December 27, 2010
Another year, another spate of dinosaur books. The following is a brief review of the major dinosaur and dinosaur-related books I reported on during the past year (plus one extra that I have not yet reviewed but that no “best of 2010 dinosaur books” list could be without):
Famous for his fossil-hunting exploits—and a notorious lothario to boot—Brown helped form the foundation of early 20th century paleontology in North America. Although his boss, Henry Fairfield Osborn, would name the monster, it was Brown who found the first pair of Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons, and the halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York are filled with the spoils of his field expeditions. Written by paleontologists Mark Norell and Lowell Dingus, this biography is an extensive and authoritative look at the adventurous life of one of the most significant figures in American paleontology. (Original review.)
A slim, technical volume by paleontologists Hans-Dieter Sues and Nicholas Fraser, Triassic Life on Land is an extensive catalog of the organisms that inhabited the landscape between 250 million and 200 million years ago. As the book’s subtitle indicates, this was a time of great transitions—the precursors of mammals, the synapsids, had nearly been wiped out during the mass extinction that preceded the beginning of the Triassic, and the origin of the dinosaurs can be traced during this time. In many ways, life on land during the Triassic set the stage for evolution during the following 200 million years, and this book is a rich reference for any serious student of the fossil record. (Original review.)
Written by paleontologist and historian Paul Brinkman, The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush fills in a significant gap in the history of North American paleontology. The tale of the “Bone Wars”—the intense fossils collecting contest between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh from the 1870s through the early 1890s—has been told many times before, but Brinkman focuses on the following period in which turn-of-the-century scientists competed with each other to collect the biggest and most impressive dinosaur skeletons. Doubtlessly of interest to paleontologists, this excellent book will also give more casual readers a detailed look at the search for dinosaur bones. (Original review.)
Dinosaurs are being named and described so quickly that it is difficult to keep track of them all, and there is still so much left to find! Fortunately for anyone who feels as if they are drowning in a sea of new dinosaurs, though, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by paleontologist and artist Gregory S. Paul serves a sort of yearbook of dinosaurs. Skeletal drawings and fleshed-out restorations abound in this dinosaur catalog. If all you know of dinosaurs is based on the classics like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Apatosaurus, you will certainly be surprised by the stunning array of dinosaur diversity that Paul illustrates. Frustratingly, however, Paul has an inconsistent and idiosyncratic way of renaming dinosaurs—lumping some distinct dinosaurs into the same genus while splitting others on minor differences—and so a number of dinosaurs in the book have been improperly renamed. (Original review.)
I saved the best for last. New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs is the single most significant dinosaur book published this year. Not only are several new horned dinosaurs, such as Diabloceratops and Medusaceratops, described for the first time within its pages, but it also acts as a much-needed update to our understanding of this peculiar group of well-ornamented dinosaurs. Since 2010 has been so rich in horned dinosaur discoveries, this technical volume is required reading for anyone who wants to get up to speed on what we currently understand about ceratopsians. (Full review forthcoming.)
So that’s my list. Did I miss something? Speak up in the comments.
(Ed. Note — We’ll speak up! Brian is way too modest and ignored his own book, Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature. We loved it and published an excerpt about whale evolution on Smithsonian.com — read and enjoy!)
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