A smooth education on dinosaurs through the history of the discovery of their bones.
Paleontologist and geological researcher Prothero continues his series of books on significant scientific discoveries, following The Story of Earth in 25 Rocks (2018) and The Story of Life in 25 Fossils (2015). The author begins in England. Since the Bible describes human giants, those were considered the source of most of the large bones that were unearthed, until the turn of the 19th century. Many of these old bones ended up in Oxford’s anatomy collection, where, in 1818, the famous French anatomist George Cuvier took a look and decided they were the remains of a huge lizard. “Huge lizard” in Greek is megalosaurus, the first dinosaur to be named. European naturalists began turning up impressive numbers of fossils, but they were soon trumped in post–Civil War America, where the famous “bone wars” saw two wealthy paleontologists conduct a vicious competition to exploit massive fossil beds in the West. In his chapters on the 20th and 21st century, Prothero describes a stream of new finds revealing larger, smaller, and weirder dinosaurs who could have been brightly colored, feathered, warmblooded creatures moving in herds and caring for their eggs. Despite the cheery title, generous illustrations, and plethora of anecdotes about eccentric bone hunters, this is a serious primer on dinosaur science. Readers will learn how studying bones determines what is and isn’t a dinosaur. Ancient reptiles that flew or swam in the ocean don’t qualify, but modern birds do. Determining what extinct creatures looked like remains difficult; the heads are often missing, the skeletons incomplete, and the discoverers too opinionated. At the end of each chapter, the author provides a useful list of books for further reading.
Solid proof that dinosaurs through scientific eyes are no less fascinating than they are in the movies.