Having lived less than a half century, I yet marvel at the speed with which science and human knowledge of its place in the cosmos has changed. Within my lifetime, man has ventured on to the moon; satellites have landed on other planets, dove into Jupiter’s clouds, sped out beyond Pluto and into interstellar space; the Hubble telescope has peered back billions of years into the cosmos; medical marvels have come aplenty; and even our understanding of the earth’s past has radically altered.
Just in my brief lifetime we have learnt the earth was once a glaciated iceball, that life arose within a few hundred million years of the planet’s formation, that for over three billion years life was no more complex than simple bacteria and viruses, that there are regular extinction events that almost kill life off, then spur its growth and radiation, that the planet’s biosphere seems to have its own Gaia effect, that mankind is older than we thought, that the Americas (and whole prehistoric world) were much more connected than we thought, and, most intriguingly, that almost all we knew of dinosaurs, from the books I perused and grew up on, which were published in the 1950s and 1960s, is wrong. Dinosaurs were not slow, lumbering reptiles, but were as different from what we classically call reptiles as birds (which are likely dinosaurian descendents) or mammals are. Some had feathers and were warm blooded; they seem to have been extirpated by a confluence of events that included large scale vulcanism, the impact of a meteor near what is now the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico; and they were more diverse and confounding than we had guessed. I can only wonder how outdated and quaint our "early 21st Century Science" will seem to a child growing up half a century from now.
Few books illustrate this trend better than the 2010 The Princeton Field Guide To Dinosaurs, edited and illustrated by the well known Gregory S. Paul, a top flight illustrator, scientist and author with a long history of revolutionizing the modern conception of what dinosaurs were. In many ways, he is to the early part of this century what painter Charles R. Knight was to the early part of the 20th Century. In 1988, his book, Predatory Dinosaurs Of The World, became a sort of Bible for young wannabe paleontologists and illustrators, and was a de facto field guide for the Jurassic Park blockbuster films. This book is a less popular science sort of book, but nonetheless shows off Paul at his artistic and conceptual finest, as it is replete with all the latest knowledge of dinosaurian knowledge.