The Ancient Roots of the Modern World
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 A literate, laid-back account of fossil hunting in Africa. Jacobs (Paleontology/Southern Methodist Univ.) does his digging around Lake Malawi in Central Africa. He loves the land and its people, and expounds on everything from the curious dietary fare--fried caterpillar, boiled mouse--to the jewel-like fish residing in the lake, to the now-defunct slave-trade stemmed through the courageous efforts of David Livingstone, whose presence Jacobs often invokes. The author's main focus, though, is dinosaurs. A specialist in rat fossils, Jacobs fell into dinosaur hunting through the aegis of Richard Leakey, who hired him as a paleontologist at the National Museums of Kenya. As it turns out, Jacobs is a wizard at explaining dinosaur mysteries to laypeople- -and he does the same for evolution, continental drift, and other theories that undergird fossil research. He notes the difficulties of fieldwork (``Cook the food well and keep the dishes clean. A good supply of beer is welcome'') and remembers how, on his first Malawi expedition, he discovered an important crocodile fossil while urinating in the bush. The relation of birds to dinosaurs (Jacobs calls birds ``dinosaurs that fly''); the existence of ``living fossils'' like coelacanths and lungfish; the ancestry of turtles and frogs; and the antics of the sauropod (known popularly as brontosaurus) are also surveyed. Alas for fans of King Kong, Jacobs squelches rumors of living dinosaurs in the heart of Africa today; he also takes some potshots at creationists. As a blend of autobiography, science primer, history, and travelogue: a bit diffuse but endlessly entertaining. As a bonus, Jacobs supplies a razor-sharp explanation of how a paleontologist sniffs out fossils and then constructs a science from the brittle bits. (The 42 b&w illustrations--of a quizzical-looking turtle, a spinosaurus gulping down a lungfish, etc.--are uniformly superb.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41270-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992