It might not feature a (Mesozoic) dinosaur, but the cover is certainly arresting. Front-and-centre is a freakishly large bird with a giant beak, lashing out at a big cat-like animal in an exciting battle scene. Yeah, there's some weird stuff going on (cat thumbs?), but it's an effective composition, nicely stylised, and it makes you interested in reading the book to find out what on Earth's going on here. The cover art is credited to Howard Price (and authorship goes to Bertha Morris Parker, which is a great name) but, sadly, the illustrator behind the artwork inside the book remains a mystery. Boo.
The book is a fairly straightforward 'journey through time' affair, although for some reason the very first plate features a jolly-looking plesiosaur. Hello there, plesiosaur! Curiously, the caption for this image reads "A Plesiosaur (1/40) - Model Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum", in spite of the fact that this appears to be a painting rather than a photograph of a model. Of course, this could well be down to the poor reproduction quality of the images, or else it may well be a painting based on a model. In any case, the animal's rubber toy face is immensely cute.
Otherwise, the first tetrapod to appear is Eryops, looking rather pleased with itself by the side of a swamp (the lack of vegetation is probably just down to needing to fit the text in). It's not a bad illustration - the tail may be unduly short, but the bumpy skin is there, as is a hint of the many spiky teeth that lined its jaws.
It's not long before everyone's favourite diapsid reptile clade shows up, but - perhaps reflecting the general consensus of the time that they weren't terribly important or interesting - they're humiliatingly relegated to a series of small illustrations, a reel of the Usual Suspects. Allosaurus, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, "Trachodon"; I believe we're done here. The reconstructions are very much of their time, featuring rather dull, static, and very brown animals (with the exception of "Trachodon", decked out in stunning swampy green).
In spite of the illustrations' small size, it's possible to see where some of them were copied from. In particular, the Stegosaurus is quite Burianesque, while the Tyrannosaurus is a dead ringer for Charles Knight's. Of more interest is the text, which makes much of the dinosaurs' tiny brains. To wit:
"There was not much room in [Brontosaurus'] head for brains. It had less than a pound of brains in 35 tons of body! Brontosaurus must have been a very clumsy, stupid animal."
"Stegosaurus, like Brontosaurus, had a huge body and a small brain. Its brain was not much larger than your fist."
"Inside all this [head] armour Triceratops had a brain the size of a kitten's and not nearly so good."Take that, dinosaurs! No wonder you all died out and the world was inherited by mammals and generally compact, feathered archosaurs of uncertain affinities.
Given their tragic lack of brains, dinosaurs can't be allowed to hog the Mesozoic limelight, and so here's Pteranodon, looking peculiarly googly-eyed and seemingly lacking pteroid bones. But somehow they just look so cute! I'm sensing a pattern developing. Hey, at least they aren't terrifyingly skinny, or hanging like bats from cliff faces. For 1961, they're not too shabby.
The final Mesozoic animal to appear in Life Through The Ages is a dinosaur, although it wouldn't have been widely acknowledged as one at the time (and so isn't here). Why, if it isn't everyone's favourite loon-like toothed diving bird Hesperornis, here given a quite delightful treatment with unusually duck-like plumage and a clutch of young 'uns. This is probably the best illustration in the book for my money - depicting an animal that would be tempting to monsterise as a "BIRD WITH TEETH!" in an entirely naturalistic and understated fashion. It's really quite beautiful. Pretty, even. Also, how often do we get to see Hesperornis babies? I wanna see more!
At the end of the Mesozoic, the dinosaurs are dispatched to the Great Swamp in the Sky and, as the book puts it, The Mammals Come into Their Own. "They are the lords of the earth now...Of course, you are a mammal yourself," we are told. Ah, hubris. Of course, the mammals started out small; as the above illustration depicts, Early Mammals resembled mangy, lanky fossas. But they soon diversified.
'Sabre-toothed tigers' put in an appearance, of course, depicted resplendent atop a rocky outcrop, as they tend to be (when not simply illustrated plunging their absurd canines into some unfortunate ground sloth or other). The animals as painted would appear to be Smilodon. Although Parker is quite approving of their impressive weapons, she also dismisses them as being "one of nature's mistakes, for the sabre-tooth disappeared from the earth thousands of years ago," only to be replaced by felids more suited to internet memes.
Speaking of ground sloths...here's one now. Again, no specific sloth is mentioned in the text, but the image caption reveals the creature to be Megatherium. There's no break here from the stereotypical image of Megatherium utilising its enormous size to reach up into the treetops while standing bipedally - an image probably cemented by certain early skeletal mounts. Indeed, a quick Google image search reveals a plethora of bipedal Megatherium reaching into trees, with a few notable exceptions and some, er, oddities. At its feet stands Doedicurus, incorrectly identified as Glyptodon in the image caption. This is a shame, as Doedicurus was obviously much cooler than Glyptodon on account of the spiky tail club. It's also a noted survivor of the Great Blackgang Chine Fibreglass Beastie Apocalypse of 2014. Overall, it's another pleasingly painterly scene of prehistoric goings on.
And finally...it's the back cover, which doesn't quite form a continuous scene with the front. My attention here is mainly drawn to the strange rhinoceros-like beast in the centre, whose name I'm sure I used to know, but escapes me now (commenters to the rescue! Please [EDIT: Tristan Rapp to the rescue! They're Uintatherium). There's also a wolf thing and what appear to be tarsiers. Meanwhile, we're teased with various other titles of books from the same informative series. I'm particularly interested in The Insect Parade, as long as there are fleas. Clown fleas, high-wire fleas, fleas on parade...
Whether you grasped that reference or not, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or if you'd rather not, have a very jolly time doing whatever you're doing during December. (I'm an atheist myself, but also a sucker for sparkling wine, flashing lights and camp.) Thanks for sticking with your pals at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs, and here's hoping 2016 is as joyful as a nest full of Hesperornis chicks.