I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
When fossils of birds from China's Jehol region first appeared in scientific circles, the world took notice. These Mesozoic masterpieces are between 120 and 131 million years old and reveal incredible details that capture the diversity of ancient bird life. Paleontologists all over the world began to collaborate with Chinese colleagues as new and wondrous fossil-related discoveries became regular events. The pages of National Geographic and major scientific journals described the intricate views of feathers as well as food still visible in the guts of these ancient birds. Now, for the first time, a sweeping collection of the most interesting of Jehol's avian fossils is on display in this beautiful book.
Birds of Stone makes visible the unexpected avian diversity that blanketed the earth just a short time (geologically speaking) after a dinosaur lineage gave rise to the first birds. Our visual journey through these fossils is guided by Luis M. Chiappe, a world expert on early birds, and Meng Qingjin, a leading figure in China's natural history museum community. Together, they help us understand the "meaning" of each fossil by providing straightforward narratives that accompany the full-page photographs of the Jehol discoveries.
If you are interested in dinosaurs, birds, and the relationship between these two groups, this is a book you should have a look at. It was larger than I had anticipated (over 30 cm tall), but that meant that the illustrations were large enough to truly appreciate. There were many full colour photographs of museum specimens, showing off the many fossil birds or the Jehol Biota, found in the Liaoning Province of China. The book collects photos of fossils from fourteen museums, thirteen of which are located in China and not easily accessible to the average North American fossil enthusiast. Finding all of them in one volume is fabulous.
The fossils themselves are marvels of preservation. Often, feathers and fleshy structures are also present in these beautiful fossils, proving that this Cretaceous Lagerstatten in China is a priceless resource. Sometimes stomach or gizzard contents are present, providing important information about the food habits of some of these creatures as well. And of course, not only birds and bird-like dinosaurs are preserved. The second half of the book also illustrates some plants and small animals that are represented in the sediments.
The second half of the book, giving more information on the current state of research on the evolution of birds, was informative, but rather repetitive. If the pygostyle (the short fleshy tail of modern birds, the pope’s or parson’s nose) was explained once, it was explained ten times. There were other details were which similarly repeated, maybe not quite so often or annoyingly.
Still, if is definitely worth borrowing from your local library if you are a bird and dinosaur nerd, such as myself.