Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli charts the emergence of the mammal lineage, Synapsida, beginning at their murky split from the reptiles in the Carboniferous period, over three-hundred million years ago, criss-crossing the globe to explore the sites where discoveries are being made and meet the people who make them.
... [a] smart, passionate and seditious book aimed at erasing [Richard] Owen’s lingering influence and showing us the wonders he missed when he dissed small mammals ... As her narrative advances and expands, these stories cross and mesh with those of many small mammals whose evolutionary ingenuity was largely ignored until recently, and her thesis starts to emerge: To advance solid science, social justice or both, attend the overlooked and underrepresented. Panciroli never states this explicitly and doesn’t really bring it out to be seen until a bit past the book’s middle ... how wonderfully explosive a book about these diminutive creatures can be.
Under Ms. Panciroli’s adroit tutelage, the Carboniferous and Permian (pre-dinosaur) periods are brought to life, teeming with strange creatures ... Beasts Before Us starts with the author’s fieldwork on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, combining science with personal memories and delightful oddities ... she regularly enlivens this surprisingly readable book with quick and often humorous observations ... Moreover, the author also can turn a passage of arresting beauty ... If she were to write a novel, I’d want to read it.
... a fascinating survey of recent discoveries in evolution ... Panciroli’s passion for her subject is palpable ... it provides a framework for understanding 'how life has responded to extinction events in the past, and most crucially, how it has recovered,' which is especially relevant in the face of climate change. Her eye-opening study offers just the right level of detail and plenty of wit. This impressive study hits the mark.