A Date With a Dinosaur

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I already announced the big news via Twitter and Facebook earlier this week, but, in case you missed it, I am proud to say that my next book has been picked up by Scientific American Books/FSG! It is called A Date With a Dinosaur, and this book is going to be a bit more personal than Written in Stone.

Dinosaurs are not just objects of scientific curiosity. Technical papers report on new findings about their biology, and their skeletons are arrayed in the petrified trophy halls of museums, but dinosaurs are also deeply embedded in the public imagination. The image of dinosaurs we first encounter during childhood sticks with us, and films like Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time have a kind of cultural inertia that no documentary or museum display can compete with.

Just look what happened with Torosaurus last summer. Paleontologists John Scannella and Jack Horner proposed that, instead of being a separate genus of dinosaur, Torosaurus was truly the adult stage of what we have traditionally called Triceratops. Further study is required to test this idea, and, even if it is correct, the name Triceratops has priority, but those facts didn’t do anything to stop the wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed the paper’s publication. Upset Triceratops fans took this proposal as the fossil equivalent of Pluto being demoted to a dwarf planet. (Meanwhile, no one gave a damn about Nedoceratops possibly being lumped within Triceratops, probably because they had never heard of it.) The details of the academic debate and the new science behind the idea were not at all important. Paleontologists had already killed “Brontosaurus“, and now they were taking Triceratops away. Even other simple proposals – such as dinosaurs being covered with feathers, or having fleshy nostrils – have been decried by people who don’t want to see alterations to the dinosaurs they know and love.

The tension between the dinosaurs of the popular imagination and what paleontologists are discovering about actual Mesozoic creatures is at the center of the new book – how new science clashes the dinosaurs I grew up with. A major part of the reason why I am relocating to Salt Lake City, Utah in a few weeks is so that I can seriously dig into my subject matter in the fossil-rich landscapes of the American west. I am only just starting A Date With a Dinosaur, but I know this is going to be a hell of a lot of fun to write. I am deeply grateful to my editor, Amanda Moon, and my agent, Peter Tallack, for making this new project possible.

And, as luck would have it, a video interview with me that was conducted by Tyler Dukes during ScienceOnline 2011 went up just after I announced the big news. It is posted below, and the original post can be seen at Science in the Triangle. Many thanks to Tyler for letting me geek out about paleontology and talk about what motivated me to educate myself about prehistory.

Top image: A Deinonychus skeleton at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, with Rudolph Zallinger’s “Age of Reptiles” mural in the background. Photo by author.