[LMB] OT: just read

Lois McMaster Bujold lbujold at myinfmail.com
Mon May 21 13:50:31 BST 2012


(Cc-ing my blog post to y'all, because why not.)

_Fossil Horses: Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family 
Equidae_, by Bruce J. MacFadden.  First published 1992.  Cambridge 
University Press.  ISBN 0-521-47708-5

So...

     A few weeks ago, when out to visit my daughter, we took a day to 
drive around to the John Day fossil beds of Central Oregon, which were a 
revelation to both of us.  The visitor center was particularly good, 
with a really primo display of well-selected goodies from the Age of 
Mammals found over the past century and a half of local exploration.

http://www.nps.gov/joda/sheep-rock.htm

     The book I picked up at their book-stand was recommended by the 
clerk/guide when I exclaimed over their fossil horse display.  Back when 
I was a horse-crazy little girl in the 1950s, horse evolution was 
explained in the colorfully illustrated pop-sci books of the day by a 
neat linear succession of five species, from the three-toed Eohippis 
forward to the Equus I knew and loved.  Everything has changed in the 
half-century since then, including the name of the proto-horse, now 
Hyracotherium.  And the neat linear succession of species has been 
replaced by a tree -- more of a shrub, really -- of a cladistically 
organized array of about a _hundred and fifty_ extinct fossil horse species.

    _ Fossil Horses_ is not precisely a book for the general reader -- 
as I plowed through certain chapters, I was profoundly thankful that I 
didn't have to remember all this stuff for a test, or even in the next 
hour -- but it did give an overview of a century and a half of progress 
in the science, all the recent changes (up to the early '90s -- now I 
wonder if anything interesting has cropped up in the two decades since), 
and, obliquely, a picture of how both earlier and modern paleobiologists 
work and think.  It reminded me, weirdly, of _De Re Metallica_ that way; 
though the writers of these earnest tomes never parade themselves in 
front of their text, you can watch them slowly take shape behind it.

     It also gave the pleasure of following a really long, sustained, 
supported argument, a sort of anti-Internet experience that was the 
diametric opposite of the "Short-Attention-Span Theater" that I spend so 
much of my reading time on these days.  (Though I admit, I didn't read 
it straight through; it took several days.)  Recommended if you are 
either interested in how evolution is carefully reconstructed, or were 
once a horse-crazy child -- or better, both.

     I also highly recommend the Sheep Rock visitor center!  It's a long 
day's drive around to see all three park sites, and we hit the 
explanatory stuff in the middle -- it would have been better to start 
there, and have two days and more time to hike around the trails.  (I 
was especially bemused by the "Don't step on the rattlesnakes!" 
warnings.)  But we did pretty well for the time we had.

Ta, L.




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