Book review: Introducing Palaeontology: A Guide to Ancient Life, by Patrick N Wyse Jackson

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

This is the second guide to be published in a series of three books produced by Dunedin (the first of which was Introducing Geology – A Guide to the World of Rocks by Graham Park). As I said in that review, when anticipating the two companion books: “If this book (Introducing Geology) is anything to go by, I suspect that they will be very good indeed” – and this second book does not disappoint at all.

And thank goodness this isn’t another “Guide to Identifying Fossils in the Field”, which is a genre that is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard, when it comes to identifying any fossil below the level of kingdom or phyla (I exaggerate)! In fact, this makes no such claim – instead, being a short (152 pages), colourfully and beautifully illustrated (in part by John Murray) introduction to the science of palaeontology and, as such, fills a useful and previously empty niche in the market for both amateurs and first/second year students at university.

Like Introducing Geology, the book is written in clear, understandable English, but never underestimates the reader’s geological abilities or intelligence. Therefore, Patrick Jackson, a senior lecturer in geology at the Geological Museum at Trinity College, Dublin is to be congratulated on producing a beautiful guide that covers exactly what you would expect of such a book. It is set out in two parts, with the first covering the science of palaeontology – collection and curation, preservation, uses of fossils, lagerstätten, taxonomy and so on. The second section is longer and discusses the most common fossils groups – brachiopods, bivalves, molluscs and so on, but also includes sections on microfossils and trace fossils. And like Introducing Geology, it contains an excellent glossary to steer the reader through the ‘geo-babble’ that is geological terminology.

The last of the three Dunedin books will be on volcanoes and is due to be published in 2011. If it is as good as the first two (and who can doubt that it will be?), I can’t wait for it to be published.

Introducing Palaeontology: A Guide to Ancient Life, by Patrick N. Wyse Jackson. Dunedin, Edinburgh (2010), 152 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1906716158

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