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Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science Paperback – January 20, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; Reprint edition (January 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426203845
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426203848
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1999, Tyler Lyson, a high school student with a passion for fossils, stumbled upon an extremely rare find, a nearly-complete dinosaur mummy; once excavated, its remarkably preserved tissue-"skin, bone, ligaments and tendons"-would give scientists their first opportunity to observe the structure and orientation of dinosaur muscles. Lyson called in University of Manchester paleontologist Manning to help extract Dakota the hadrosaur, and here Manning tells the story of the North Dakota discovery, making a detailed account of a paleontologist's day-by-day work with interesting jaunts into the history of fossil-hunting (a little-known pastime in the Wild West) from the Sternberg family in the 19th century up through the 2000 discovery of Leonardo the hadrosaur in Montana. The core of the book describes the extensive preparations and the excruciating care by which the team liberated their quarry; wrinkles along the way include the fossil of a crocodilian creature lodged in the hadrosaur's abdomen, an enormous NASA CT scanner employed to examine the mummy's interior, and intact pollen found in the dino's stomach. While work on Dakota will continue for years, Manning's description of the job so far gives readers a satisfying look at paleontology in (laborious, exacting) action.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"...the science is solid and well explained, the people are vivid and real, the adventures are well chosen and the story is well told. Read and enjoy." —New Scientist

"...deliciously geeky account of the discovery in 1999 and subsequent investigation of a fossilized hadrosaur named Dakota."— The Guardian

"Phillip Manning has stitched together a very readable account rewarding for the reader looking for more than a quick glance into the world of the dinosaurs." — The Roanoke Times

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 12 customer reviews
Second, much of the book is poorly written.
At times, I found myself having to reread sentences and ultimately not understanding the message.
G. Woo
Just don't expect many such secrets to be revealed in the pages of "Grave Secrets Of Dinosaurs."
John Burris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By John Burris on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dakota, the most perfectly preserved dinosaur mummy, made headlines in 2007. The spectacular fossil promises to yield information on dinosaurs, both biological and environmental, previously undreamed of. "Using state-of-the-art technology to scan and analyse this remarkable discovery, National Geographic and Dr. Manning create an incredibly lifelike portrait of Dakota." So promises the book description.

Unfortunately there is little such information here. To get to what Manning and his team had discovered at the time of writing you have to read 260 pages into the 320 page book. Fossils do not quickly reveal their secrets. The more exquisite the preservation the slower the work must proceed. When you are talking about an intact skin envelope and perhaps other preserved "soft" tissues the work will proceed slowly indeed. Therefore, time after time Manning must break the news to the reader that the results of the research aren't in yet. So precious little about this particular hadrosaur is actually revealed other than his (her?) surprisingly robust posterior. I can't help but think that this book was written at least a year too early. Clearly the publishers wanted to rush the book into publication while the news was still hot. In doing so, however, they have set the reader up for an ultimately frustrating experience.

This is not to say the book is without merit. Certainly not. Manning provides us with a nice, if somewhat superficial, tour of mummies of all sorts, from dinosaurs to mammoths to humans. The circumstances necessary to preserve bodies in such condition are rare indeed and the book is perhaps at its most fascinating in the passages detailing these quite special circumstances.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By G. Woo on February 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I assumed the star of this book would be the hadrosaur fossil, Dakota, with its preserved soft tissues and all the paleobiology that goes along with such a magnificent find. Instead it is narrative about how hard it is to excavate, prepare and analyze fossils.

The first two thirds of the book describe the trials and lifestyle of the modern day paleontologist. Then various analytical techniques are mentioned, but not described and ultimately, the take home message is that the analysis is incomplete. Very dissappointing.

As another reviewer said, this book was clearly rushed to print and the fossil is probably several years away from revealing any meaningful additions to our understanding of dinosaurs.

The latter third of the book reads like a review article of known mummified fossils, which is interesting, but then ends up with a rather long description of the techniques used to determine dinosaur gait.

The book was not particularly well written. For example, Manning used a page and a half to explain that because the skin was preserved uncollapsed around the skeleton, the volume of muscle and soft tissue can be calculated. At times, I found myself having to reread sentences and ultimately not understanding the message.

Hopefully Dakota will one day reveal its secrets to the public and subsequent books will include data, pictures, graphs, and new hypotheses on how this animal once existed.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rat de Bibliothèque on April 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book with great interest, and quickly discovered there was little "left on the bone," if you will. Plodding through intricate details of what the scientists ate for dinner the night before digging was uninteresting and I felt was blocking me from getting to the results and scientific information I desired to find. Once past the details of the day-to-day experiences, you get to the end of the book, where it is stated the research is just beginning! I understand the urgency of publishing when the story is fresh, but readers would benefit more from getting the whole story.

Much of the background information provided on paleontology and digging strategy was interesting when read in the context of anticipating the results. Sadly, the results were not available.

Wait for the sequel!!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Winston Stairs on March 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mr. Manning is a very knowledgeable person in his field, and has written an interesting and compelling book... one I well recommend.

However, he gave pause for concern in the first 35 pages when I came across two very glaring and erroneous comments made within the span of only two pages! I became somewhat sceptical of the veracity of his work thereafter.

The comments to which I'm referring came first on pg. 33 wherein he states "...squished fossil structures, with many looking like the proverbial Mandelbrot inkblot test. " and then two pages later he makes the observation " having the turbine blades from the main combustion engine of the space shuttle...".

`Mandelbrot' refers to the late Mathematician and IBM Fellow Benoit Mandelbrot the creator of `Mandelbrot Sets' or what is more commonly known as `Fractal Geometry'. While some fractals may loosely resemble a Rorschach Inkblot, they have not (to my knowledge) ever been used for such psychological test purposes.

`Turbine blades' are a fundamental component of jet engines. Jet engines work on the principle of compression and combustion of air - something that is essentially absent in the extreme upper reaches of the atmosphere where the Shuttles operated. A jet engine simply can not function in space. While there was some suggestion in the early pioneering work on the shuttles of including a turbine engine to provide boost under atmospheric conditions, the idea was later scraped as unfeasible and too costly in terms of additional weight and design. The Shuttles were only ever propelled by a combination of solid and liquid fuelled rockets that act on the Newtonian principle of action ==> reaction, independent of any air or atmosphere to support their operation.

Mr. Manning may have just been trying to be witty with his similes, but was technically way off the mark with both comments. Moral: stick to your area of expertise.
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