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Good Reads  Palaeontology  Palaeozoology & Extinctions

The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries Amazing Fossils and the People Who Found Them

Popular Science
By: Donald R Prothero(Author)
472 pages, 227 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
The Story of Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries is a well-executed and absorbing series of vignettes of famous dinosaurs, their biology, and the colourful characters who discovered them.
The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries
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  • The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries ISBN: 9780231186032 Paperback Dec 2021 In stock
  • The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries ISBN: 9780231186025 Hardback Jul 2019 In stock
Selected version: £21.99
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About this book

Today, any kid can rattle off the names of dozens of dinosaurs. But it took centuries of scientific effort – and a lot of luck – to discover and establish the diversity of dinosaur species we now know. How did we learn that Triceratops had three horns? Why don't many palaeontologists consider Brontosaurus a valid species? What convinced scientists that modern birds are relatives of ancient Velociraptor?

In The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries, Donald R. Prothero tells the fascinating stories behind the most important fossil finds and the intrepid researchers who unearthed them. In twenty-five vivid vignettes, he weaves together the dramatic tales of dinosaur discoveries with what modern science now knows about the species to which they belong. Prothero takes us from eighteenth-century sightings of colossal bones taken for biblical giants through recent discoveries of enormous predators even larger than Tyrannosaurus. He recounts the escapades of the larger-than-life personalities who made modern palaeontology, including scientific rivalries like the nineteenth-century "Bone Wars". Prothero also details how to draw the boundaries between species and explores debates such as whether dinosaurs had feathers, explaining the findings that settled them or keeps them going.

Throughout, he offers a clear and rigorous look at what palaeontologists consider sound interpretation of evidence. An essential read for any dinosaur lover, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils teaches us to see an ancient world ruled by giant majestic creatures anew.



Part I. In the Beginning
1. Megalosaurus: The “Great Lizard,” the “Scrotum Humanum”, and the First Named Dinosaur
2. Iguanodon: Gideon Mantell, Louis Dollo, and the First Dinosaur Fauna
3. Cetiosaurus: The “Whale Lizard,” Richard Owen, and the First Known Sauropod
4. Hadrosaurus: Joseph Leidy and the First American Dinosaur
5. Eoraptor: The First Dinosaurs

Part II. The Long-Necked Giants
6. Plateosaurus: Ancestors of the Giants
7. Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus: Marsh, Cope, and the Bone Wars
8. Diplodocus: The Real “Jurassic Park” and Carnegie’s Gift
9. Giraffatitan: The Tallest of the Tall, and the Tendaguru
10. Patagotitan: Who’s the Biggest of Them All?

Part III. Red in Tooth and Claw: The Theropods
11. Coelophysis: The Little Dinosaur of Ghost Ranch
12. Cryolophosaurus: Denizen of the Polar Darkness
13. Spinosaurus: Lost Giants of Egypt
14. Tyrannosaurus: King of the Tyrant Reptiles
15. Giganotosaurus: Biggest Predator of All?
16. Deinocheirus: “Terrible Hands” Lead to Big Surprises
17. Velociraptor: “Terrible Claws” and the Dinosaur Renaissance
18. Sinosauropteryx: Feathered Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds

Part IV. Horns and Spikes and Armor and Duck Beaks: The Ornithischians
19. Heterodontosaurus: The Origin of Ornithischians
20. Stegosaurus: The “Roofed Lizard” and the Thagomizer
21. Ankylosaurus: Armored Dinosaurs and “Mr. Bones”
22. Corythosaurus: Duckbills with Headgear
23. Stegoceras: The “Unicorn Dinosaur” and the Boneheads
24. Protoceratops: The Griffin Legend and the Origin of Horned Dinosaurs
25. Triceratops: The “Dinosaurian Bison” and the Last of the Dinosaurs


Customer Reviews (1)

  • An absorbing series of vignettes
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 27 Jan 2020 Written for Hardback

    What is better than a good dinosaur story? How about 25 of them? Geologist and palaeontologist Donald R. Prothero returns to Columbia University Press for the third book in this format. Having covered fossils and rocks, he now serves up 25 fascinating vignettes of famous dinosaurs and the people who discovered them.

    Prothero here has both chronology and dinosaur taxonomy by which to organise his chapters, starting in Britain with the very first dinosaur discoveries. He tells of Gideon Mantell and Iguanodon, Richard Owen (who founded what is now the London Natural History Museum) and Cetiosaurus, as well as the first dinosaurs in America. And no book taking the historical perspective would be complete without the infamous “Scrotum humanum“.

    The remainder of the book is carved up in sections dealing with the long-necked sauropods, the carnivorous theropods, and the horned, spiked, armoured, and beaked ornithischians. This includes everyone’s favourites (Stegosaurus, Diplodocus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops) and other lesser-known species that have been very influential scientifically.

    But you get far more than just 25 dinosaurs here. Many vignettes are mini-reviews of whole dinosaur families, bringing you up to speed on recent developments in palaeontology. So, the chapter on Patagotitan from Argentina reviews the family tree of the sauropods, while the chapter on Giganotosaurus does the same for the theropods. The one on Deinocheirus explains more about the bizarre herbivorous(!) theropod therizinosaurs, and the chapter on Sinosauropteryx digs into feather evolution. Of course, with a field so vast, you cannot cover everything – the size of encyclopedic reference works such as The Dinosauria or The Complete Dinosaur should give anyone cause for a double-take. Even so, I was secretly mildly disappointed that the chapter on ankylosaurs did not profile the wonderful work of Canadian palaeontologist Victoria Arbour on tail club evolution.

    What did enthuse me as soon as I read the book’s flap text was the promise of a “clear and rigorous look at what palaeontologists consider sound interpretation of evidence”. Would I like to know more about how we know what we know? Yes please! A substantial part of that consists of nomenclatural issues. Early scholars often named species and genera based on scrappy and fragmentary fossils, something that reached a fever pitch during the so-called Bone Wars (more on that below). With time and more discoveries, many such names are now considered invalid or synonymous when material described as several species actually belonged to one species. This covers the famous case of Apatosaurus / Brontosaurus – the latter technically not valid – but also cases probably only know to palaeontologists. Is Torosaurus is a species proper, or a just a mature specimen of Triceratops? The consensus leans towards the former.

    It is not all nomenclature though, there is plenty of attention for the biology. Why sauropods were not aquatic, and how we can estimate their size and mass (see also Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs and The Sauropod Dinosaurs for more). What evidence led to the realisation that dinosaurs were not sluggish, tail-dragging reptiles and how we figured out their posture. How we became convinced that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs and how amazing fossils revealed (proto)feathers on many (for much more on that, see also Birds of Stone, Feathered Dinosaurs and Flying Dinosaurs). Or how we know more about metabolism, reproduction, growth and maturation, and even skin colour! There is an awful lot of very educational material woven into this book, with a balanced overview of ongoing discussions and different schools of thought. And Prothero deals out some healthy correctives where popular media and movies have been getting the science all wrong.

    A starring role is reserved for the colourful cast of characters who dug up and described all these dinosaurs, both fossil hunters and palaeontologists. This includes, of course, O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope and their fierce rivalry known as the Bone Wars (see The Bonehunters’ Revenge and The Gilded Dinosaur). Museum staff whose names I encountered while reviewing Assembling the Dinosaur and American Dinosaur Abroad. Fossil hunters such as workaholic John Bell Hatcher (see my review of King of the Dinosaur Hunters), the eccentric Austro-Hungarian Baron Franz Nopcsa (see Transylvanian Dinosaurs), the flamboyant Roy Chapman Andrews who led a series of ambitious expeditions into the heartland of Mongolia in the 1920s (see Dragon Hunter), or Barnum Brown (see Barnum Brown: The Man Who Discovered Tyrannosaurus rex). But also researchers who have yet to be the subject of a biography and are therefore less well known to the general public, such as José Bonaparte, who through exceedingly hard work has single-handedly put Argentina on the palaeontological map. Their stories and adventures are worth the price of admission alone.

    The book is liberally illustrated with black-and-white photos and drawings, both historical and contemporary. As with his previous book, this works for most illustrations, but some are either too dark or too drab (the reconstructions by Nobu Tamura would have been better off reproduced in colour). There are photos of amazing museum displays that I would love to see myself one day (the wall of not-yet-excavated dinosaur bones in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument Quarry Visitors Center, or the wall of skulls showing the ceratopsian family tree at the Utah Museum of Natural History). Not to mention the photos of exceptionally preserved fossils (the nodosaur mummy retrieved from Alberta’s tar sands beggars belief!)

    The Story of Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries bubbles over with the same love for the field that characterised Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and Benton’s The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, making it a must-read for dinosaur enthusiasts. You might think that with three books Prothero’s approach is becoming formulaic (indeed, a fourth book, The Story of Evolution in 25 Discoveries, has already been announced for later this year), but when a formula is this well-executed, I, for one, am hungrily eyeing up the next book.
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Donald R. Prothero is a paleontology and geology researcher, teacher, and author. He is adjunct professor of geological sciences at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and research associate in vertebrate palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His Columbia University Press books include The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution (2015) and The Story of the Earth in 25 Rocks: Tales of Important Geological Puzzles and the People Who Solved Them (2018).

Popular Science
By: Donald R Prothero(Author)
472 pages, 227 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
The Story of Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries is a well-executed and absorbing series of vignettes of famous dinosaurs, their biology, and the colourful characters who discovered them.
Media reviews

"One of the 10 best nonfiction books to read in science."
– New Scientist

"Solid proof that dinosaurs through scientific eyes are no less fascinating than they are in the movies."
Kirkus Reviews

"[Prothero] delivers another winning popular science book [...] dinosaur buffs will be delighted, fascinated, and entertained."
Publishers Weekly

"Excellent summer reading!"
– Greg Laden Blog

"Another entertaining trip through the history of science, this time focusing on paleontology."
Physics Today

"A grand tour of dinosaurs, from one of our most prolific natural history writers. I've been reading Donald Prothero's books since I began studying geology in college, and here he delivers again, with a romping chronicle of some of the most charismatic dinosaurs and the equally fascinating people who have studied them."
– Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and New York Times bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

"This is a highly readable and compelling historical tour of our discovery of dinosaurs, and it focuses on many fascinating stories. It provides equal balance on both human history and the lives and adventures of the people behind the relevant dinosaurs, and scientific thinking on the dinosaurs themselves and adjacent areas of controversy."
– Darren Naish, author of Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved

"This book is excellent. Rather than simply a profile of 25 dinosaurs, it puts each of these in context of its discovery and significance in terms of the science of paleontology, as well as comparisons with close relations. Thus, it covers hundreds of dinosaurs, not just twenty-five."
– Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Vertebrate Paleontologist, Department of Geology, University of Maryland

"After a couple of pages, Donald Prothero had me hooked [...] like attending the best kind of dinner party, replete with entertaining stories."
– Brian Clegg, Popular Science

There are many dinosaur books on the market but very few are written in such an engaging and informative manner – The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries by Donald R. Prothero tells the fascinating story of how our knowledge regarding the Dinosauria has evolved and changed over time – and what a superb read it is! We doff our hard hats to you sir, once again you have produced an extremely informative and enjoyable read."
– Everything Dinosaur

This is a great book for folks interested in dinosaurs, from high schoolers through adult readers."
– Choice

From the desk of a seasoned and much celebrated California-based palaeontologist, this a story of imagination, rivalry, mistake and often not-so-quiet genius."
– New Scientist

"A highly accomplished synthesis of ideas and a keen up-to-date summary [...] I recommend the book for the shelf of any professional paleontologist interested in dinosaurs, and for many amateurs who want to take a deeper dive into the field."
Quarterly Review of Biology

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