Books by Don Lessem

Released: Dec. 14, 2010

Though not quite the dino-pedia to rule them all, this multimedia version of the already-terrific print edition of the same title will certainly set young dinophiles roaring. First and most spectacularly, in about 125 full-screen page images and nearly 700 small index portraits Tempesta's sharply and credibly detailed dinosaurs pose in brightly colored glory. They can be viewed from angles that show off teeth, scales, beady eyes and size, all to riveting effect. Mirroring the print edition, three separate sections focus, respectively, on 32 meat-eaters, 43 vegetarians and 22 related topics such as dino behavior and habitats, how fossils form and renowned paleontologists. The gallery of one or two screen topical "spreads" is enhanced by 14 video clips and also by (optional) melodramatic audio renditions of the short blocks of descriptive text that pop up on command. The table of contents is constructed as a scrolling set of labeled thumbnails. A menu bar at the top features quick links to the videos, a dinosaur family tree and also the encyclopedia portion of the app, which comprises fact boxes and small images for every genus of dinosaur discovered to date. Despite the enhancement, this is still a work in progress as, with minor exceptions, screen orientation is portrait only, and, aside from one clip in which the author relates an amusing anecdote, the videos are all oddly silent animations of dinosaurs in motion (and all last just 20 seconds or less). Still, the outstanding art and the unmatched breadth of content move this to the head of the Dino-app pack. (iPad reference app. 7-11)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 2, 1996

This entry in the Special Dinosaurs series discusses a type of dinosaur thought to be the fastest. Lessem (Jack Horner, 1994, etc.) describes the discovery of the dinosaur, what is known about its habits, and why scientists think it was capable of such speed; he includes information on early dinosaur hunters and contemporary paleontologists. The brief text is lively, if disjointed; the title of the book is misleading, since the word ornithomimids does not refer to a single dinosaur but a family of Coelelurosaurs that includes more than half a dozen species. Readers won't be able to sort out the difficult scientific nomenclature; no classification chart is provided. Despite such lack of precision, children will be drawn to the vivid full-color photographs and appealing illustrations of familiar creatures. (glossary, index) (Picture book/nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
JACK HORNER by Don Lessem
Released: Oct. 27, 1994

The biggest thing this biography has going for it is the undeniable appeal of its subject: John R. Horner, chief curator of paleontology at the University of Montana and scientific adviser to the film Jurassic Park (now there's a handy hook for getting young readers' attention). Horner is a ready-made kids' hero, with his gee-whiz way of speaking, his mediocre performance in school (he turns out to have been dyslexic), and his uncanny ability to spot dinosaur bones out in the field. Lessem (The Iceman, p. 702, etc.) presents some adult details of Horner's career in a way kids will understand. He flunked out of college seven times—a statistic that proves how persistent he was—but received an honorary doctorate anyway because he just knows so much about dinosaurs. Lessem also dramatically reveals Horner's major scientific discoveries: the first dinosaur eggs and embryos found in North America; the first evidence that dinosaurs nurtured their young; and the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever discovered. Lessem, founder of the Dinosaur Society for kids, has written a couple of books with Horner and obviously is a big fan of his, but the book works thanks to Lessem's own enthusiasm for dinosaurs and his impressive knack for writing in kid-speak. Getting kids interested in dinosaurs isn't hard, but giving them an inspiring scientist role model is no mean feat. This book pulls it off splendidly. (Nonfiction. 7-12) Read full book review >
THE ICEMAN by Don Lessem
Released: May 2, 1994

From the co-author of Digging Up Tyrannosaurus Rex (1992), a scanty but fascinating report on a Copper-Age mummy discovered in 1991 on the mountainous border between Austria and Italy. Two themes stand out: first, the incredible chain of coincidence by which the body was preserved, protected from a glacier, exposed, and found before it could thaw and decompose; second, its rough treatment by souvenir hunters, vandals, local and national authorities, and even the scientists who hastily removed it from the site to prevent further depredations. Lessem's tale is enhanced by vivid color photos of the body and accompanying artifacts; but rather than discussing in detail how such finds are analyzed in the lab, he pads the book with a speculative account of the iceman's life and demise, illustrated with competent but unilluminating paintings. An intriguing, if disappointingly slight, glimpse into the realities of archaeological research. Index. (Nonfiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1993

A lavish photo-and-text celebration of everyone's favorite dinosaur. Although paleontologist Horner and science-writer Lessem (Kings of Creation, 1992, etc.) join forces here (as they did on the children's book Digging Up Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1992), this is presented as a first-person account by Horner, covering both his years as a fossil hound and current scientific understanding of T. rex. The authors unfortunately strike an off-the-cuff pose that resembles that of an overeager high-school science teacher: ``We're lucky to have the opportunity to know T. rex, study it, imagine it, and let it scare us. Most of all, we're lucky T. rex is dead. And we're not.'' The new discoveries they trumpet will thrill only the most avid T. rex-philes: that the dinosaur was leaner and more birdlike than previously believed, perhaps a scavenger, with a variable body temperature. But underneath this hype lies a fine popular history of T. rex research, from the earliest discoveries to the most recent find, a nearly complete specimen now sitting in FBI lockup while ownership is sorted out in the courts. With infinite patience, Horner walks us through the tricky stages of excavating and reconstructing a T. rex fossil; details of tyrannosaur anatomy; and ideas about how the beast survived in the ecology of the Cretaceous period. In a science dominated by flamboyant figures, Horner's cool head is notable: Citing the inadequacies of data, he refuses to rule on whether T. rex had depth vision or hunted in packs or cared for its young. Moreover, his few strong opinions are unusually independent: He rejects the popular theory that an asteroid-strike killed off the dinosaurs, and he rails against mounted dinosaur skeletons as misleading—and too expensive. Aggravatingly juvenile at times, but stuffed with T. rex goodies and well-positioned to enjoy some of the run-off from Steven Spielberg's upcoming dino-megaepic, Jurassic Park. (Illustrations—eight pp. color & 72 pp. b&w—and line drawings— not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

The curator of paleontology at Montana's Museum of the Rockies describes the discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil and its excavation, and explains its scientific importance. So far, only ten skeletons that are more than 30% complete have been found; this one (spotted in 1988 by a young woman hiking with her family) was the first to be nearly complete. As such, it's a source of substantial new information, especially concerning the small size and surprising strength of the animal's ``arms'' and the nature of its normal stance: head and tail in a near- horizontal line balanced above the legs, unlike the traditional museum display with head rampant and tail on the ground. Horner's lucid text, co-authored by the host of PBS's Nova program on the find, details the exacting task of excavating, preserving, and transporting the huge fossil remains; clear color photos give a lively sense of the site and the vigorous, yet meticulous, work. An attractive and informative update on a popular subject and on how real scientists learn more about it. Good select ``Resource Guide'' (lacks dates, but books are recent); rudimentary index. (Nonfiction. 7-11) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1992

A Baedeker to the sprawling, brawling world of dinosaur research. Lessem, a science journalist who has founded the Dinosaur Foundation to promote the study of every kid's favorite beasties, delivers a comprehensive survey that rarely takes sides. That's no mean feat, for dinosaur studies are in an uproar. Depending on who's talking—or shouting—dinosaurs were either swift or slow, smart or stupid, hot- or cold-blooded, solitary or communal. Lessem reports it all, which gives his book a loose-jointed feel (like one of those fossil skeletons that barely hangs together) but nonetheless catches the heady energy running through the field these days. The scope is worldwide. In China, paleontologists make spectacular finds in a repressive academic environment. In Nova Scotia, Paul Olsen studies an ``event''—an asteroid-Earth collision—that may have aided the rise of the dinosaurs. In Argentina, Paul Serino hunts for the first dinosaur and finds a possible candidate. Everywhere looms the neon-bright, pony-tailed, cowboy-hatted presence of Robert Bakker, the media hotshot who popularized the idea that dinosaurs were hotblooded beasts that eventually evolved into our neighborhood songbirds. Lessem, while ever the diplomat, seems more partial to soft-spoken Jack Horner, an expert on fossil eggs and nests who sees duckbilled dinosaurs as paragons of mother love. Enjoyable if unfocused, offering ample evidence that paleontological research, which once seemed dry as dust and cold as clay, is now a red-hot bone of contention. Read full book review >