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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, wonderful book, even for laypeople, October 1, 2009
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This review is from: The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Hardcover)
I have had a lifelong interest in extinct creatures, especially dinosaurs, and have followed Darren Naish's blog for several years. This book looked interesting, and I purchased it without realizing how utterly addicting this book is. It has the visual quality of a coffee table book (but not the enormous size) and the contents of a scientific book written with the layperson (that is to say, a non-biologist or paleontologist) in mind. It is a fascinating look at dinosaurs from a historical perspective, meaning that Dr. Naish begins with the first dinosaur discoveries and discusses what theories people had about the creatures they were discovering and describing.

The layouts are interesting and visually attractive to the eye, and the content is conveniently partitioned for easy comprehension. Dr. Naish also goes out of his way to discuss misconceptions or little-known facts in order to help clarify what we currently believe about the topics covered.

This is a fantastic read and a terrific buy for anyone who has more than the faintest interest in dinosaurs.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gorgeous Dinosaur Book with a Difference, March 12, 2010
This review is from: The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Hardcover)
There are plenty of books about dinosaurs. Because the creatures fascinate so many people, and not just little boys, many of these books are aimed at the public, and feature pictures of the fantastic beasts in their many forms. _The Great Dinosaur Discoveries_ (University of California Press) by Darren Naish is a little like this, but pay attention to the title; there are dinosaurs aplenty here, and lots of color photographs and artists' reconstructions of the ancient animals, but the history of discovering and of understanding what the fossils had to tell us is the theme of this dinosaur book. It's a fine theme, and Naish, who has previously written a more conventional encyclopedia of dinosaurs, tells it from the first discovery of mysterious gigantic bones to the controversies that power dinosaur research today. The story is chronological, with each two-page spread devoted to a particular dinosaur, discovery, or concept. The chapters are tied with a timeline, but not the typical one that shows Precambrian, Cambrian, Jurassic, and other ancient eras (although there is one of those in the introduction). Rather, there is a timeline that starts with the naming of the first dinosaur in 1824, right through the ones named in the 21st century. It is a human story, complete with misunderstandings and competition that somehow got us to our current concepts of what dinosaurs were and why they were important.

The earliest discoveries of fossils were where the naturalists already were, in England in the 1820s. The version of the dinosaurs from these original fossils makes them look like hippopotami with alligator teeth. It is not surprising that with just a few specimens, there would be many mistakes in the beginning. One of the themes here is that the range of exploration has become worldwide. It is not surprising that dinosaurs should be found all over the world; when dinosaurs first appeared (Late Triassic, about 200 million years ago), the land masses of the Earth were all together in one single supercontinent. From the discoveries made in the quarries and fields of England, researchers were eventually able to get to now famous dinosaur ranges in Montana and the Gobi Dessert, but also in Australia, Africa, and even India. In tracing the history of dinosaur research, Naish includes the "Great Dinosaur Rush" which started in the beginning of the 20th century and was characterized by paleontologists as popular heroes, driven to frontiers in order to bring spectacular finds to their museums. _Tyrannosaurus_, for instance, was a product of these expeditions. The pace and enthusiasm settled down in the middle of the century, only to pick up as the "Dinosaur Renaissance" of the 1960's. It was sparked by complete rethinking of the evolutionary and ecological roles that dinosaurs filled. One of the important figures (Naish includes short biographies of many dinosaur researchers) is John Ostrom, whose earliest work was about duckbilled hadrosaurs; it reclassified them from amphibians to terrestrial browsers. In 1964, Ostrom and colleagues discovered _Deinonychus_ in Montana, a close relative of the famous _Velociraptor_ from Jurassic Park. Ostrom regarded its skeletal anatomy, and inferred that it was, in his words, "a highly predaceous, extremely agile and very active animal" whose metabolism and activity would have been higher than we would associate with reptiles. He noted similarities to the famous feathered dinosaur _Archaeopteryx_, and renewed the idea that birds had evolved from dinosaurs, an idea first proposed by "Darwin's Bulldog," Thomas Henry Huxley, in the nineteenth century. Ostrom's student, Robert Bakker, argued that dinosaurs were not just active, but warm-blooded, and that instead of thinking of them as evolutionary dead-ends, they should be regarded as successes because they brought forth the astonishingly successful birds. Ostrom's ideas have been reinforced by even more recent _Deinonychus_ finds that show it was feathered and more like a bird than even he had suspected.

Bringing the history up to the present, Naish includes the latest news about dinosaurs with not just feathers, but fur, the famous tyrannosaur named Sue, and the weird spiky head of _Dracorex hogwartsia_, the first of whose names means "dragon king," while the second comes from Hogwarts Academy, where Harry Potter trained. This grand book is filled on every page with color photographs and artists' impressions of extraordinary beasts. The paintings follow the current trend of imagining dinosaurs in purple, green, red, and blue, with stripes or patches; given the closeness of dinosaurs to birds, I suppose it isn't much of a stretch to give them some of the vivid colors their descendants have. It will be interesting to see how a book on the same subject twenty years from now might look. After all, Naish frequently points out faulty paleontological conceptions and how scientists came to correct them; many of our current concepts will need modification, of course. He says that we are experiencing a dinosaur boom: "The number of recognized dinosaurs has undergone an extraordinary 85 percent increase since 1990." Here is a gorgeous demonstration of a couple of centuries of admirable scientific effort.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is exactly what the real dinosaur fan wants, January 25, 2011
This review is from: The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Hardcover)
The Great Dinosaur Discoveries is exactly what the real dinosaur fan wants: a book on dinosaurs that treats the reader as a real dinosaur fan. Most books about dinosaurs seem to assume that the buyer isn't interested in the subject and shouldn't be bothered with boring details of dull extinct reptiles no normal person cares about. Or, if not a three year old, has the intelligence of one. They are aimed at a "wider audience", i.e. those people unlikely to buy a dinosaur book in the first place. Fundamental marketing mistake, in my opinion. Naish takes the reader seriously without needing jargon or academic language as we have come to expect from one of the best popularisers of biological subjects on the internet!

The historical take, apart from filling a gap is also very appealing. Man is a narrative species (and woman no less so) and we all love a good story, especially told by one as good at telling it as Naish is. In short, the Great Dinosaur Discoveries is, together with Paul's (quite ahistorical) Field Guide, the best book on dinosaurs presently available. Its only drawback is that it is too short. And basically ends in 2007. I would gladly pay double the price for a sequel, "The New Dinosaur Discoveries", highlighting some of the 170 species named since...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief History of Dinosauria, January 23, 2011
By 
Douglass Rovinsky (Lansing, Michigan, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Hardcover)
I bought Darren Naish's "The Great Dinosaur Discoveries" on a whim while browsing the local bookstore; I had been a regular reader of his wonderfully informative and entertaining blog for a good period, and thought it was neat that his book had made it all the way to a major bookstore in a giant mall in the Midwest U.S.

I was very much impressed by the book. It is a fun, entertaining, and easy read, exceptionally well-illustrated, and full of rather up-to-date info to juxtapose the historical data. Regarding the illustrations, it was really neat to see illustrations remembered from my childhood dinosaur books next to more modern interpretations.
The text offers a well-structured overview of the change in paleontology, scientific thought, and the popular and academic opinions on dinosaurs, as well as a neat review of the history and geography behind it all. It's one of the best wide-ranging 'popular' dinosaur books I've seen, with a breadth that is well-buttressed by its detailing, without going into nomenclature overload or sacrificing readability for minutia that may turn away the casual 'popular' reader or youngster yearning for a 'real' book on dinosaurs.
Nevertheless, it offers a very interesting insight into the dynamic world of dinosaurian paleontology, and paleobiology in the scientific and popular communities.

Very highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars fun, December 13, 2013
By 
Craig Hohm (penn yan, ny United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Dinosaur Discoveries (Hardcover)
Very enjoyable. A chronological history of important discoveries and the people who made them. I am a lifelong dino-nut and I had'nt heard of many of the discoveries
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The Great Dinosaur Discoveries
The Great Dinosaur Discoveries by Darren Naish (Hardcover - October 21, 2009)
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