Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do You Dig Dinosaurs?- Ground-Breaking Books on Palaeontology

"Do You Dig Dinosaurs?"

I ask this, because there is an amazing Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, named Sue, awaiting your visit to the Museum of Natural History.

If she’s inspired a mammoth-sized curiosity, then here are a few books I’ve excavated on fascinating dinosaurs.

Directly tied to the Sue’s legacy is the title Rex Appeal: the amazing story of Sue, the dinosaur that changed science, the law, and my life , by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan. The find of the world’s most complete T-Rex led to a variety of pitfalls and problems. Paleontologist Larson faced the typical difficulties of a dig site, mixed with a couple hundred unexpected bones and way-out-of-date research. The media, the government, the courts, communities, corporations, and opportunists all swept in to muddled things up.

Who knew digging up the grave of the world’s largest predator would cause so many issues? Rex Appeal reflects on Larson's love for Sue; for a less-biased look try Tyrannosaurus Sue, by Steve Fiffer, non-paleontologist.

Speaking of issues, check out Unearthing the Dragon : the great feathered dinosaur discovery by Mark Norell, curator for the Division of Palaeontology at the American Museum of Natural History. This is his story of traveling to China in the late 1990’s, to assist with fossils that eventually changed our understanding of dinosaurs in general. Their fossils had wings and feathers. But this is more than a story of science. Norell speaks on the impact science and culture have on one another, and the curious differences between the East and the West . This book is full of colour photos, not just of bones and dirt, but of an exotic country full of characters.

If you enjoy such stories, take a look through Darren Naish’s The Great Dinosaur Discoveries. Not only is Sue given her due (pg 176), but dozens of other discoveries are lavishly presented. This is the story and history of a science, from the 19th century to present day, with each chronicle representing a dramatic change in our understanding. Photos, illustrations, time lines and profiles visually round out these narratives. This is more than a description of what a dinosaur is, but also who they are to us.

Do you want an encyclopaedia organized not by unpronounceable eras but by dinosaur features? Do you want a record of life forms pre- and post- thunder lizard? A biography of breeds and species? Are you looking for a complete guide to dinosaurs? Then how about Dinosaurus: the complete guide to dinosaurs, by Steve Parker. Included is a prehistory to the world, which sets the stage for millions of years of evolution. Colourful illustrations bring these creatures to life, but sadly, the photos are only of bones.

Do you recall a television program called Walking with the Dinosaurs? Using CGI and modern lizards as models, they attempted to recreate the experience of life way back when. Fans will enjoy the matching book The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life by Tim Haines and Paul Chambers. These ancient beasts are divided among three periods of history. Each receives a page or two of description and illustration. I like a particular feature; pictured next to the name is a human (white) before the creature itself (orange). From the tiny to the massive, this book puts dinosaurs in perspective.

For additional readings, try any of these:

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards : a tale of Edwin Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the gilded age of paleontology ,
by Jim Ottaviani .

Part fiction and part fact, this is the story of two bones hunters in the 1800’ a graphic novel!

Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: soft tissues and hard science,
by Phillip Manning.

In 1999, Manning found a rarity: a mummified dinosaur!

The Legacy of the Mastodon: the golden age of fossils in America,
by Keith Thomson.

This is the story of the first dinosaur hunters, to the start of the 20th century.

Gorgon: palaeontology, obsession, and the greatest catastrophe in Earth’s history,
by Peter D. Ward.

This book studies the creatures that came before dinosaurs, their fate, and how it might impact us! (Not a meteor pun, no.)


  1. You pretty much hit every one of my favourite dinosaur reads, Eric, especially "Unearthing the Dragon". Two claws up!

  2. Here's another!

    The Fossil Hunter
    by Shelley Emiling
    (560.92 A615e)

    Poor 12 year old Mary Anning discovered the first dinosaur skeleton ever! Her find invented a new field of science, and partially inspired the theory of evolution.