A Dinosaur Reading List for Everyone
So you want to learn more about dinosaurs. There are blog posts and videos, of course, but what if you want to sit down and dig into a fossil-filled book? Where should you start, and what books are best for what you want to know? Here’s a brief list of dinosaur books for enthusiasts of all stripes, from readers looking for a good paleo memoir to those hoping to beef up their technical knowledge.
For Young Dinomaniacs
There are seemingly innumerable children’s books about dinosaurs. These are my favorites:
Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski – Dinosaur discoveries are coming fast and furious, and even relatively recent books might depict outdated ideas about them. What’s great about Kudlinski‘s book is that she shows how our understanding of dinosaurs has changed over the centuries, introducing children to the process of science as well as thoroughly modern dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages by Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. – While I’ve listed it in the young readers section, this book is a must-have for anyone looking to update their dinosaur library. Lavishly illustrated by Luis Rey, the book is an excellent resource for readers who just can’t get enough dinosaurs and want to review the most up-to-date, accurate ideas about them. Kids can also grow with this book – it’ll remain an essential part of any dinosaur fan’s library for years and years.
Everyone knows that half the fun of paleontology is imagining how prehistoric creatures looked and moved. These books present some of the best modern paleoart has to offer:
Dinosaur Art edited by Steve White – This glossy volume is a greatest hits collection of some of the most talented paleoartists working today. The reproductions are gorgeous, making it easy to get lost in the beauty of prehistoric time.
Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time by Richard Milner – Anyone who loves dinosaurs should know the work of Charles R. Knight. He took the practice of illustrating fossils beyond scientific reconstruction into a true artform, and any aspiring paleoartists should know his work well.
All Yesterdays by John Conway, Memo Kosemen, and Darren Naish – Just like any other area of art, illustrating prehistoric creatures has its own trappings and tropes. All Yesterdays tries to break through these by imagining familiar animals in ways not typically seen, from sleeping tyrannosaurs to sauropods at play. In an area of illustration often dominated by “nature red in tooth and claw”, All Yesterdays is a breath of a fresh air.
Heading out into the field to find and excavate dinosaurs is part of the romance of paleontology. These books will let you explore the badlands whether you’re at home or on the way to a dig yourself:
Digging Dinosaurs by John Horner and James Gorman – This is the epitome of the modern dinosaur memoir. Recounting the discovery and study of one of the most important dinosaur nesting grounds ever found, Horner’s memoir is a paleo literature classic.
The Life of a Fossil Hunter by Charles H. Sternberg – Don’t be fooled by the age of this book. Sternberg’s account of his adventures in the field will ring true with many paleontologists working today, and is made all the sweeter by the fact that most of it takes place during a time when North American paleontology was just beginning to flourish.
Unearthing the Dragon by Mark Norell and Mick Ellison – The discovery of dozens of feathered dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks of China have dramatically changed our understanding of dinosaurs in the last decade. Norell and Ellison’s book offers a window to this new dinosaur rush and how it’s continuing to alter our perspective of dinosaur lives.
Dinosaurs Without Bones by Anthony Martin – Martin’s book isn’t just about fieldwork, but his cheerful and humorous accounts of literally tracking dinosaurs make this book stand out. With so many books focusing on bones, Martin’s enthusiasm for traces fossils adds a new perspective and gives readers the tools to see the prehistoric behaviors left in the rock.
The history of paleontology documents our attempts to understand where we came from and what life was like long, long ago. Read these to get a handle on how the science fits into the human endeavor to investigate Earth’s past:
The First Fossil Hunters by Adrienne Mayor – People started finding fossils long before paleontology became a scientific discipline. Mayor’s book will introduce you to how fossils – including dinosaur bones – inspired myths, legends, and inspired people to think about where we came from.
The Fossil Hunter by Shelley Emling – Every fossil fan should know Mary Anning. She was one of the first paleontologists and an extremely adept excavator. This biography by Emling chronicles her victories and trials as she pursued the science she loved.
The Bonehunters’ Revenge by David Rains Wallace – The late 19th century “Bone Wars” are the stuff of science legend. While there are other books on the subject, Wallace’s account of the scientific rivalry between paleontologists O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope is the most gripping I’ve ever read.
The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush by Paul Brinkman – Ever wonder why the great museums of New York City, Pittsburgh, and Chicago are filled with Jurassic dinosaurs? Brinkman’s account looks at when early dinomania spurred museums to try to get the biggest and best dinosaurs for their displays, setting the foundation for exhibits that still stand today.
For Serious Students
If you want to give yourself a crash course on dinosaurs and the science of paleontology, these books should definitely be in your library:
The Dinosauria (2nd ed.) edited by David Weishampel, Peter Dodson, and Halszka Osmólska – This tome is essential to the dinosaurian canon. Even though many discoveries have been made since its publication and a third edition is on the way, the fact is that this comprehensive volume is filled with essential information about every dinosaur group and is so widely-cited that it’s important for checking up on references.
Dinosaur Odyssey by Scott Sampson – A hybrid that involves memoir as well as fact, Sampson’s book does an excellent job of making sense of dinosaurs within the realms of biology, ecology, and other branches of science. If you want to understand dinosaurs as animals, this is a great place to start.
The Complete Dinosaur (2nd ed.) edited by Michael Brett-Surman, Thomas Holtz, and James Farlow – Much like The Dinosauria, this heavy volume is a must-have for serious dinosaur fans. The topics included range widely – from field techniques to the details of dinosaur histology – and that makes this book a handy reference for anyone trying to bone up on dinosaurs.
Dinosaur Paleobiology by Stephen Brusatte – How did dinosaurs really live? Brusatte’s book is the most up-to-date exploration of this question, offering an excellent summary of the field for readers who are curious about the methods and ideas involved in exploring dinosaur biology.
Vertebrate Paleontological Techniques, Vol. 1 edited by Patrick Leiggi and Peter May – From discovery to exhibition, dinosaur bones require great care. While every lab has their own preferred techniques, this book is a solid primer for becoming familiar with how to excavate, prepare, care for, and display dinosaurs.
This list isn’t exhaustive, of course. There are many, many other books out there, including many technical volumes devoted to specific dinosaur groups such as tyrannosaurs and hadrosaurs. What are some of your favorite dinosaur books?