Book Review: The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World (Riley Black)

Book Review: The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World (Riley Black)

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World by Riley Black


Why are we all so fascinated by dinosaurs? I know I was growing up – and to a degree still am. To think about creatures of such immense size roaming the very planet we are is an incredulous thought. So in that same vein, its natural to wonder what their last days on Earth were like. When the asteroid hit, or just before the asteroid hit, and after the asteroid hit. How their entire world completely upended on itself and everything they knew completely changed. (Imagine an asteroid hitting Earth right now – think about how drastically different life would be forever after that event.)

These gigantic behemoths that roamed the world fascinates just about everyone. Otherwise Jurassic Park wouldn’t be the successful book (and later movie franchise) that it is. There wouldn’t be countless kids shows devoted to dinosaurs (my favorite being Dinosaur Train, whoever thought about combining dinosaurs with trains was an absolute genius). They fill up our museums, they fill up our books, and they fill up our heads with natural wonder – how did they move, how did they act, how did their world work, why did they go extinct, what impact did they have, etc, etc, etc.

Book Blurb

The back of the book blurb, as per GoodReads:

Winner of the AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books!

“This is top-drawer science writing.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

In The Last Days of the Dinosaurs, Riley Black walks readers through what happened in the days, the years, the centuries, and the million years after the impact, tracking the sweeping disruptions that overtook this one spot, and imagining what might have been happening elsewhere on the globe. Life’s losses were sharp and deeply-felt, but the hope carried by the beings that survived sets the stage for the world as we know it now.

Picture yourself in the Cretaceous period. It’s a sunny afternoon in the Hell Creek of ancient Montana 66 million years ago. A Triceratops horridus ambles along the edge of the forest. In a matter of hours, everything here will be wiped away. Lush verdure will be replaced with fire. Tyrannosaurus rex will be toppled from their throne, along with every other species of non-avian dinosaur no matter their size, diet, or disposition. They just don’t know it yet.

The cause of this disaster was identified decades ago. An asteroid some seven miles across slammed into the Earth, leaving a geologic wound over 50 miles in diameter. In the terrible mass extinction that followed, more than half of known species vanished seemingly overnight. But this worst single day in the history of life on Earth was as critical for us as it was for the dinosaurs, as it allowed for evolutionary opportunities that were closed for the previous 100 million years.

“This is pop science that reads like a fantasy novel, but backed up by hard facts and the latest fossil discoveries. Black is pioneering a new narrative prehistorical nonfiction.” ― Steve Brusatte, New York Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World – GoodReads

Book Review

This is an interesting book to quantify for the sake of reviewing, because its both scholarly / academic, as well as…. fictional. Its non-fiction, and its about the last days of the dinosaurs and all, but theres a lot of hypotheticals and conjectural or speculative ideas. Frankly – we don’t know for any definitive given how the dinosaurs one hundred percent lived, nor died, nor how they fully interacted with each other. We can extrapolate a fair bit from fossils, and using logic and reasoning, and seeing how other similar animals in our own world operate, but it still doesn’t give us a fool proof view of what it was like to be these dinosaurs or other creatures of that time period.

Riley Black dives into the speculative, and free – flows with much of what we do know about that period. The book blends non-fiction and fiction so seamlessly that often times its hard to decipher which is which; until you get to the back and go through the notes where its pontificated better and clearer on what is speculative vs  information we currently have. Even then, its so woven in, that its hard to tell at times. And I think the author has a hard time understanding that as well.

Riley Black has a clear cut enthusiasm for dinosaurs, the era, and the eons of history ago. You can sense it throughout the book, and this lends to itself a wonderful tale. The book reads both quickly and slowly. I found myself engrossed but at the same time finding the prose to be lugubrious and a chore to get through, but also caught up in the passion and interest of the author. Its a weird dichotomy and blend, and I think thats par for this blended piece of work as a whole. It at times feels like an easy read, and at times feels like a chore, it feels like non-fiction, but reads like fiction, it feels challenging and intellectual, but at times feels mundane, boring, and aimed at both the children in us and the academic we could possibly be.

The narratives for each chapter of the different dinosaurs and other species (mammals, mollusks, etc.) does somewhat tire and fall flat, becoming a bit repetitive by the end of the work. Its a nice introduction to each incremental time jump from the moment of impact, but it does become tiresome to a degree. I get the idea of using this as a way to jump from day of, to day after, to month after, to year after, etc, but it does grow old since most of the times its X creature dying. Showing you how they lived a bit, and then dying.

All in all I think its an interesting look and take of the period, and seeing how the dinosaurs died off, not as just one big cataclysmic event, but slowly thereafter. The execution while mostly good has its faults, but overall its a good picture of this time period and an interesting read for most who have an interest in dinosaurs or the time period.

My GoodReads Rating: ***
My LibraryThing Rating: ***.5

Global Average GoodReads Rating: 3.70 (as of 1.10.24)

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