Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Holtz's A Dinosaur Lover's Bookshelf


As you may remember, I said that "Good, Semi-good, and Bad Dino Sources 1" was inspired by Holtz's "A Dinosaur Lover's Bookshelf" ( http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2013/03/good-semi-good-and-bad-dino-sources.html ). However, I've since realized that not everyone may have access to it, hence this post. Here's hoping you get as much out of it as I did. It's been very influential to my collecting ( http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2013/03/introducing-hadiazmy-1st-listmania-list.html ).

P.S. I don't own anything in the following quote. For educational purposes only.

Quoting Holtz ( http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/16928013/dinosaur-lovers-bookshelf ): "A persistent problem for the dinosaur fan, and no less for the parents thereof, is the search for the perfect dinosaur book. What the reader is looking for is a work that is textually and visually accurate, up to date, and comprehensive.

The trouble is, no dinosaur book is going to get it all right, or have all the latest information. Dinosaur paleontology, like any other growing science, is a rapidly evolving field--as the articles in this issue, and the current dinosaur exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History, can attest. Investigators are describing new species all the time; a total of more than fifty new species or Mesozoic dinosaurs were named in 2003 and 2004 alone. New techniques of analysis are continually uncovering previously unrecognized details about the internal anatomy and growth patterns of dinosaurs. And finds of spectacularly well-preserved specimens are revealing unknown and unsuspected features of species first described many years ago: long tail quills on the horned dinosaur Psittacosaurus, for instance, were never dreamed of until a specimen clearly showing that feature was unearthed recently in China.

What all this means is that important descriptive details in dinosaur studies can change in less time than it takes to get a book from its author's hands onto the shelves of a bookshop. What is a discerning reader to do?

Luckily, there are signposts that point to the titles you can trust. The most significant discovery in dinosaur paleontology in recent decades, for example, is that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs--in other words, following modern conventions of classification, birds are the only living members of Dinosauria. A good book will recognize this discovery.

Another indicator that a work on dinosaurs is reliable and modern is the way it treats the question of scaly skin. Until the late 1990s it would have been acceptable, at least within permissibly cautious bounds, to depict the hides of deinonychosaurs (the "raptor" dinosaurs, small to medium-size bipedal predators such as Troodon and Velociraptor) as scaly. But recent finds in northeastern China, coupled with improved knowledge about the evolutionary relation, between advanced carnivorous dinosaurs and birds, demonstrate that deinonychosaurs were feathered. Depicting a Troodon or a Velociraptor without feathers, therefore, would simply be antiscientific.

Paleoart is, admittedly, a difficult enterprise: after all, its subject matter is long dead, and science can never expect to know very much about the creaturers' external surfaces or, for that matter, any of their other perishable features. Nevertheless, there is one inviolate rule of dinosaur restoration: if the known fossil skeleton conflicts with the shape of the reconstruction, the reconstruction must be wrong. That rule gives the casual reader at least a fighting chance of separating the wheat from the chaff: distinguishing books that depict restorations consistent with fossil specimens from books that have more in common with medieval bestiaries, conjured from rumor and imagination alone. One reliable clue that a book belongs to the former group is the inclusion of drawings or photographs of the fossil skeletons on which the restorations are based.

The popularity of dinosaurs, particularly among children, tends to make people forget that paleontology is a science. It's obvious when you think about it that understanding the research in the field requires a substantial amount of background knowledge. But, equally obviously, most of the people who produce movies, TV documentaries, and popular books about dinosaurs do not have such specialized knowledge. That line of thinking leads to a few more clues for choosing a dinosaur book: What is the expertise of the author? What subject is the focus of the text?

The discriminating reader will look for a book written either by, or at least in collaboration with, a paleontologist. That isn't to say that paleontologists always provide the most accurate or most entertaining information. But if you or your offspring are keen to find out about dinosaur science, you'll be better off relying on expert knowledge, or at least on well-informed opinion.

Of course, children love to master the blizzard of available trivial facts about dinosaurs--their height and weight, the pronunciation of their names--and publishers exploit that hunger for surface knowledge. But paleontologists know that, ultimately, the science of dinosaurs is all about methodology. The subject matter of the best dinosaur books will follow suit. Look for texts that explain how paleontologists discover fossils, interpret anatomy, and frame hypotheses about evolution and behavior. Check to see whether the artist has sought to make a lifelike restoration, based on a collaboration with a scientist.

Most of all, look for some hints about what is not known. A good book will explain that some of the most prominent physical details of a picture--the color of a dinosaur's scales or feathers, for instance, not to mention many aspects of dinosaur behavior--cannot be confirmed in the fossil record. Does the book make it clear that such things are still matters of pure speculation?

Although few books will meet all those standards, many of those mentioned below deal at least in part with the analytical side of paleontology. In selecting them, I've avoided coffee-table varieties with the format "dinosaurs from A to Z." Although some dino books are excellent examples of that genre, the selections that follow--which range from books for the very young to volumes for professionals in the field--comprise a variety of fresh approaches to the study of the "fearfully great lizards."

While I'm on the subject of the work of scientists in the field, a disclaimer is in order. The world of dinosaur paleontology is not only fast changing, but also rather small. There are only a hundred or so of us dinosaur paleontologists, and the community of paleoartists is even smaller. Together we represent a close-knit community. So I want to make it clear to the reader that I have previously worked, and am currently working, with some of the scientists, authors, and artists represented in the books reviewed, and have written chapters, in fact, for two of the volumes discussed below: Dinosaurs: the Science Behind the Stories and The Dinosauria.

FOR YOUNG READERS
Dino Dung: The Scoop on Fossil Feces,
by Karen Chin and Thorn Holmes; illustrated
by Karen Carr (Random House Step
Into Reading, 2005; $3.99)
In the past several years the Step Into Reading imprint has released a number of children's books about specific subtopics in dinosaur studies, written by subject experts. Previous works include the paleontologist Robert T. Bakker's Maximum Triceratops, and my own T. rex: Hunter or Scavenger? The most recent of" them, and a splendid point of entry for the ten-year-old in all of us, is Dino Dung, an up-to-date book on dinosaur paleontology.

Karen Chin, a paleontologist and the co-author of this newest member of the series, is the leading expert on dinosaur coprolites, or fossilized feces. Karen Carr, the illustrator, is one of the more subdued paleoartists working today. Unlike the images of artists such as Luis V. Rey and Michael W Skrepnick, Carr's dinosaurs don't seem to be hurrying off somewhere; they're just causally going about the business of contributing to the fossil-fecal record.

Chin and Thorn Holmes, a science writer, also tell the tale of how coprolite studies began: how, in the early 1800s, the English vicar and "paleontologist William Buckland discovered fossilized hyena dung in Britain, then carried out comparative analyses of fresh droppings from zoo-kept hyenas. Chin and Holmes go on to tell us how feces can be preserved, and what kinds of in formation can be retrieved from these often-overlooked, and generally underappreciated, leftovers of the ancient world. Chin's presentations at technical conferences are notorious for including at least one bad pun, and she doesn't disappoint her fans here: one chapter is titled, "The Scat with Nine Lives."

Dinosaurs! by Robert T. Bakker; illustrated
by Luis V. Rey (Random House,
2005; $8.99)
This book combines the talents of two of the more imaginative (some might say "controversial") workers in dinosaur studies. Robert Bakker, whose curriculum includes stints at both Harvard and Yale, as well as the Tate Geological Museum in Casper, Wyoming, was the enfant terrible of the dinosaur renaissance in the 1970s, when his research, combined with similar studies by his colleagues, laid to rest the mid-century vision of dinosaurs as inept, maladapted failures. Rey's dinosaur reconstructions (digitally superimposed for this book onto scenic background photographs) are so brilliantly colored they are almost garish, and the figures are probably the most dynamically posed of any in the tradition of paleoart. Yet despite the bold effects, the results are surprisingly mainstream, in the best sense of the word. That is to say, few dinosaur paleontologists today would find the information and reconstructions in Dinosaurs! at all unreasonable (except perhaps for the imaginative colors). If you are looking for a short, colorful, easy-to-read overview of the new understanding of dinosaurian diversity, this book will serve as an excellent introduction for young readers.

I Like Dinosaurs! by Michael W.
Skrepnick, a series for children ages six
through eight (Enslow Publishers, Inc.,
$21.26 each)

Diplodocus: Gigantic Long-Necked
Dinosaur (2005)

Sinosauropteryx: Mysterious Feathered
Dinosaur (to appear in June 2005)

Triceratops: Mighty Three-Horned
Dinosaur (2005)

Tyrannosaurus rex: Fierce King of
the Dinosaurs (2005)
Everything paleontologists know about dinosaurs is ultimately based on fossil discoveries, a concept this new series conveys to children in a sparse but visually inviting manner. Each volume features a single, famous dinosaur species (though often with some mention of related forms). Michael Skrepnick provides a short passage about the scenes depicted--only about thirty words per page. His paintings and drawings, combined with photographs from the field and from museum exhibits, support the brief accounts of the various species, their probable habits, and the way paleontologists have applied the available fossil evidence.

FOR INTERMEDIATE READERS
The Dinosaur Library, by Thorn Hohnes
and Laurie Holmes, illustrated by Michael
William Skrepnick (Enslow Publishers,
Inc.; $26. 60 each)

Armored, Plated, and Bone-Headed
Dinosaurs (2002)

Baby Dinosaurs: Eggs, Nests, and Recent
Discoveries (2003)

Gigantic Long-Necked Plant-Eating
Dinosaurs (2001)

Great Dinosaur Expeditions and Discoveries
(2003)

Feathered Dinosaurs (2002)
Horned Dinosaurs (2001)
Meat-Eating Dinosaurs (2001)
Peaceful Plant-Eating Dinosaurs
(2001)
Prehistoric Flying Reptiles (2003)
This series occupies an intriguing literary niche between a primer for beginners and a book for adults. In some sense, the Holmeses, a husband-and-wife team of natural history writers, have produced a collection of books that is more deserving of the name "endcyclopedia" than many single-volume texts in the A-to-Z format. Taken together, the books represent a relatively comprehensive survey of the major groupings within the Dinosauria. Individual volumes also touch on some related issues, such as dinosaur nesting behavior and field paleontology.

The taxonomic books--the ones focusing on particular dinosaur clades (groups of species that include all the descendants of one common ancestor)--all share the same structure. An opening story focuses on the life of a particular individual dinosaur. Introductory matter discusses dinosaur origins and diversity. Then several chapters cover the anatomy, physiology, and feeding habits of the group in question, and its probable extinction scenario. For a series aimed at young audiences, The Dinosaur Library is unusual in including footnotes that refer to primary literature in the field. The series also gives separate chronological and geographic listings of important discoveries.

DINOSAURS AS LIVING ANIMALS
How to Keep Dinosaurs, by Robert Mash
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003; $14.99)
A Field Guide to Dinosaurs: The Essential Handbook for
Travelers in the Mesozoic, by Henry Gee, illustrated by
Luis V. Rey (Barron's, 2003; $24.95)
These two books present rather different takes on dinosaurs as living animals. Mash, a zoologist who heads the biology department at a prestigious English secondary school, has revised and updated a highly amusing book that first appeared in 1983. Adopting the conceit that some dinosaur and reptile genera of the ancient world are still with us, How to Keep Dinosaurs provides the would-be saurian-pet owner with details of how to feed, house, raise, and train creatures that range from the diminutive pterosaur Anurognathus to the enormous Brachiosaurus.

Icons at the entries for each animal signal various aspects of dinosaur care in amiably wacky-ways: the dieticon begets "fussy eater," "will eat other pets"; behavior evokes "worryingly clever," "iffy with babies"; practical considerations prompt "messy moulter" "government license necessary." Etymological readings of dinosaurs' genus names are also a source of unsuspected humor. Some are accurate derivations with humorous interpretations: Ornitholestes, literally "bird robber," is so named "for a tendency to break into poultry farms." Others are amusingly skewed: Dicraeosaurus (properly "bifurcated lizard") has become "two-meat-tray lizard," in reference "to the amount of meat a hunter can expect to get as his share of a carcass: this dinosaur is a popular diet item in Tanzania."

The new edition includes many recently named species, and several of these, are appropriately feathered. But, in general, the science in this book is vintage 1980s. Many illustrations (superimposed onto photographs of contemporary domestic settings) are repeated from the original edition.

Whereas Mash brings dinosaurs from the ancient world into modern life, Henry Gee, a senior editor for paleontology at the journal Nature, takes us back to the world of the Mesozoic. Gee's work, perhaps not surprisingly, is far better informed than: Mash's is about current dinosaur research. And for Gee, dinosaurs 'also become jumping-off points for addressing such general biological issues as mating displays, growth patterns, and symbiotic relations.

Luis Rey's illustrations are done both in black-and-white and in brilliant (sometimes Day-Glo) colors. Particularly dramatic are his "fish-eye lens" paintings, which lead to some unfamiliar (and sometimes disturbing) perspectives, even for familiar dinosaurs such as Diplodocus.

Gee warns that readers who believe what they see in his book do so at their own risk. And it's true that the casual reader might not be certain how much of the information is based on new discoveries, how much on reasonable speculation, and how much comes out of Gee's and Rey's fertile imaginations. But aside from the bright palate and the odd perspectives, the expert quickly recognizes that Rey's drawings, at least, are based on the latest paleontological data, and are probably more accurate than the typical popular images we're all accustomed to. Still, I wonder if some readers think that the supposed Arctic carnivore Tyrannosaurus helcaraxae, for instance, is already known to science?

TRANSITION TO THE TECHNICAL
Dinosaurs: The Science Behind the
Stories, edited by Judith G. Scotchmoor,
Dale A. Springer, Brent H. Breithaupt,
and Anthony R. Fiorillo (American Geological
Institute, 2002; $29.95)
How do we know what we know about dinosaurs? In this book, dinosaur paleontologists, geologists, and paleoartists explain their work to a general, educated audience. Don't expect to see lots of different dinosaurs fully restored, or an alphabetical listing of major species. But if you are interested in such topics as how dinosaur fossils are found and collected, what fossil trackways can tell us about dinosaur locomotion, how evolutionary interrelations of dinosaur groups are reconstructed, or how science can infer various modes of behavior--this volume is an excellent gateway to the primary technical literature.

TECHNICAL LITERATURE
Feathered Dragons: Studies in the Transition
from Dinosaurs to Birds, edited by
Philip. J. Currie, Eva B. Koppelhus, Martin
A. Shugar, and Joanna L. Wright
(Indiana University Press, 2004; $49.95)
The Carnivorous Dinosaurs, edited by
Kenneth Carpenter (Indiana University
Press, to appear in July 2005; $49.95)
Thunder-Lizards:The Sauropodomorph
Dinosaurs, edited by Virginia Tidwell and
Kenneth Carpenter (Indiana University
Press, to appear in July 2005; $59.95)
These three volumes are the latest additions to the Indiana University Press series Life of the Past, which aims to publish peer-reviewed scientific literature on various topics in paleontology. The series is intended to reach a wider readership than the traditional scholarly journals do.

The Dinosauria, Second Edition, edited
by David B. Weishampel, Peter Dodson,
and Halska Osmólska (University of California
Press, 2004; $95.00)
The Dinosauria is the primary professional reference for dinosaur paleontology. Well-worn copies of the first edition, conceived in 1984 and published in 1990, still occupy the desks of curators, fossil preparators, graduate students, paleoartists, and professors, not to mention the shelves of university and museum libraries.

But the discipline has grown substantially in the past fifteen years, and the new Dinosauria is a more than adequate update of the original. The number of contributors has grown from twenty-three to forty-three; many were still graduate students when the original was first published. The new edition also includes, significantly, a chapter on birds of the Mesozoic, thereby officially recognizing that Ayes belongs to the larger grouping, Dinosauria.

Comprising more than 800 pages, this work is the ultimate reference on dinosaurs, detailing the adaptations, anatomy, diversity, and inferred habits represented on the many branches of the dinosaur family tree. One long chapter examines the occurrence of dinosaur fossils (bones, eggs, and footprints) around the globe. Concluding chapters discuss topics such as dinosaur physiology and extinction. The massive bibliography is the most comprehensive single source of guidance to the professional dinosaur literature ever published.

So this book is a must for the serious student of dinosaur research. But unless you have already mastered vertebrate anatomy, Mesozoic stratigraphy, and phylogenetic analysis, it's probably not the place to begin."

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