Book Review: Prehistoric Predators by Brian Switek

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When you think of a prehistoric predator, what image jumps immediately to your mind?

Maybe your first thought is of the tyrant reptile king, Tyrannosaurus rex.

Perhaps in light of the recent Jurassic World phenomenon, your mind goes straight to a pack of well-trained Velociraptor. You might even think of the true Velociraptor, the small and feathery reality to Hollywood’s terrifying, over-sized, scaly exaggeration.

(Although, we admit, having a pack of ‘raptors’ at hand? Where can we get our sickle-clawed posse?)

You might even daydream about the mammalian predators of the last great Ice Ages, like the sabre-toothed cat Smilodon.

But what about creatures like the four-legged terror called Postosuchus? Or the lithe meat-eating dinosaur Masiakasaurus?

Fish were predators, too; Atractosteus haunted the tepid lakes of ancient and tropical Wyoming.

Prehistoric Predators by Brian Switek

Acclaimed author, science writer, and paleontology guru Brian Switek adds another feather to his authorial cap with his latest entry: the fully illustrated Prehistoric Predators. In between the scaly, puffed cover of this beautiful book, Switek leads us on a journey back in time, where we encounter creatures that are the stuff of nightmares.

Except, in true scientific fashion, the real stuff is way cooler than anything we could dream up.

Read our review of this great coffee table book and stay tuned for our exclusive interview with Brian!

prehistoric predators

Applesauce Press and Tango Media constructed a nice, well put-together book from the start. When you pick up the book you feel as though you’re touching the scaly skin of the crimson carnivore that stares out at you, shiny eye bulging.

‘Read me, if you dare!’ We sure aren’t going to say no to a look like that!

Where art meets science

The book is sure to delight paleontology enthusiasts of all ages, and we like its simple, field guide style layout. It’s organized by different geological periods, with a convenient  breakdown of time frame in millions of years for the discerning nitpicker of deep time.

Each entry is accompanied by the awesome work of Julius Csotonyi, a friend of ours whose paleo-art is really top notch. We’ve featured his projects before and here again the illustrations never disappoint. They’re like bright snapshots of ancient life, all action and fluidity. It’s really stunning to see.

permian period

Switek transitions into each time period with a little piece that introduces you to the sights, sounds, and species of that era. We get pieces of paleontological evidence, sandwiched with the latest biological hypotheses on how these animals lived and ate.

The Permian period

Our favorite from the Permian periodDinogorgon rubidgei. With a name like that, how can you not read this book to find out more? What I like about this creature is that it is actually not too distantly related to mammals, and therefore, to us. It’s like a terrifying, hairless dog with demon teeth.

I love how Switek incorporates details of the evolution of many groups of prehistoric predators. It’s a nice way to remind ourselves how diverse our planet is, and always has been.

Animal anatomy is also a big plus, and it lends nicely to the great illustrations in their dynamic poses. Switek’s writing is accessible and a great vocabulary builder for younger readers, while challenging readers of varying ages to really imagine the ecosystems and lifestyles of these deadly predators.

The Triassic and Jurassic period

Our favorite prehistoric predator from the Triassic periodSmilosuchus gregorii. C’mon, don’t you want to find out how the crocodile got its smile? Or is this a crocodile at all? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Dinosaurs hold a special place in the public’s hearts, and of course Prehistoric Predators has plenty of them. By the Jurassic period dinosaurs are well into their heyday, and there are a number of beautiful animals depicted within this book.

I really like the Science Bites that accompany each animal, with little pieces of information that expand on the latest research, or debunk myths about the creature in question. Fave from the Jurassic: tiny, feathered Anchiornis huxleyi. Not all predators had to be big to be remarkable!

The Cretaceous period

Switek gives us a cool rundown of a few big name Cretaceous carnivores, including some of the biggest carnivorous dinosaurs ever to have roamed the Earth, and plenty of smaller feathered friends. This is an impressive part of the book, with lots of entries, and a shout-out to one of our favorite places–the fossilized trackways at Dinosaur Valley State Park.

Each animal has a helpful pronunciation guide throughout, though what self-respecting five-year-old needs one of those? It’s good to have for the uninitiated, and the physical profile of each animal helps flesh out the bizarre diets and appearances of each predator.

From insect-eaters to ceratopsian steak lovers, the Cretaceous period makes it incredibly hard for us to choose just one favorite. We’ll go with Eocarcharia dinops, because the translation of that super cool name is the best.

Will there be Velociraptor or T. rex?

Maybe, dear readers.


The Cenozoic Era

The book rounds out with an overview of predators from the Cenozoic Era, which is actually broken up into several smaller epochs. From ancient, toothy whales to enormous sharks and ‘hell pigs’, the predators in this most recent Era never fail to amaze.

Our favorite? Dinictis felina: the sabre-toothed cat that is not truly a cat.

You can take your own journey back in time by snagging your copy of Prehistoric Predators here through Amazon.

Also, we recommend keeping tabs on Brian Switek at his National Geographic blog, Laelaps.

If you’d like to learn more about the work of Julius Csotonyi, head right here.

And finally, Applesauce Press is based out of Kennebunkport, Maine. A nice little town with nice, home-grown publishers. Hooray!

What’s your favorite prehistoric predator? Let us know in the comments below!



The Best of Slovenia with Roundabout Tours [Review]
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