Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Paleo Reading List

Jeff asked me to create a reading list for paleo fans of all ages and skill levels. And so here it be, arranged in categories of increasing specialty.

Casual Readers

de Panafieu, J. & Gries, P. (2007). Evolution. Seven Stories Press: New York, NY

This enormous black tome contains picture and beautiful picture of skeletons. Nothing but animal skeletons, from rattlesnakes to bears, king crabs to coelocanths. The point of the book is simple, and underlies all of taxonomy: we're all the same. Aardvarks have the same bones that humans do, and frogs and snakes! This book is a testament (a gorgeous one) to that wonderful sameness. And while it's sort of pricey ($65), it's well worth the price of admission. It's also a great resource for artists!

Currie, P. J. & Tropea, M. (2000). Dinosaur Imagery. Academic Press: San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Boston, London, Sydney, Tokyo.

For the paleo-artists among you, this book is Mecca. It features nothing but (mostly) dinosaur art in various forms of media, with commentary by various paleontologists! It is, if nothing else, a great place to see different interpretations of our favorite beasties.

Bakker, R. T. (1986). The Dinosaur Heresies. Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing Corp.: United States of America.

No longer the most accurate or "go-to" book for paleo, Bakker's tome managed to almost single-handedly spur the modern Dinosaur Renaissance. His ideas were well beyond the contemporary notions of dinosaurs as failed, cold-blooded stupids with no living decendants. A lot of the ideas presented in the book (like a trunk-nosed sauropod) are questionable, but in a way, it probably required that much movin' and shakin' to get people thinking about dinosaurs in a new way. I'm not sure if Heresies is still in print, but it's an entertaining read and historically important.

Psihoyos, L & Knoebber, J. (1994). Hunting Dinosaurs. Random House, Inc.: New York & Canada.

My well-worn copy of Hunting Dinosaurs still gets a lot of playtime even today. Knoebber's wonderful photos combined with Psihoyos' tall tales brings a great appreciation for the people who dig up the bones. This book is not so much about dinosaurs as the people who love dinosaurs. All the bigwigs in the field are interviewed, with wonderful photos of fossilized bones to go along with them. Most of the books on this list are about the extinct beasties, but this book is important in that is profiles the science behind those beasties.

Holtz, Jr., T. R. & Rey, L. V. (2007). Dinosaurs. Random House Children's Books: United States of America.

This is the "go-to" book for dinosaurs. Dr. Holtz is a wonderful writer, and even though his audience is the pre-teen set, he does not talk down to them, the result of which is an intelligent and thoughtful discussion about dinosaur evolution, the various groups, and have taxonomy works. It's not a primer for kids, either, as people of all ages (including me) can enjoy it. It's one of my favorite books. While I don't always agree with Luis Rey's technicolor reconstructions, he brings something new and dynamic to the table, which I appreciate. I cannot adequately describe how wonderful this book is.

Dixon, D. (2006). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs. Lorez Books: London.

Actually, the publication information is a little nebulous, but the author and title should be all you need. This is kind of a quick reference tool for younger readers, but there is a lot of valuable information here for more serious paleo writers, too. For example, each prehistoric creature profiled within is flanked by its range, who it was named by and when, and species name(s). Most books of this kind only give the genus, and you almost never get the description date. This book is basically a list of prehistoric reptiles (mostly dinosaurs) with short descriptions and accompanying illustrations. The pictures range from questionable (Sordes) to awesome (Rugops). My edition is hardcover, but a softcover version is now available, usually at a bargain price where I've seen it.

Norell, M. (2005). Unearthing the Dragon. PI Press: New York, NY.

Like Hunting Dinosaurs, Norell's book is more about the people in paleo than the paleo itself. What makes this short read special is that you learn about digging in a foreign country (China) and the cultural challenges it entails. The photographs, by Mick Ellison, are lovely and help to get across both the cultural chasms and similarities of digging for dinosaurs in China. Norell also writes at length about the phenomenal feathered dinosaurs coming out of China and how our views of even the Dinosaur Renaissance are changing.

Gee, H. & Rey, L. V. (2003). A Field Guide to Dinosaurs. Quarto Inc.: United States.

This tongue-in-cheek book is a hypothetical field guide to living dinosaurs. The paintings and sketches will blow your mind, and some of the musings about dinosaur lifestyles (Eotyrannus depends on a certain bacteria from Hypsilophodon to fully mature) are interesting if not a little far-fetched. While the text doesn't always agree with the paleontology, the illustrations are beautiful and well worth a look.

Paul, G. S. (editor). (2000). The Scientific American Book of Dinosaurs. St. Martin's Press: New York, NY.

This book is an edited volume of Scientific American articles about dinosaurs collected over the years. All of the articles are very accessible, and Paul's illustrations are second to none. It's a bit outdated now, but the sections on dinosaur art and Thomas Holtz's essay on dinosaur taxonomy are fantastic. There are a number of discussions on the feeding habits of Tyrannosaurus rex as well. It might be hard to find now, but it's worthwhile read.

For the Enthusiast

Dodson, P. (1996). The Horned Dinosaurs. Princeton University Press: New Jersey.

You'd be surprised how up-to-date this book is. The recent mess of new ceratopsid taxa have not in any way blunted this book's effectiveness. Dodson reviews the Ceratopsia in a very readable way, although the book's terminology can be a bit technical at times, so casual readers should beware. It is still, however, the best book yet written on any single group of dinosaurs aside from the next book on this list. Aside from talking about the animals themselves, Dodson regails readers with entertaining stories regarding the history of the fossils. Even clocking in at just under 300 pages, The Horned Dinosaurs is a short and educational read.

Paul, G. S. (1988). Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. Simon & Schuster Inc.: New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo.

This book is out of print and hard to find, but you'd be amazed how much Paul got right. I am recommending this book first and foremost for its illustrations--Greg Paul is a god in the world of paleo art. And he's restoring his theropods with feathers...in 1988! Before its time in many ways, one reads Predatory Dinosaurs now and wonders how people didn't see all this 20 years ago. Paul produced a sequel--Dinosaurs of the Air, but it is a far more technical volume (although it's still on this list).

Ellis, R. (2003). Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans. University Press of Kansas: United States of America.

If you like marine reptiles (plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, etc.), this book is for you. It's the equivalent of Dr. Holtz's book--Sea Dragons goes through the different groups, talking about their specialties, discovery, and history. Every major Mesozoic marine reptile is profiled, although I wish that some of the more obscure groups (like placodonts) were included in a more detailed fashion. Ellis goes to lengths to show the diversity of each group, and I commend him for it. It's too easy to think of an "ichthyosaur" and leave it at Opthalmosaurus, but there were all kinds of strangeness in the Mesozoic oceans.

Unwin, D. M. (2006). The Pterosaurs from Deep Time. Pi Press: United States of America.

This is an invaluable book for those interested in pterosaurs. I would compare it to Dodson's Horned Dinosaurs in that it takes this particular group of reptiles and summarizes everything we currently (as of '06) know about them. We're talking taxonomy, metabolism, basic anatomy, growth rates...the whole nine yards. The pictures within are wonderful and illustrate the broad diversity of a group so often characterized a fish-eating bats. Pterosaurs is written in a lively, popular nonfiction tone, so nonspecialists can easily keep pace with the material.

Wellnhofer, P. (1996). Prehistoric Flying Reptiles. Salamander Books Ltd.: UK

My copy of this book is a special Barnes & Noble edition--the original version is much older. Prehistoric Flying Reptiles is in many ways a prequel (both temporally and practically) to Unwin's newer summary. I recommend this book for John Sibbick's exquisite illustrations, and Wellnhofer goes into some detail regarding what we knew about pterosaurs through the early 90's. Some of the material is outdated now, but the illustrations are the best available for pterosaur reconstructions, and many points made by Wellnhofer are still valid today. If you can find a copy of this book, pick it up!

For the Specialist

Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P. & Osmolska, H. (2004). The Dinosauria 2nd Edition. University of California Press: Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA.

An absolute essential reference and educational tool for those who love dinosaurs, The Dinosauria is a summary of everything we currently know (as of '04) about everybody's favorite large-bodied Mesozoic archosaurs. Each chapter is written by a different author, and the book is the definitive body of work on the Dinosauria (hence, the title of the book).

Paul, G. S. (2002). Dinosaurs of the Air: The Evolution and Loss of Flight in Dinosaurs and Birds. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore & London.

In his sequel to Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, Paul more fully realizes a topic he only touched on that previous work, namely, that maniraptor theropods may be secondarily flightless post-Archaeopteryx birds. The combination of beautiful illustrations and hard-to-deny logic present a good case, although the ever-changing fossil record has downplayed Paul's thesis somewhat. Dinosaurs of the Air is, if nothing else, a wonderful example of how theories are founded and presented.

Agusti, J. & Anton, M. (2002). Mammoths, Sabertooths, and Hominids. Columbia University Press: New York, NY
Turner, A. & Anton, M. (2004). Evolving Eden. Columbia University Press: New York, NY

These books are for the mammal lovers. Agusti and Turner discuss in great detail the evolution of European and African mammal groups, usually up to the present day. Eden is the better of the two books in this respect, as it goes into the climate and geography of Africa moreso than Mammoths discusses European habitats. Both books are wonderful thanks to Mauricio Anton's beautiful illustrations. Hardly a page goes by where my mind is not blown by one of his detailed, realistic portrayals.

Carpenter, K (editor). (2001). The Armored Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis.
Carpenter, K. (editor). (2007). Horns and Beaks. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis.
Tidwell, V. & Carpenter, K. (editors). (2005). Thunder Lizards. Indiana Univeristy Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis.
Curry Rogers, K. A. & Wilson, J. A. (editors). (2005). The Sauropods. University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles & London
Carpenter, K. (editor). (2005). The Carnivorous Dinosaurs. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis.
Currie, P. J., Koppelhus, E. B., Shuger, M. A. & Wright, J. L. (2004). Feathered Dragons. University of Indiana Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis.

These books are for the real paleo freaks. Collections of scientific papers all, your knowledge of the subject matter must be hardwired. Despite the knowledge barrier, all are enjoyable books (with the exception of Horns & Beaks, which seems like an afterthought), and they all present important new ideas about their subjects. Each tome runs roughtly $50, so you've gotta want it, and you won't find these books in most libraries. However, for those as interested in paleo as me, they're not to be missed.


Dicing with Dragons said...

Well! My work is already done. Just a few missing books, and we can knock off for lunch.

"Psihoyos, L & Knoebber, J. (1994). Hunting Dinosaurs. Random House, Inc.: New York & Canada."

I have this on my shelf, but I'd not recommend it for two reasons: one, it's less about dinosaurs than the personalities of those who study them. Two, it annoys me at times. But as a cultural book, filled with awesome photography, it's a must read.

Just don't think you'll be getting a whole lot of useful information from it. At best, it is only entertainment.

Missing from this list is the great and awesome Asteroid Impact by Douglas Henderson, which is a children's book filled with compelling (and meticulously researched) paintings of one of the most talked-about events of the Mesozoic.

More later...

Zach said...


Dicing with Dragons said...

Zach, that isn't even in English. Try: spelling, maybe?

Nick said...

Greg Paul's "Dinosaurs of the Air" requires reading with a salt shaker. The illustrations are beautiful, but his argument style is faulty.

Still, the book is a must-have for the art alone, and Greg Paul's confidence in his own ideas makes for an interesting read, to say the least.

I completely disagree with with your claim that the book presents a good example of how to form a theory. Refer to Middleton's review of "Dinosaurs of the Air" in Palaeontologia Electronica.

Nick said...

I forgot in my haste to mention that Donald Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters" is absolutely wonderful, and should not be passed up!



Zach said...

He's right--it's a book everyone needs to read.