1) Archibald, J. David. Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Mammals. 2011. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 108 pages. Price: $65.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: In the geological blink of an eye, mammals moved from an obscure group of vertebrates into a class of planetary dominance. Why? J. David Archibald's provocative study identifies the fall of dinosaurs as the factor that allowed mammals to evolve into the dominant tetrapod form.
Archibald refutes the widely accepted single-cause impact theory for dinosaur extinction. He demonstrates that multiple factors—massive volcanic eruptions, loss of shallow seas, and extraterrestrial impact—likely led to their demise. While their avian relatives ultimately survived and thrived, terrestrial dinosaurs did not. Taking their place as the dominant land and sea tetrapods were mammals, whose radiation was explosive following nonavian dinosaur extinction.
Archibald argues that because of dinosaurs, Mesozoic mammals changed relatively slowly for 145 million years compared to the prodigious Cenozoic radiation that followed. Finally out from under the shadow of the giant reptiles, Cenozoic mammals evolved into the forms we recognize today in a mere ten million years after dinosaur extinction.
Extinction and Radiation is the first book to convincingly link the rise of mammals with the fall of dinosaurs. Piecing together evidence from both molecular biology and the fossil record, Archibald shows how science is edging closer to understanding exactly what happened during the mass extinctions near the K/T boundary and the radiation that followed.
RECOMMENDATION: This slim volume is for those with a technical interest in paleontology and/or mammalogy.
2) Nield, Ted. Incoming! Or, Why We Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Meteorite. 2011. Granta. Hardbound: 271 pages. Price: GBP 20.00 (about $32.48 U.S.).
SUMMARY: Astonishing new research suggests that 470 million years ago, a stupendous collision in the Asteroid Belt (whose debris is still falling today) bombarded the Earth with meteorites of all sizes. A revolutionary idea is emerging that the resulting ecological disturbance may have been responsible for the single greatest increase in biological diversity since the origin of complex life - the hitherto unexplained Great Ordovician Biodiversity Event.
Introducing these fresh discoveries to a wider public for the first time, Ted Nield challenges the orthodox view that meteorite strikes are always bad news for life on Earth. He argues that one of the most widely known scientific theories - that dinosaurs were wiped out by a strike 65 million years ago - isn't the whole picture, and that the causes of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction (of which the dinosaurs' demise was a part) were much more varied and complex.
Meteorites have been the stuff of legend throughout human history, interpreted as omens of doom or objects of power. But only in the eighteenth century, when the study of falling space debris became a science, were meteorites used to unlock the mysteries of our universe. Incoming! traces the history of meteorites from the first recorded strike to the video recordings made routinely today, showing how our interpretations have varied according to the age in which they fell, and how meteorite impacts were given fresh urgency with the advent of the atom bomb. Introducing a wealth of fascinating characters alongside extraordinary new research, Ted Nield has written the perfect introduction to the science and history of 'the falling sky'.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting introduction on the subject of the effects that meteorite impacts (both literally and figuratively) have had on the Earth.