[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]
I'm pregnant! (new textbook)(long)
The title of this posting was inspired by Jim Farlow's "My baby is born"
posting from several weeks ago. My purpose here is to inform the world
that the textbook I have written for my Prehistoric Life course at the
University of Southern Indiana is now in press.
Of course, I am not trying to compete with Jim and other authors/editors
of recent books. While "The Complete Dinosaur" is certainly
extraordinary, it is a bit too detailed for MY situation, even though
others may consider it an appropriate textbook. In fact, I have been
dissatisfied from the beginning with the books available for college
courses on dinosaurs intended for non-science students. I have tried
everything out there, within reason, including two different books by
David Norman, Bakker's "Heresies," and Lucas' text, sometimes using more
than one text at a time for balance and adequate coverage of the field.
I found it to be an exercise in frustration, and so did my students.
Initially, I thought Lucas' book would work. I was on the review
committee for both the first and second edition. I made several
complaints and suggestions for the second edition, supplying a 17-page
evaluation for Lucas/WCBrown to consider. All of the errors in
fact that I found (about a dozen) were corrected, but nothing about the
approach to the subject was changed. With that, I became pessimistic
about the prospect for real improvement. In my opinion, Fastovsky and
Weishampel's book would work even less well, so I anticipated the
We often hear the assertion that you should not complain about the
government if you don't vote. Then, if you do vote but are still
unhappy, you can either shut up or put your money where your mouth is and
work to elect your candidate or run for office yourself. In a sense,
that's what I have done.
Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company specializes in producing small-run texts
tailored for specific courses on individual campuses. They are now
printing the text I wrote for my course, and it should be ready for the
beginning of the Spring Semester, in about three weeks. The title is
Paleontology of Higher Vertebrates: A Practical Guide. It follows an
experimental edition that was little more than my lecture notes typed up
and printed. It was used only in our large enrollment classes here at
USI and once in a small class at IU-Southeast by a total of three
professors. This material has benefitted from two years of comments by
about 700 students, and input from the other teachers, as to what works
and what does not for this audience.
Below are excerpts from the Preface that pretty well explain what this
project is all about:
"This book follows an experimental edition entitled Prehistoric
Life, also published by Kendall/Hunt. It was written because of the need
for a comprehensive, user-friendly treatment of vertebrate paleontology
at the introductory college level. To me, "user-friendly" means that the
vocabulary is understandable, serving as a tool for communicating ideas,
as it should, rather than being itself a stumbling block to understanding
paleontology. The experimental edition was written in one semester while
I carried a full teaching load, which underscores my frustration with
existing textbooks-- anything would have been better! The preliminary
edition worked well, however, making my teaching job, as well as the
students' learning job, much easier while I developed my concepts for
Paleontology of Higher Vertebrates: A Practical Guide.
"All along, my purpose has been to make the world of vertebrate
paleontology accessible to the majority of people. I think that
everybody ought to be able to enjoy paleontology. The story of some
becoming dinosaurs, others becoming mammals, and still others remaining
much the same, is fascinating. When expressed in everyday language, it
is also completely understandable by any reasonably intelligent person.
I have avoided the temptation to confound the simple outlines of life
history by delving into the anatomical and taxonomic debates that are
peppered with an unfathomable technical vocabulary--what I call
"paleobabble." . . . The taxonomic categories and phylogenetic
diagrams I incorporated into the text
are admittedly simplified--this book provides merely a starting point.
My goal is also to supply practical information (hence the book's
subtitle), information that can be taken to a museum and used to identify
the skeletons on display without depending on the labels in front of
them. This goal was inspired by the frequent publication of
illustrations that do not show the critical characters described for
particular animal groups, and descriptions that cannot be understood in
absence of good illustrations. Often, the
distinguishing features listed are invisible to everyone except
practicing paleontologists who can dissemble the bones and literally look
at the skeletons upside-down and from the inside-out. Students having
the interest and aptitude can use my presentation as a springboard to
move up to more technical references, such as the encyclopedic sources
listed in the Bibliography, that are technically more precise and
comprehensive. . . . [snip]
"One of the most challenging objectives was to stay on focus. This
book does not attempt to substitute for a book on historical geology.
For example, I was purposely brief about interpreting depositional
environments, principles of evolution, dating rocks, the origin of life
itself, and other topics that are already covered in other courses and
texts. These are all interesting and worthy subjects, but this book is
about the history of higher vertebrates--reptiles, mammals, and birds.
"To help both the student and instructor, each chapter begins with
an outline. It ends with a chapter summary, list of additional readings,
and a study guide consisting of important terms, concepts, animals, and
people. There are also review questions in different formats such as
true/false, multiple choice, completion, and discussion. At the
instructor's option, these can be torn out and handed in as homework
assignments or take-home quizzes. [end of excerpt]
I hope Mickey will stick with me here. This isn't meant to be an
advertisement, but you can appropriately conclude that we are hoping this
book will be used elsewhere besides USI. As you can also see, the book
is not about dinosaurs alone. Other reptile groups are discussed, as are
mammals. There is even a chapter about non-amniotes.
My purpose was to produce something that would work in my own class. USI
is primarily a teaching school, and I live this course virtually every
day. Seeing the fear, panic, and frustration among students about this
most interesting of all topics in science was unacceptable. Now I
think I finally have something that will work. No jumping around from
one chapter to another to follow my own concept for proper organization
for the course; no wasting time explaining irrelevant topics; no
apologizing for the pervasive taxonomic name-dropping and anatomical
vocabulary-flaunting that characterize other texts; no excuses, period.
I wrote it specifically for students with limited background in science
and who, more likely than not, haven't even studied a foreign language.
I did not feel the need to mention particular animals, debate
classifications and the contents of clades, or discuss obscure anatomical
characters just to satisfy my colleagues out there that I know what I'm
talking about. (How many of you are already alarmed that in the Preface
I implied that the mammal clade also includes reptiles? Read it before
you critique it!) However, I did not suggest that cladistics has any
shortcomings, and the explanation about why birds are dinosaurs even
Unfortunately, small runs make for expensive books. We anticipate a
price in the mid-$40's for this 499-page book. Too pricey for my taste.
That is largely my fault, as I did the formatting, using an 11-point font
that is overly broad (called Serifa; it's selection is a long story).
However, if we can sell as many outside the university as I use here
(about 450 per year), the cost will come down by about $10 a book. I'd
eventually like to see a retail price in the low $30's, which is
feasible, and would be good these days for a college textbook. I am
already planning the second edition, for which my goal is a shorter book
by about 10%. Also, the cost for artist's renditions of the living
animals will go down as artwork additions and revisions decrease in
subsequent editions; fees for publication of museum photos can also go
down with subsequent editions. I drew all of the technical illustrations
myself (about 300 in this edition), and laid out the pages to supply
camera-ready copy, again to keep the cost down.
This book probably has nothing for most of you on this list. As stated
in the Preface, it is merely a starting point. It will not be for sale
in Walden or similar stores; it is strictly a textbook. While I know
advertising would avoid such comments, I already see places where
improvements in the writing, illustrations, and coverage of subject
matter can be made for the second edition. For example, I've found one
typo of the sort spell-checking would not catch; Kendall/Hunt did a good
job of editing, but before we went to press I had found a few errors they
missed. Also, I already think it best to reduce the detail about
thecodont-grade archosaurs. So, this will be an evolving project, and I
will solicit comments from users (students and other teachers, if any) as
to its effectiveness and other matters. Even if I am the lone user, the
second edition should go to press in about two years.
Norman R. King tel: (812) 464-1794
Department of Geosciences fax: (812) 464-1960
University of Southern Indiana
8600 University Blvd.
Evansville, IN 47712 e-mail: email@example.com