Monday, April 21, 2014

My 3rd Pair of Reviews

As an Art Evolved member, I post a pair of my reviews here every so often, the 1st being positive & the 2nd being negative. I'd greatly appreciate you reading & voting "Yes" for said reviews in the bolded links below. Besides wanting to make sure said reviews give a good idea of what to expect, they need all the "Yes" votes they can get because 1) the 1st is for a very good book that deserves more attention, & 2) the 2nd is outnumbered by opposing reviews (which don't give a good idea of what to expect). Many thanks in advance.

P.S. For my previous reviews, see the following posts:
-"My 1st Pair of Reviews":
-"My 2nd Pair of Reviews":

1 of Lessem's best/most underrated books ( ): 4/5

Short version: Before the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series, Lessem's "Dinosaur Worlds" (I.e. DW) was, & in some ways still is, the best children's dino book when it came to putting dinos into an evolutionary & ecological context. I recommend reading DW in conjunction with other, more recent books (E.g. Holtz's "Dinosaurs").

Long version: Read on.

You could say Don Lessem is the Don Bluth of dinos: Bluth's pre-1990 work is mostly good, while his post-1990 work is mostly not-so-good; The same goes for Lessem's pre- & post-2000 work, respectively. DW is 1 of Lessem's best/most underrated books: Underrated because it's less popular than it should be; Best because of the reasons listed below.

1) DW is very authoritative, having been authored by "one of the world's foremost authors and presenters of dinosaur information for children and adults" & scientifically supervised by 20 paleontologists, including Peter Dodson (Senior Scientific Advisor), Hans Sues (Animals), Leo Hickey & Robert Spicer (Plants), & Conrad Labandiera (Insects). To quote Taylor ( ), "those are big guns firing."

2) DW is very complete. After the Introduction (which summarizes the geologic history & evolution, anatomy, ecology, & discovery of dinos), DW consists of 16 chapters, each of which focuses on a different Mesozoic site (4 Late Triassic, 1 Early Jurassic, 1 Middle Jurassic, 2 Late Jurassic, 4 Early Cretaceous, & 4 Late Cretaceous). Compare that to the 6 chapters of the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series (1 Late Triassic, 2 Late Jurassic, 2 Early Cretaceous, & 1 Late Cretaceous). Better still, using Holtz's "Dinosaurs" as a guide, DW features representatives of 26 different dino groups. Compare that to the 16 different dino groups of the "Walking with Dinosaurs" series.

3) DW is very in-depth. Using Chapter 1 (which focuses on Valley of the Moon, Northwestern Argentina, 228 MYA) as an example, each chapter consists of 5 sections: 1) "Major artwork panorama" reconstructs the site's entire ecosystem ( ); 2) "A Look Back In Time" describes the site's environment (A river valley); 3) "Featured Creatures" describes some of the site's dinos & other organisms (Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor, Saurosuchus, & various insects & plants); 4) "Then And Now" compares the site's ecosystem to a modern ecosystem (That of western Wyoming); 5) "How Do We Know" examines the site's fossil evidence (The fossilized remains of Herrerasaurus).

4) DW puts dinos into an evolutionary & ecological context: See reasons #2 & #3 above for how DW does that; Google "Item Mentality and Dinosaurs in Popular Science" & "Alternatives to the Item Mentality in Dinosaur Books and Art" for why it's important that popular dino books do that.

At this point, you may be wondering why only 4/5 stars? For 1, while the illustrations by Kirk & Robins are mostly good (E.g. See reason #3 above), those by Field & James are mostly not-so-good (E.g. See the very derpy Giganotosaurus on the cover). For another, there are several weird bits throughout DW. Again, using Chapter 1 as an example, it's claimed that "Eoraptor is an efficient hunter of...larger, slower plant-eaters" despite the fact that "Eoraptor...lacked an extra joint in the middle of its jaw" (which means that Eoraptor would've been limited to small prey).

1 of Lessem's worst/most overrated books ( ): 1/5

Short version: If you want the best encyclopedic dino book for casual readers, get Holtz's "Dinosaurs".* Despite its title, Lessem's "The Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever" (I.e. Dinopedia) is a mixed bag at best & a complete failure at worst.

Long version: Read on.

You could say Don Lessem is the Don Bluth of dinos: Bluth's pre-1990 work is mostly good, while his post-1990 work is mostly not-so-good; The same goes for Lessem's pre- & post-2000 work, respectively. In my previous review, I referred to "Dinosaur Worlds" as 1 of Lessem's best/most underrated books. This review is about Dinopedia, 1 of Lessem's worst/most overrated books: Overrated because it's more popular than it should be; Worst because of the reasons listed below.

1) Dinopedia is a mixed bag in terms of paleoart. In fact, it reminds me of Long's "Feathered Dinosaurs" (Quoting Miller: "I bought the book expecting a more technical discussion of the animals discussed therein...but was surprised to find beautiful paintings of questionably-restored dinosaurs"), but less beautiful & more questionable. For instance, the dromaeosaurs range from being completely feathered (Microraptor) to lacking primaries (Buitreraptor) to lacking wing feathers altogether (Velociraptor & Deinonychus) to being completely naked (Utahraptor). I could list the other things wrong with Dinopedia's paleoart, but this review is running long. Instead, I'll point you to Vincent's "Ten Commandments for Dinosaur Collectibles" (which sums up everything wrong with said paleoart: ).

2) Dinopedia is a confusing mess in terms of organization: The 1st section (I.e. "DISCOVERING DINOSAURS") is a mess because it's scattered all over with no apparent rhyme or reason (E.g. "Dinosaur Worlds", "Dinosaur Habitats", & "Other Animals From Dinosaur Time" should be together, but are at opposite ends of said section); The 2nd & 3rd sections (I.e. "THE MEAT EATERS" & "THE PLANT EATERS", respectively) are confusing because each begins with a seemingly-contradictory version of the "Dinosaur Family Tree" on pages 22-23 (1 with only non-therizinosaur theropods & 1 with all dinos except non-therizinosaur theropods, respectively) & no explanation of why. I'm not saying that there's 1 right way to organize a dino book. However, there should be logical transitions between the chapters & the chapters should flow into each other.

3) Dinopedia is a confusing mess in terms of taxonomy. In fact, it reminds me of GSPaul's "The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs" (Quoting Switek: "In many cases Paul lumps several species or genera of dinosaurs into one genus, although the criteria do not appear to be consistent. For example, Paul lumps the significantly different horned dinosaurs Styracosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus into the genus Centrosaurus, an extension of one of his own recent papers...he splits minutely different dinosaurs previous grouped under Iguanodon into separate genera such as Dollodon and Mantellisaurus"), but with more lumping & less splitting. For instance, the dromaeosaur family is used to encompass every coelurosaur that isn't a tyrannosaur, an ornithomimosaur, a therizinosaur, or a bird as well as some non-coelurosaurs (E.g. The carnosaur Xuanhanosaurus, the chimeric archosaur "Protoavis", & the ankylosaur Struthiosaurus). Again, I could list the other things wrong with Dinopedia's taxonomy, but this review is running long. Instead, I'll point you to SpongeBobFossilPants' "Dinosaur Taxonomy From A 2010 Kids' Encyclopedia" (which sums up everything wrong with said taxonomy: ).

4) Dinopedia is a complete failure in terms of completeness, especially when compared to Holtz's "Dinosaurs":
-It's claimed that Dinopedia is "the most complete dinosaur reference ever". However, while Holtz keeps updates on "Supplementary Information for Holtz's Dinosaurs" when parts of his book become outdated, Lessem does no such thing for his book. Therefore, Dinopedia will never be as complete as Holtz's "Dinosaurs". Even if you compare said books at the time of publication, Dinopedia still fails in the following ways.
-It's claimed that "the incredible Dino Dictionary lists almost every dinosaur [genus] ever known". However, I only counted 683 dino genera (2 Mesozoic birds & 681 non-bird dinos) in Dinopedia. Compare that to the 801 dino genera (108 Mesozoic birds & 693 non-bird dinos) in Holtz's "Dinosaurs". Last I checked, "almost every" = at least 95%, not ~85%.
-It's claimed that "the most current research and thinking is all here". However, Dinopedia fails to cover many dino-related subjects (E.g. "Rocks and Environment", "Bringing Dinosaurs to Life: The Science of Dinosaur Art", "Taxonomy: Why Do Dinosaurs Have Such Strange Names?", & "Evolution: Descent with Modification") & those that are covered are done so in an insufficient manner: Sometimes, it simplifies things to the point of being meaningless; This happens mostly in the main text, but also in the sidebar text (E.g. See the Lessem quote; Notice that it fails to mention either Sinosauropteryx, the 1st non-bird dino to be found with evidence of color, or melanosomes, the evidence of color); Other times, it's just plain wrong;** This happens mostly in the sidebar text, but also in the main text (E.g. On page 20, not only does it wrongly claim that "the first animals came up on land [300 MYA]", but in doing so contradicts the sidebar text on the same page).

*Don't take my word for it, though. Google "Supplementary Information for Holtz's Dinosaurs" & read the reviews for yourself.

**Even if you only read "THE TABS" & the "FACT BOXES", you'll see that there's an average of at least 1 or 2 factual errors per page in Dinopedia, a 272 page book.
Quoting Lessem: "Fossils generally give no information about the outer appearance of animals. So until very recently, scientists had no idea what color dinosaurs might have been. But a fossil of Anchiornis (p. 216), a newly discovered chicken-sized meat eater from China, contained a surprise. Anchiornis's fossils were very well preserved, so its feathers survived. They showed black and white wings and a reddish head. Many feathers were studied to reveal the animal's color pattern. The picture to the left shows what this meat eater might have looked like."