am 5. Mai 1998
Walter Alvarez has done a great job of describing the solution to a great scientific mystery: what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? It is now well known that a large meteor hit the earth 65 million years ago creating a monstrous explosion and dust cloud, blocking the earth from the sun. The proof that was given to us by nature was the Chixculub Crater, created by the asteroid 65 million years before. He lost me a third of the way into the book, as he started to talk of the chemical bases of the iridium and how different machines used certain chemicals to trace other chemicals. It was not that I disliked the book. The pictures were stunning and I thought that for the most part the book was really intriguing from a scientific point of view. The reason for the three points taken off was that, perhaps, in order to make the chronical book length, he combined difficult information with more interesting and less difficult information. I think he was aiming at too wide an audience. Was he talking to high school students? College students? Overall I really enjoyed the book and I recommend this book to anyone over the age of sixteen. It is most certainly a book for someone who has studied some biology, chemistry, or geology in school.
am 3. Oktober 1997
T. Rex is two books masquerading as one. On the surface it is about Walter Alvarez' theory of meteor impact and how he believes that it is the cause of the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period that marked the end of dinosaurs. It is in this way that the book starts, and describes the theorized events in lucid detail. The remainder of the book is of another kind, and that is the hidden treasure here. This book is a story of personal inquiry and uncertainty, of conflict between father and son resolved through conjoint quest, of the gathering of knowlege by many people with unrelated agendas to formulate and reinforce this revolutionary theory. It is a story of how science really works, how ideas are formed, challenged, reformed, and grow to be accepted. Though not what the title promises, this second book is a delight for anyone with an interest in what living the life of science is really like. It makes this book better than a good science read, and much more personal. Highly recommended.
am 10. März 2000
The strong points in this book are these:
1) it is a thoroughly entertaining detailed account of the discovery of the causes for the mass extinction which occurred at the K-T boundary, and
2) it provides an insightful anaylsis of the many pitfalls, lucky strikes, and false trails which are characterstic of any process of true scientific discovery. As such it reminds us of how careful and open-minded scientists need to be in dealing with new insights and discoveries.
For those who are trained scientists, the book is mainly written for the layperson, especially the geological aspects, but that is fine, because as a geologist I am strongly of the view that we need more geological education and understanding in the general community. It is fine if science is written simplistically as long as it is accurate. Walter Alvalrez, for the most part, with perhaps a few exceptions, has managed to achieve this careful tension. The book is not an overview of the various theories and developments concerning mass extinction events, but rather a story of the search told by some who have been deeply involved. Therefore the fact that it doesn't provide an objective overview of the available theories, whilst true, is not really relevant here; Walter Alvarez is telling a story of mostly his own experiences, and those with whom he has worked. As long as this is understood, the book is educational, entertaining, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I would like to add for those with some knowledge of geological science, that we have some very good exposures of the Permian-Triassic boundary in Australia, which Mr Alvarez notes is not so common in the northern hemisphere. This boundary is recognised as the biggest mass extinction of all, and some of these exposures have not been studied in much detail,let alone from the point of view of mass extinctions. Perhaps, being thus far somewhat geographically isolated from the scientific community of the northern hemisphere, Australia will provide some exciting new developments in our understanding of mass extinctions.
am 11. April 2000
Probably the most investigated mass extinction of the five major events known to have occurred has been the KT boundary event. This is probably because the dinosaur, especially T. Rex--as notice how much the dino named Sue fetched at auction--has captured the popular imagination more than any other animal. It was also the demise of these animals that openned up a world of opportunity for mammals, among which our own species is numbered. We therefore have a vested interest in, a sense of ownership of that catastrophic event as of no other. The notion of an astroid impact as the bringer of the end to the "terrible lizards" is also almost Biblical in proportion. It grabs the imagination. Certainly it has grabbed the media, as several TV programs and at least two movies about astroid impacts have been produced since the introduction of the theory advanced by the Alvarez, father and son. This book is a well written account by Walter Alvarez of the discovery of the clues to that event, of the gradual developement of the theory by many contributors, and of the defense of the theory before the scientific community. In fact the book is a good demonstration of the rigour with which new theories are challenged and defended and of the scientific process itself. It is also a landmark episode of the multidisciplinary approach to research and the growing dialogue between scientists from different fields. (For an opposing theory, also in itself compelling, see Evolution Catastrophies by Courtillot, or click on my name for my review of it. For a more thorough account of the prevailing theories of the KT and other extinctions see End of the Dinosaurs by Frankel or the review of it under my name).
am 17. Juni 1999
June 16, 1999 I would first like to thank Walter Alvarez, Jeff Riggenbach for taking the time to write this book and especially for creating an audio abridged version of it. I would really like to see more of these types of books adapted to audio format so that I may enjoy them. Orignally purchased for my 16 month old son as a bedtime story, I have been trying to find all the audio novels I can which share my passion for the maths, sciences, physics, geophysics and astronomy. When I orginally this audio tape I really didn't know what I was investing in but after letting my son listen to it once, I decided to see what I was letting the little guy listen too. What I discovered was a amazing story which took place over several decades which involved everything I wanted to expose my young son too. That is scientists talking about the work they love to do in the process of solving a mystery related to their field of research. Scientists working hard, solving difficult problems to explain a mystery. I could not have picked a better audio novel to expose my son to the adventures of the, sciences, physics, geophysics, palentology, astronomy, the dinosaurs and the rewards which come from a good education and working hard. I would really like to encourage more scientists to write about their discoveries and have them abrigded to audio like this story. This is the type of edutainment I love to support! In short I highly recommend it!
am 13. März 1999
A well written book with good intentions, but there's still reason to doubt the "impact theory" as the reason for the demise of the dinosaurs. The extensive volcanism of the Deccan Traps in India may have also formed the iridium layer. Another idea, never discussed, is that impacts of lunar volcanic material--expelled volcanic domes--may have pelted the Earth in prehistoric times. This idea is especially intriguing to me since tektites--little glassy stones often thought to be splash from an impact--appear to some geologists to be more igneous than sedimentary in origin. The late Dean Chapman of NASA Ames Research Center had the most logical theory about impact craters and tektites: craters are connate with tektite strewn fields! Thus, a massive lunar dome-meteorite impact was followed by a trail of tektites as it entered the earth's atmosphere. Microtektites--lunar in origin-- found at the K-T layer may link volcanic outbursts on the Moon with these periodic extinction causing impacts. Also, check out NASA's John A. O'Keefe (author of the 1976 book TEKTITES & THEIR ORIGIN et al) for an excellent review of this often ignored, but still very intriguing theory! Curiously, an Apollo 12 lunar sample resembled a "terrestrial" tektite so closely if it had been found on Earth, it would have passed for a javanite (tektite)!
am 1. November 1998
Obviously punning on "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," Walter Alvarez in T. Rex and the Crater of Doom tells an equally entertaining (but true) story of the earth's past, and scientific derring-do. About 65 million years ago, all the dinosaurs died out. At the same time, a discontinuity appears in the geologic record worldwide, indicating a time when life very nearly disappeared from the world. In this very accessible book, Alvarez outlines basic geology, including the rise of plate tectonics and the "rule" of gradualism, and then shows how he and many other scientists came to conclude that a giant comet or asteroid slammed into the earth, wiped out the dinosaurs, and re-made life. Alvarez makes the scientific quest both exciting and fun -- it is not unlike the detective in a murder mystery who finds clues, pieces them together, eliminates false leads, and deduces the solution. "Elementary, my dear Watson!" This short (150 pages) book is an extremely satisfying read, and may be finished in a couple of evenings. I would recommend it to scientifically-inclined teenagers (or parents who wish their smart offspring would take an interest in the sciences) as a foretaste of the intellectual (but not dull) world which awaits at college
am 28. April 1998
Walter Alvarez commands a mind of genius proportions, and thankfully he put that mind to the task of producing a wonderful book about the thrill of scientific discovery. The book explains how the scientist looks for patterns in nature that allow generalizing and unifying conclusions to be drawn.
Through our joint geological research in the Italian Apennine Mountains, I've had the very good fortune of getting to know Walter. Despite his being one of the world's leading and best known scientists Walter is an extremely friendly and modest person. In this regard he reminds me of Albert Einstein.
Shortly after visiting Walter in Berkeley last year I mentioned that Spielberg might be interested in a movie relating to the "impact" subject. I didn't know at the time that not one but TWO movies were already in production on this subject - one by Speilberg!
T.rex will inspire and lead many young people to choose careers in geoscience. In considering environmental issues and geosocietal hazards I believe this - inspiring young people - will prove to be the most important long-term outcome of Walter's book: T.rex and the Crater of Doom.
am 18. November 1997
The basis of the book is wonderful and I would have loved to learn more about the people and scientific details about the crater of doom. However, it appears that the author was in a hurry and just needed to gloss over everything. I should have known from the title of the book that this was written just to make money and not out of a desire to tell an exciting story about people and science. Walter Alvarez ahould have read Lucy or Fossil fish (the story of the ceolocanth) to get an idea of how his story should have been told. When he tries to go into personal detail he highlights the encounters. For example the time in Mexico when he ran into former Pentex employees who knew the area and what the author was looking for. In stead of going into detail he basically says we got lucky. I wished that this book went into a lot more detail about the science while exploring the human drama on a much deeper level. If his goal was to make a quick buck he did it. If his goal was to open the minds of fifth graders he did it. If his goal was to tell an intriguing story with much human emotion and very interesting science he failed. I can not recommend this book.
am 17. Juni 1997
If you're over 30, you've lived through the period during which extinction of the dinosaurs by catastrophic means was debated and explained. At first Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, were ridiculed for their explanation of what happened at the Cretaceous/Tertiary or K/T boundary.
Walter's book explains the chronology of events in a very readable fashion -- much less academic than the style of Stephen Gould and others. Its a story that tells how father and son found a way to work together, despite very different professions. It also shows how different disciplines worked together, across borders and countries.
What's surprising is how quickly evidence began to accumulate to support the Alvarez' theory. And its interesting to see where they might have been sidetracked or made critical mistakes, were it not for good scientific practice