My day was turning out to be the shitty culmination of a shitty week, when – dingdong! Mark Witton’s Pterosaurs alighted at my doorstep. What a beauty! I’m far from capable of reviewing it as I’ve only read the first 3 chapters (in about as many minutes), but it’s safe to say that my day is saved. More feedback later, but here a two-pointer spoiler for those of you anticipating your copies:
Mark has a gift. He presents the uncertainties of science but never shies away from making his opinion clear. With historical cases, he complements via omission, neglecting to name the workers behind outlandish ideas, while highlighting those who were precociously on the mark. With more modern workers, he presents the ideas with open sympathy, even when discussing Peter’s hypothesis, only to summarize point for point why it seems “the most unlikely hypothesis currently under consideration”.
Similarly, he respects the complexities without allowing them to clump up the text. In a subnote, he writes: “I’ve stuck with the term “protorosaurs” at the time of writing, for the sake of brevity and readability. Readers are invited mentally substitute something like “nonarchosauriform archosauromorphs” for every use of “protorosaur” if they feel like being more taxonomically savvy.” Of course, I will now spend the rest of the week trying to slip “nonarchosauriform archosaromorph” in as many casual conversations as possible. How cool is that?
Again, Mark has a gift, and I say this as someone who never tires of telling people that anyone can draw assuming that they do, in fact, draw. Mark isn’t the craftiest of illustrators, but I wouldn’t change a single of his drawings for any pile of slickness. Mark understands illustration, and he illustrates. As opposed to visualizing. He presents a scribbled Pteranodon longiceps historically hanging off a cliff, and the reader – without reading – immediately understands that this is illustrating an outdated concept. More than any other artist currently working with palaeo subject matter, I feel mark makes use of illustration to show what might have been, instead of purporting to visualize what was. This has to do in part with a twinge of naivety in his style, but I suspect is much more indebted to the wealth of knowledge that is assessing his every pencil stroke before, during and after his hand draws it out.
I can wholeheartedly recommend the book already, but I have to return to the shittiness of my other activities. More later, if you’re interested. Leave a comment.