The first book I read on paleontology was Stephen Jay Gould’s Ever Since Darwin, a collection of his essays from Natural History magazine, and over the years I’ve read all of them except for the last collection I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History. So I read popular books on evolution, paleontology, geology, and ancient history from time to time.

I am not here to recommend Gould’s books. I’m here to recommend one book I just read and one book I’m in the middle of. The first is My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek and the second is Neanderthal Man by Svante Pääbo. Of the second I’ll say that I’m learning how much DNA sequence has advanced since the early 1980’s and how very very hard it is to extract ancient DNA which makes it all the more impressive that they were able to sequence the Denisovan genome from one tiny finger bone and that we have been able to tell anything at all about this heretofore undiscovered human relative whose genes have been found in populations in Asia and may very well be responsible for Tibetans adaptation to high altitudes. Anyway it took a lot of effort and many years to sequence the Neanderthal genome.

Of the first book it’s a loving look at the dinosaurs we grew up with in the 1970’s and 80’s and how advances in our understanding of the fossil record have changed our perceptions of dinosaurs. The brontosaurus of the title never existed but it’s more of a nomenclature thing which name gets priority.