[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 
situation correctly. 

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 
convinced me!

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 
that good
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:  nking.ucs@smtp.usi.edu