Novacek, Michael 1948-
NOVACEK, Michael 1948-
PERSONAL: Born June 3, 1948, in Evanston, IL; son of Albin John (a jazz musician) and June Shirley Novacek; married Vera Ellen, June 19, 1971; children: Julie. Education: University of California—Los Angeles, B.A., 1971; San Diego State University, M.A., 1973; University of California—Berkeley, Ph.D. (with honors), 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Music, climbing, cycling, skiing, art.
CAREER: San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, lecturer, 1976-77, assistant professor, 1977-79, associate professor of zoology, 1979-82; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, assistant curator, 1983-85, associate curator, 1985-89, curator of vertebrate paleontology, 1989—, vice president and dean of science, 1989-95, provost and senior vice president, 1994—.
MEMBER: Fellow Explorer's Club, Society for the Study of Evolution, Society of Systematic Biologists (president, 1992-93), Systematics Agenda 2000 (cochair, 1992).
AWARDS, HONORS: National Needs post-doctoral fellow, National Science Foundation, 1979-80; Sloan Foundation grant, 1990; National Science Foundation grant, 1989-95; Eppley Foundation grant, 1986-88; National Geographic Society grant, 1985-86, 1988-90.
(Editor, with D. Wheeler) Extinction and Phylogeny, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Frederick Szalay and Malcolm McKenna) Mammal Phylogeny, Springer-Verlag (New York, NY), 1993.
Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) The Biodiversity Crisis: Losing What Counts, New Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: After flirting with a musical career, Michael Novacek rediscovered a childhood passion for fossils and extinct mammals on a summer dig during his junior year of college. Since then, he has emerged as a world-renowned paleontologist, and is particularly well known for his contributions to the study of early mammalian species. In scholarly works such as Extinction and Phylogeny, which "will be of interest to all evolutionists, systematists and paleontologists," according to Ernest Lundelius in the Quarterly Review of Biology, Novacek and other contributors have made major advances in the study of mass extinctions and diversity, and proposed useful guidelines for conservation.
In The Biodiversity Crisis: Losing What Counts, published to coincide with the 2001 opening of a biodiversity exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, Novacek further explores "the value of variety in ecosystems and the possible dangers, such as discovering fewer medicines, that humanity runs by reducing it," in the words of Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. Twenty-seven authors explore the dynamics of evolution, the history of mass extinctions, including the ongoing "sixth major mass extinction," and the possible ways in which such a catastrophe might be averted. For Library Journal contributor Mary Nickum, "The only solutions proposed here are warm, fuzzy ones that don't address … human overpopulation." Still, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commended Novacek for bringing together top experts to "explain what's gone wrong in various ecosystems and how the damage might be mitigated."
While he has contributed to the theoretical understanding of biodiversity and other evolutionary issues, Novacek is primarily known for his hands-on work in the field. In Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, he tells the story of his four-year search for fossils in the Gobi Desert, a story that "manages to deliver adventure and revelation in one book," according to People reviewer Wayne Kalyn. In 1989 Novacek first led a team to Mongolia, then newly liberated from Soviet control, and returned for three more frustrating summers. In 1993 they finally stumbled upon one of the richest fossil finds ever, at a place they came to call "Xanadu," where they discovered hundreds of dinosaur, reptile, and mammal skeletons, including a nesting Oviraptor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, "Novacek has given us a brilliant introduction to paleontology." "While there is a lot of science in Novacek's book, the real fun is in the adventure story, interspersed with sections that explain the paleontological significance of their finds and discuss evolution and classification of species," added Ellen Wilson in Carnegie.
Novacek has expanded on the adventurous side of his paleontology career in a fuller autobiography, Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammalsfrom Montana to Mongolia. Here he tells the story of his boyhood fascination with the La Brea tar pits, his growing attraction to the study of paleontology, and ultimately the expeditions he has taken part in around the world in search of rare fossils. "Novacek mixes heady science … with hard-grit adventure, making for a passionate memoir," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. For Library Journal contributor Gloria Maxwell, "most of Novacek's book reads like an Indiana Jones movie script." Not that it has all been somber and dangerous. "Novacek has combined the comedic with the informative in this entertaining survey of his career," wrote Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. Wes Burnett, writing for PopMatters online, also noted that "Novacek has an uncommon ability to write about himself naturally and honestly. He makes mistakes, serious ones. His judgment is often poor, very poor. He gets sick, sometimes through his own foolishness. … Hehas stupid confrontations with drunken caballeros over cigarettes. He has run-ins with bandits. But his modesty and his sense of humor makes all this part of the adventure." "Along the way," noted New York Times reviewer David Papineau, "he also gives us an excellent sense of the way paleontologists have arrived at their world-shaking conclusions."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Biodiversity Crisis: Losing What Counts, p. 1421; February 1, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia, p. 913.
Carnegie, July-August, 1997, Ellen Wilson, "Of Once and Future Fossils."
Library Journal, March 1, 2000, Mary Nickum, review of The Biodiversity Crisis, p. 124; February 15, 2002, Gloria Maxwell, review of Time Traveler, p. 175.
New York Times, April 21, 2002, David Papineau, "All History Is Prehistory," p. 27.
People, February 17, 1997, Wayne Kalyn, review of Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1996, review of Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs, p. 64; March 27, 2000, review of The Biodiversity Crisis, p. 60; January 7, 2002, review of Time Traveler, p. 54.
Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 1993, Ernest Lundelius, review of Extinction and Phylogeny, p. 265.
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (October 21, 2002).*