February 23, 2009
When paleo-artist Gregory S. Paul published Predatory Dinosaurs of the World in 1989, the idea that many theropod dinosaurs might have been covered in feathers was still controversial. The hypothesis that birds evolved from small, predatory dinosaurs was still being hotly debated, and it would be another seven years before the first non-avian feathered dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx, was found.
Since that time, paleontologists have been inundated by a flood of feathered dinosaur fossils. There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that birds are living dinosaurs, and the fossil record has made it clear that many “bird” characteristics appeared first in dinosaurs. Surely there are still more discoveries to be made, but perhaps the best general review of the present collection of plumage-covered dinosaurs can be found in John Long and Peter Schouten’s recently published Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds.
If the concept of feathered dinosaurs is new to you, Long & Schouten’s book is not a bad place to start. They survey a wide swath of coelurosaurs and provide a brief sketch of each genus. If you have studiously kept up with every new discovery, then much of this information will be familiar—but the real selling point of this book are the absolutely gorgeous illustrations by Peter Schouten. His illustrations alone are worth the price of the book, and each painting is accompanied by an artist’s note explaining how each dinosaur was reconstructed.
Admittedly a few of the drawings needed a little more work. The restorations of the tyrannosauroids, in particular, have a few mistakes (like the overemphasized brow horns on Albertosaurus). It would also have been nice to see a skeletal restoration of each dinosaur included with the descriptions to show how much of each genus has actually been found. This is perhaps a minor point, but readers do often wonder how paleontologists and artists restore dinosaurs from fragmentary remains.
These criticisms aside, Feathered Dinosaurs is a wonderful book that features some of the most beautiful restorations of dinosaurs I have ever seen. It is a book that could not have possibly been published 20, 10, or even 5 years ago, and since its publication last fall several more feathered dinosaurs have been announced. At this rate Long & Schouten may have to issue an expanded edition in a few years to keep up with all the new discoveries, but for now their book is one of the best popular summaries of feathered dinosaurs available.
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