of 2019 and was absolutely captivated. When I saw that Brusatte had a new book releasing in June of 2022, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.

This was really, really good! I enjoyed it slightly less than The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, maybe because it felt a little bit more meandering at points. I learned so much from this book, though, and was captivated by stories of Thomas Jefferson making The Louisiana Purchase in part to look for living mastodons. It is so humbling to read the story of mammals in just over 500 pages and to realize what a small part of global history we are and how unfairly large our impact has been. At one point Brusatte comments that we are to the megafauna what the asteroid was to dinosaurs. We have wreaked havoc on our animal cousins and we are rapidly approaching centuries where we will have to live in habitats that we did not evolve for as a result of our actions. I am grateful not to be living in 3000 and cannot imagine what our world will be like in another thousand years. It is so difficult for us to process harm caused on the magnitude of thousands of years, but it is crucial that we identify that we are changing our world in ways that will be irreversible in the short-term. What kind of planet do we want to leave for the last vestige of our Homo genus? How long will we survive the effects of our actions? Will any of the remaining megafauna survive us? What other animals will be an afterthought in the extinction event of our time - mastodons, tigers, bison. Will the hundreds of years separating their demise feel meaningful to the paleontologists of the future, if there are any?

I am very grateful to have had the chance to read this and highly recommend it.

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