T. Rex and the Crater of Doom
"The story of one of the greatest adventures of twentieth-century science, told by the central figure.... It is a great read for both scientist and layperson." Richard Muller, author of "Nemesis: The Death Star." Sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid larger than Mt. Everest slammed into the Earth, causing an explosion equivalent to the detonation of a hundred million hydrogen bombs. Vaporized impactor and debris from the impact site were blasted out through the atmosphere, falling back to Earth all around the globe. Terrible environmental disasters ensued, including a giant tsunami, continent-scale wildfires, darkness, and cold, followed by sweltering greenhouse heat. When conditions returned to normal, half the genera of plants and animals on Earth had perished. This horrific story is now widely accepted as the solution to a great scientific murder mystery what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs? In "T. rex and the Crater of Doom," the story of the scientific detective work that went into solving the mystery is told by geologist Walter Alvarez, one of the four Berkeley scientists who discovered the first evidence for the giant impact. It is a saga of high adventure in remote parts of the world, of patient data collection, of lonely intellectual struggle, of long periods of frustration ended by sudden breakthroughs, of intense public debate, of friendships made or lost, of the exhilaration of discovery, and of delight as a fascinating story unfolded. Controversial and widely attacked during the 1980s, the impact theory received confirmation from the discovery of the giant impact crater it predicted, buried deep beneath younger strata at the north coast of the YucatanPeninsula. The Chicxulub Crater was found by Mexican geologists in 1950 but remained almost unknown to scientists elsewhere until 1991, when it was recognized as the largest impact crater on this planet, dating precisely from the time of the great extinction sixty-five million years ago. Geology and paleontology, sciences that long held that all changes in Earth history have been calm and gradual, have now been forced to recognize the critical role played by rare but devastating catastrophes like the impact that killed the dinosaurs.

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom Details

TitleT. Rex and the Crater of Doom
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 28th, 1998
PublisherVintage
ISBN-139780375702105
Rating
GenreScience, Nonfiction, History, Animals, Dinosaurs, Geology, Palaeontology

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom Review

  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    I love the cover to this book. I didn't love the material inside the book nearly as much, but it was still pretty interesting. A bunch of years ago the dinosaurs had a really bad day when a meteor or comet the size of Los Angeles crashed into Mexico and killed them all off, except for the ones that were on Noah's Ark, and the still existing dinosaurs that live in Loch Ness and Lake Champlain, called Nessy and Champy respectively. Those facts aren't in this book. But you learn a lot about rocks a I love the cover to this book. I didn't love the material inside the book nearly as much, but it was still pretty interesting. A bunch of years ago the dinosaurs had a really bad day when a meteor or comet the size of Los Angeles crashed into Mexico and killed them all off, except for the ones that were on Noah's Ark, and the still existing dinosaurs that live in Loch Ness and Lake Champlain, called Nessy and Champy respectively. Those facts aren't in this book. But you learn a lot about rocks and things about geology and dating material, which would be cool, if it wasn't all just the devil manipulating us with his illusions to make us all believe in things like dinosaurs living on the Earth as a dominant life form for about 150 million years, which is millions of times longer than the bible says we have been here, and who are you going to believe, scientists with their numbers, and their research (and besides look at the scientists in this book, they are nerds, they look like nerds, like, hello i'm poindexter, I like math... would you believe them or say the star of Invasion USA! Chuck Norris, or former teen heart throb Kirk Cameron? As if it's a competition....). All bullshit aside, this book is a fun quick read. It's short (146 pages if you ignore the footnotes that are all just references to science papers), and it has a cool cover, and it's about fucking dinosaurs, which are always cool.
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  • Riku Sayuj
    January 1, 1970
    I was promised dinosaurs and I got only scientists searching for a buried crater. A word repeated thrice in a book does not its title make.>The initial 50 pages or so are worth reading. For the rest, go watch some NatGeo doc.
  • Mark
    January 1, 1970
    Ok, ok, so I understand that if you bought this book based on this cover art (e.g. the giant Tyrannosaurus rex) you might be a little pissed off. Whoever was in charge of marketing this volume at Princeton University Press clearly knew that a whole book about the science of geology and specifically the proving of the impact theory to explain the unusually high amounts of iridium in the banded layer of rock known as the "K-T boundary" that separates older Cretaceous period stone from newer Tertia Ok, ok, so I understand that if you bought this book based on this cover art (e.g. the giant Tyrannosaurus rex) you might be a little pissed off. Whoever was in charge of marketing this volume at Princeton University Press clearly knew that a whole book about the science of geology and specifically the proving of the impact theory to explain the unusually high amounts of iridium in the banded layer of rock known as the "K-T boundary" that separates older Cretaceous period stone from newer Tertiary sediments would not sell a lot of product. However, put a T. rex on the cover and you are in business. Notwithstanding the apparent bait and switch, I truly enjoyed this book. If you have any doubt that an asteroid or comet hit the Earth 66 million years ago Walter Alvarez will provide you a front-row seat on how he developed and later proved to the scientific community that the mass extinction event that ended the reign of the dinosaurs was caused by a gigantic extraterrestrial object, about the size of Mt. Everest, striking our planet. So long T. rex, we never knew you.For those readers still jonesing to read about Tyrannosaurus rex let me highly recommend David Hone's The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    This doesn't focus in on the dinosaurs around the time of the extinction event so don't go in wanting that. This focuses almost entirely in on the geology used to determine how the extinction event occurred and where. This was absolutely fascinating, and Mr. Alvarez's writing made it approachable and easy to understand for a casual reader. He took the time to explain size and speeds in ways I was able to grasp quickly and the pacing of this worked almost like an adventure novel, but non-fictio This doesn't focus in on the dinosaurs around the time of the extinction event so don't go in wanting that. This focuses almost entirely in on the geology used to determine how the extinction event occurred and where. This was absolutely fascinating, and Mr. Alvarez's writing made it approachable and easy to understand for a casual reader. He took the time to explain size and speeds in ways I was able to grasp quickly and the pacing of this worked almost like an adventure novel, but non-fiction. I was a bit hesitant with this one, but I really recommend it if the topic sounds interesting at all. It's one I've already bought a copy of for my own shelves.
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  • Margie
    January 1, 1970
    Walter is such a great storyteller. He does an incredible job of making a complex scientific discovery very accessible to the general public, yet never talks down to the audience. A fine job of combining scientific detail with an interesting story.
  • Todd Martin
    January 1, 1970
    Despite its rather sensationalistic title, ‘T. Rex and the Crater of Doom’ provides a very nice overview of the asteroid impact which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (and other species) 65 million years ago. It also describes the scientific investigation which led up to the theory’s development and the subsequent search for the impact crater. The book is written by Walter Alvarez, who along with his father (Nobel prize winning physicist Luis Alvarez) and 2 colleagues, came up with the ast Despite its rather sensationalistic title, ‘T. Rex and the Crater of Doom’ provides a very nice overview of the asteroid impact which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (and other species) 65 million years ago. It also describes the scientific investigation which led up to the theory’s development and the subsequent search for the impact crater. The book is written by Walter Alvarez, who along with his father (Nobel prize winning physicist Luis Alvarez) and 2 colleagues, came up with the asteroid impact theory to explain a clay layer containing higher than normal levels of iridium which occurs right at the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary. Since iridium is common in asteroids, but very uncommon on the Earth, they postulated that an asteroid had been the cause of the extinction. The book is written for a general audience, and is both well written and interesting.
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  • Ellee
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Alvarez's book is a great discovery story! Well-written for the lay audience, it captures one's attention and takes readers through the many dead ends and ultimately, discoveries, that make up science and the process that scientists go through formulating and testing their ideas.Highly recommended for all science lovers, dinosaur buffs (if you haven't read it already!), everyone wanting to find out more about the world around us, and of course, anyone who's ever wondered what really happe Walter Alvarez's book is a great discovery story! Well-written for the lay audience, it captures one's attention and takes readers through the many dead ends and ultimately, discoveries, that make up science and the process that scientists go through formulating and testing their ideas.Highly recommended for all science lovers, dinosaur buffs (if you haven't read it already!), everyone wanting to find out more about the world around us, and of course, anyone who's ever wondered what really happened to the dinosaurs.
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  • Bettie
    January 1, 1970
    Audiobook on 4 cd'sNo-one becomes bored by the Yucatan catastrophe do they, and this is a good rendition that is narrated well.
  • J.S.
    January 1, 1970
    A bit old (1997) but a worthwhile look at how the idea that an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs was eventually proven. Written by Walter Alvarez, the one who originally proposed the idea with his father (who passed away before conclusive evidence was established). He explains how they came up with the idea based upon the rock layer commonly known as the KT Boundary. They subsequently found that regardless of location around the world, the layer of rock had very high levels A bit old (1997) but a worthwhile look at how the idea that an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs was eventually proven. Written by Walter Alvarez, the one who originally proposed the idea with his father (who passed away before conclusive evidence was established). He explains how they came up with the idea based upon the rock layer commonly known as the KT Boundary. They subsequently found that regardless of location around the world, the layer of rock had very high levels of iridium, an element rare at the earth's crust but usually found in small but consistent levels due to the constant rate of small meteorites that burn up in the atmosphere and settle on the earth's surface. Their theory went in the face of the accepted geological belief that only gradual forces had shaped the planet's surface by proposing that occasional catastrophic events also had an effect. Eventually, the site of the giant impact was found to be on the Yucatan Peninsula. I'm not sure how more recent studies and observations have since altered the view, since I believe I've read accounts that present evidence that the dinosaurs actually lived for thousands of years after the impact, but I think this is still a worthwhile read for those interested in the subject.
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  • Daphne
    January 1, 1970
    :*(It was a great little book. I listened to the audio version which was pretty short for the page length. I think I must have missed some great illustrations, so I'll be picking up the text version at some point to get the whole picture. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it was written by one of the individuals that actually figured the cause, location, and beginning of the story that caused the K-T extinction. I've read, watched documentaries, and sat through many lectures about mass :*(It was a great little book. I listened to the audio version which was pretty short for the page length. I think I must have missed some great illustrations, so I'll be picking up the text version at some point to get the whole picture. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it was written by one of the individuals that actually figured the cause, location, and beginning of the story that caused the K-T extinction. I've read, watched documentaries, and sat through many lectures about mass extinctions and this one in focus, but hearing about it from the actual scientist was splendid.Meteors don't give a ***k.You get a real sense of how a scientist comes up with a hypothesis, works through the science to come up with a working theory, and then goes on to try to prove it and get the consensus of their fellow scientists. It's not only a great book about one particular event in the earth's history, but also a wonderful learning tool if you want to help someone learn more about how science actually works.Highly recommend reading to everyone, but especially this dude:
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  • Kathy Petersen
    January 1, 1970
    Who could resist a title like this? It's an adventure story, perhaps even a bit of a detective tale (well, investigative, anyway), with plenty of scientific detail but not enough to make my eyes glaze over. Excellent for readers like me - absolutely not scientifically oriented but fascinated nonetheless.
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  • Jrobertus
    January 1, 1970
    like "lucy" by johansen, this book gives a clear and engaging account of what scientists know of a popular field of study. in this case the meteor that smacked into the yucatan triggering the "kt" species extinction. a good read.
  • bsc
    January 1, 1970
    A nice little book about what we think happened to the dinosaurs and how we came to figure it out. Alvarez does a good job explaining the science without getting too technical.
  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    This book makes a good companion piece to a book I read a few years ago, entitled Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology by James Lawrence Powell, which was about the debate within earth science communities regarding why dinosaurs became extinct, and the global geological anomaly referred to as the KT Boundary. While a physicist father and his geologist son studied the unusual presence of certain minerals and other trace elements in this bound This book makes a good companion piece to a book I read a few years ago, entitled Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology by James Lawrence Powell, which was about the debate within earth science communities regarding why dinosaurs became extinct, and the global geological anomaly referred to as the KT Boundary. While a physicist father and his geologist son studied the unusual presence of certain minerals and other trace elements in this boundary layer, they formulated a theory speculating that the the cause of it was likely the impact of a large meteor, resulting in the demise of all large animals, as well as 70% of all living organisms. This book is written by the geologist son. He details how the theory developed over decades, with dozens of false starts and disappointments along the way, and credits the collaboration of dozens of scientists, each providing laborious pieces to the puzzle in an effort to locate the crater that would’ve been left as a result of the impact. It’s not as exciting as the T.rex on the cover and the title would have you believe, and the author seems to do his best to explain the science in a way a lay person would understand, although, not being science-minded myself, it didn’t always make sense, but at less than 150-pages long, it was still easy enough to get through, and adequately highlighted the Herculean effort involved in trying to locate evidence to prove their theory.
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  • Numidica
    January 1, 1970
    One of my favorite science books. It's the story of the father-son team of Walter Alvarez, paleontologist, and his dad, a physicist, searching for and finding the evidence that a giant asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. It is inspiring to read about these two men collaborating and using their respective skills and the scientific method to find truth, or at least to establish a theory. And if you are a math-science-phobe, don't worry, the writing is clear and easily understood; think Longitude, b One of my favorite science books. It's the story of the father-son team of Walter Alvarez, paleontologist, and his dad, a physicist, searching for and finding the evidence that a giant asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. It is inspiring to read about these two men collaborating and using their respective skills and the scientific method to find truth, or at least to establish a theory. And if you are a math-science-phobe, don't worry, the writing is clear and easily understood; think Longitude, by Dava Sobel, as a comparison.
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  • Tyler
    January 1, 1970
    Really good (but short!) overview of the science that led up to the discovery of the impact that killed the dinosaurs. It's really strange to think that as early as the 1970s, that theory wasn't even considered yet. I'm a scientist so I liked it, if you're looking for more of a pop-science book then the writing might be a bit dry. 4/5 stars.
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  • Michelle Boyer-Kelly
    January 1, 1970
    I was expecting a little more, perhaps more of the t-rex that was promised in the title, but I ended up with a lot of rock and crater information. Would have been better with a little more of that first titular promise. At times was slow and Silk (in fairness this is not my field of study though).
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  • Kevin Fitzsimmons
    January 1, 1970
    Don't judge a book by the cover. The cover on this book is the height of super cheesy. I mean, sure the event happens in the book (in a removed sort of way), but this isn't a book strictly about dinosaurs. The book itself is an excellent recounting into the research involving the demise of the dinosaurs. If you have a desire to read about how research is done you'll dig this. A very good, scholarly read. Inspiring.
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  • Henry Houser
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Alvarez's purpose in writing T. Rex and the Crater of Doom was to inform. He states his and his colleagues' theories, failed or otherwise, in an attempt to show their thought processes. It is written in an entertaining fashion to be more interesting, but its main purpose is to inform. Alvarez is telling his story of the dinosaurs' extinction.The theme of this book is simply the theory it is trying to prove. A giant meteor struck the Yucatan Peninsula around 150 million years ago, causing Walter Alvarez's purpose in writing T. Rex and the Crater of Doom was to inform. He states his and his colleagues' theories, failed or otherwise, in an attempt to show their thought processes. It is written in an entertaining fashion to be more interesting, but its main purpose is to inform. Alvarez is telling his story of the dinosaurs' extinction.The theme of this book is simply the theory it is trying to prove. A giant meteor struck the Yucatan Peninsula around 150 million years ago, causing dramatic climate changes that eventually killed off the large unadaptive dinosaur species. Geologic and fossil evidence is referenced often. Other scientists' theories are also stated throughout. All of them are used to help prove the theory.The book is in first person view of the author, Walter Alvarez, as he and his colleagues test hypotheses. It was partially a description and partially a narrative. He described the events of the meteor's impact as well as his brainstorming periods. He narrated the actions of he and his colleagues.The book was somewhat more entertaining than I expected, even though the title hinted at a more exciting writing style. It was a bit more than a synopsis. It wasn't completely boring like other scientific books. I would say this book was like the other nonfiction book I read, Life on Earth. They both had a compelling writing style for a science book.
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  • Jeneé
    January 1, 1970
    Usually a book like this would be painful to read like most science related books are. I mean I'm a geology/paleo major but lets face it most science related books are not a fun read. But this book I'm glad to say is very well written, and full of fun factual goodies. It goes through the whole 10 year discovery of the reasons for the K/T extinction. If you are interested in the extinction of the dinosaurs or any of earths extinctions I highly recomend reading this book. It gave me a whole new in Usually a book like this would be painful to read like most science related books are. I mean I'm a geology/paleo major but lets face it most science related books are not a fun read. But this book I'm glad to say is very well written, and full of fun factual goodies. It goes through the whole 10 year discovery of the reasons for the K/T extinction. If you are interested in the extinction of the dinosaurs or any of earths extinctions I highly recomend reading this book. It gave me a whole new interest in the K/T extinction. And to read a book actually writen by one of the men who discovered all of it is amazing. It's like you're getting the real facts and not some fact sthat someone got from studying the subject. Walter Alvarez was there and did all this stuff first hand. A amazingly fantastic book!
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  • Denise
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating and not too technical account of how Alvarez and a large cast of other scientists came to suspect and then to prove that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by the impact of a gigantic meteor onto the Yucatan Peninsula. Fun watching the sausages get made: the wrong hypotheses and experimental mistakes, the collaborations and feuds, accidental discoveries and dogged searches, and how very important relationships between scientists are to sparking that Aha Moment. He is almost c Fascinating and not too technical account of how Alvarez and a large cast of other scientists came to suspect and then to prove that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by the impact of a gigantic meteor onto the Yucatan Peninsula. Fun watching the sausages get made: the wrong hypotheses and experimental mistakes, the collaborations and feuds, accidental discoveries and dogged searches, and how very important relationships between scientists are to sparking that Aha Moment. He is almost convincing that geology is an exciting adventure, but I used to date a fossil hunter and in my experience scrabbling over muddy cliffs in the rain leaves something to be desired in the excitement department.
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  • Margery
    January 1, 1970
    I chose this to read because the author is in Margie's department at Cal and I wondered if a laywoman could understand it (or get past the first page). It turned out to be a convincing record of the research done to explain the sudden extinction of dinosaurs globally. Alvarez names EVERY scientist who contributed or was consulted and seemed thrilled by the collegiality that followed. He was also impressed by the cooperation of say, physicists and geologists. I felt that Alvarez really wanted me I chose this to read because the author is in Margie's department at Cal and I wondered if a laywoman could understand it (or get past the first page). It turned out to be a convincing record of the research done to explain the sudden extinction of dinosaurs globally. Alvarez names EVERY scientist who contributed or was consulted and seemed thrilled by the collegiality that followed. He was also impressed by the cooperation of say, physicists and geologists. I felt that Alvarez really wanted me "the laywoman" to understand the processes and theories as they came up.
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  • Thom
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Alvarez and his dad came up with the theory and then worked to find the evidence of the impact theory for the K-T mass exinction This book provides a step-by-step through that mystery - from dating fossils and layers, to the excess of iridium, to the discovery and confirmation of the Chicxulub impact site. In case you want to know what it was like for T. Rex, the first chapter provides a blow-by-blow of the object slamming into the earth, melting bedrock and changing the climate in one pu Walter Alvarez and his dad came up with the theory and then worked to find the evidence of the impact theory for the K-T mass exinction This book provides a step-by-step through that mystery - from dating fossils and layers, to the excess of iridium, to the discovery and confirmation of the Chicxulub impact site. In case you want to know what it was like for T. Rex, the first chapter provides a blow-by-blow of the object slamming into the earth, melting bedrock and changing the climate in one punch. Accessible to non-scientists, this history is a tad dry, but definitely recommended.
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    Mentioned glowingly by Steve Mirsky, host of Scientific American's Science Talk podcast. See here for the transcript and the MP3 download.
  • Jessi
    January 1, 1970
    Really good layman's step into the processes of paleontology and the most popular of extinction theories. Unfortunately I don't know enough to comment on the veracity of all of this book's content, but if theories are just to be taken as such, it does a good job laying it all out. The means to reaching those theories and the work that goes into working and discarding and re-figuring what is known is pretty interesting.
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  • Sofia
    January 1, 1970
    More fascinating than the dinossaur extinction event is the story of how it was pieced together by relentless scientists, from almost all scientific fields immaginable and all corners of the world, for over ten years of battle against the dominating paradigm of the time. It is a wonderfull lesson in the scientific process - which, as the author often points out, is very much like detective work.
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  • Akrabar
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating read. This book gives a detailed account of what the life of a scientist is like - years of painstaking work with lots of failures and finally (if luck) culminating in a success. Very accessible to lay readers and presented like a detective solving a murder mystery.
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  • Billie Mulcahy
    January 1, 1970
    This is a great book for anyone interested in how the Cretaceous extinction happened, and how we know. The author, Walter Alvarez, was one of the Alvarez team who developed and then proved that a meteor collided with the earth, killing the dinosaurs and most other organisms as well.
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  • Dennis Littrell
    January 1, 1970
    Fascinating story of a great scientific discoveryIt's interesting to see that this book is now being used as a text in high school and even junior high school science classes. I had a great laugh from the reaction of a young reader who wrote that it was "boring" and that "Innocent eight graders shouldn't have to read this stuff"!Ah, yes. Innocence. But 14-year-olds aside, this is a fascinating and delightful story of scientific discovery and triumph second to none. It can be compared to James D. Fascinating story of a great scientific discoveryIt's interesting to see that this book is now being used as a text in high school and even junior high school science classes. I had a great laugh from the reaction of a young reader who wrote that it was "boring" and that "Innocent eight graders shouldn't have to read this stuff"!Ah, yes. Innocence. But 14-year-olds aside, this is a fascinating and delightful story of scientific discovery and triumph second to none. It can be compared to James D. Watson's The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, both in terms of the importance of the discovery and for bringing to the reader some of the excitement and adventure of the quest. It is not, however, as the title might imply, the reading equivalent of watching a Stephen Spielberg movie. And perhaps we can be thankful for that.T. Rex and the Crater of Doom is the story of one of the great scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. Prior to Alvarez's work, it was not known what had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Volcanism, disease, climate change, etc., were put forward as possibilities. But in1970 Alvarez began to believe that a large meteor or a comet had struck the earth with enormous force causing the extinctions. But how to prove it? At first it wasn't even imagined how a meteor could bring about such a catastrophe; but gradually it was seen that the debris thrown into the atmosphere by the force of impact would encircle the earth and block out the rays of the sun for months or even years at a time, thereby killing off plants both on the land and in the sea, thereby collapsing the food chain and starving the dinosaurs and most other creatures.This was the breakthrough idea, and an exciting idea it was. Of course there was great resistance, as there always is in science when established opinions are threatened, and Alvarez and his team of scientists had to fight mightily against the orthodoxy of uniformitarianism which had held sway in geology and paleontology since the time of Charles Lyell. It wasn't until twelve years later in 1992 that Alvarez's theory finally found general acceptance in the scientific community.One of Alvarez's purposes in this book is to show a general readership how scientific discoveries are made and confirmed. His tone is generous and he goes out of his way (unlike Watson in The Double Helix) to give credit to everyone involved. He makes it clear that the work was a shared enterprise. One thing that stood out in my mind was the central contribution from Alverez's father, Luis, a physicist who unfortunately died before the theory could be confirmed.Alvarez does however allow himself an occasional sarcasm vis-a-vis the old order. Characterizing the "conventional geologic opinion" on the formation of craters like the Meteor Crater in Arizona as due to "mysterious explosions that occurred at random times and places for no evident reason," he appends this observation: "In retrospect this causeless mechanism...is indistinguishable from magic, but at the time many geologists considered it preferable to catastrophic impacts." (p 76)Science is especially subject to the braking effect of established opinion because it is extremely difficult for anybody to allow that the established beliefs of their entire professional career can suddenly be overturned. All your life you believed one thing and one day you wake up and some whippersnapper has overturned the entire edifice! That is hard to take, and so entrenched opinion wars against new discovery. But that is as it should be since extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary proof.Therefore, just as "the course of true love never did run smooth" (Shakespeare), so it is with science. Alvarez recounts an early misdirection in the quest when it was thought that they had found plutonium-244 in the KT boundary clay, possibly indicating a nearby supernova explosion 65 million years ago. He and Frank Asaro took their discovery to Earl Hyde, a nuclear chemist who listened patiently to the details and then said, "Do it all over again." This was very good advice because when they did it all over again they found they had erred: there was no plutonium-244 in the clay samples! (p. 74)After reading this book we are left with an intriguing question: what was the role of volcanism, not only in the KT extinction but in the Permian-Triassic as well? Alvarez hints that there must be more than coincidence involved in the fact that during both extinctions there is indisputable evidence of vast lava flows. Does a truly monstrous impact somehow trigger volcanic eruptions? An "intriguing mystery" is what Alvarez calls it. (pp. 143-144)This book should be read in conjunction with David M. Raup's The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science which covers some of the same ground (especially the fight against established opinion) while claiming a 26-million year periodicity for impact extinctions caused by Oort Cloud perturbations from a hypothetical companion star, dubbed "Nemesis." --Dennis Littrell, author of the mystery novel, “Teddy and Teri”
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  • SaraKat
    January 1, 1970
    I've had this in my classroom forever as it was left behind by a former teacher. It always seemed interesting, but not enough to make me start it. I finally read it this year and was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was. Walter Alvarez tells the story of the process that scientists went through to gather evidence for the impact theory of the mass extinction at the KT boundary that caused the extinction of dinosaurs as well as many other genera. It is a wonderful mystery full of false s I've had this in my classroom forever as it was left behind by a former teacher. It always seemed interesting, but not enough to make me start it. I finally read it this year and was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was. Walter Alvarez tells the story of the process that scientists went through to gather evidence for the impact theory of the mass extinction at the KT boundary that caused the extinction of dinosaurs as well as many other genera. It is a wonderful mystery full of false starts, dead ends, and many different scientists working together and fighting with each other. I think the best part of the book was the explanation of how science actually works. Alvarez describes how geology as a science changed over the years from uniformitarianism to something that includes the occasional catastrophe. He describes how competition in science should work and how arguing leads to better evidence and makes the theory stand up even better. This is great and I wish my students were old enough to read this and get more from it. Anyone who is interested in the extinction of dinosaurs can read this book and enjoy it. Some of the more advanced physics and geological concepts can be skimmed over and aren't necessary to the basic understanding of the story of discovery. Our nostalgia for the lost world of the Cretaceous is tempered when we realize that it was a world that held no place for us--for large mammals. Our horror at the destruction caused by the impact that ended the Cretaceous is eased by the understanding that only because of this catastrophe did evolution embark on a course which, 65 million years later, has led to us. We are the beneficiaries of Armageddon.It makes me wonder who the beneficiaries will be of the Armageddon we are causing right now.Rocks are the key to Earth history, because solids remember, but liquids and gases forget.Damn rocks are going to get a big ego now.In science, simultaneous discoveries like this may lead to intense competition, which is often beneficial, or to feuds, which are always malignant.If only more humans could realize this and use healthy competition to make everyone better instead of trying to bring others down. When Jan Smit was prevented from publishing his simultaneous discovery of the Iridium values with Walter Alvarez's group by illness, he simply confirmed their findings with his own instead of trying to take the discovery that may have been his by right.This is the high standard of ethical behavior that scientists aspire to, and which makes the collaborative scientific endeavor possible, but which is not always met because scientists are very human.The nature of science and the skeptical nature of scientists was my favorite part of the book. Alvarez explains that his evidence and theories were all much better due to the questioning done by other scientists. If everyone just agreed, there would be no progress, so it is important to have disagreement. Scientific hypotheses are tested in the crucible of intensely skeptical criticism.The amount of different disciplines of science involved in the investigation was historic. It was so neat to read about how the investigators realized that they need to reach out to other scientists in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, and others. It was awesome what could be accomplished with the sharing and interdisciplinary thinking.
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