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The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World (MacSci) Hardcover – October 13, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


Emling writes with a style that makes The Fossil Hunter very hard to put down before reaching the last page. (Winnepeg Free Press)

Readable, journalistic, Emling's amply footnoted book skillfully puts Anning's work into the scientific and sociological context. (The New York Times)

Released just weeks after Tracy Chevalier's fictional account of Anning's life, Emling's account pays tribute to Anning in an original and gripping historical biography. (Financial Times)

Dinosaurs are astonishing today -- and we've had several hundred years of biology to help us absorb the shock. Imagine the shock caused by these monster creatures discovered and presented by a poor, twelve-year old girl, in the early 19th century. This is the remarkable story that Emling tells so well, evoking a world far from ours that in just a few years took a destitute pre-teen scavenging the crumbling cliffs of Lyme Regis to the pages of the leading scientific journals of her time. (Peter Galison, author of Einstein's Clock's and Poincare's Maps and Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University)

Shelley Emling vividly brings to life the fascinating story of Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter of the early nineteenth century. Anning single-handedly recovered an extraordinary collection of fossils of marine and flying reptiles that helped shape the way we now see the incredibly long history of life on Earth. With this enjoyable book, Emling gives Anning her deserved place in history. (Hans Sues, Associate Director of Research and Collections, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution)

The Fossil Hunter at long last brings to life one of the central figures in the early golden age of paleontological discovery -- a woman of great diligence, and passion, and with a keen eye for fossil bone in the rock. As a young child, I was greatly inspired by Mary Anning. As an adult, working paleontologist, I remain so, a conviction doubtless reinforced by Shelley Emling's fascinating book. (Michael Novacek, Provost, American Museum of Natural History)

Emling does an excellent job of knitting together a highly readable title on her life, reaching into sources for Anning's contemporaries and scientific publications from the time which describes the fossils she found. It is rare that readers discover someone like them who changed the world. That's Mary Anning however, and as Shelley Emling shows, it wasn't easy. But she did it anyway and now, at last, we can appreciate how. (Bookslut)

Emling tells a fascinating tale. . . she marshals an immense amount of information about the world of 19th-century geology and paleontology, detailing the controversies about the meaning of the layers of rock and the increasing evidence that animals can indeed become extinct. . . Valuable because it trains a well-deserved spotlight on Anning, explicates some of the philosophical dilemmas of 19th-century science, and incidentally, also notes several other women who became expert fossil hunters and collectors. (The Washington Times)

A well-written book is one of the most effective, and enjoyable, ways to become acquainted with the women who made such gains in history, but have yet to be fully recognized for their significant contributions. Shelley Emling has written such a book. (National Women's History Project)

We know so much because of Mary Anning, but as Emling makes clear, we sadly know very little about Mary Anning, something the author does a wonderful job of changing here. (Bookslut)

In this breezy biography...the unlikely life story of uneducated, lower-class girl turned respected 19th-century paleontologist Mary Anning is, in Emling's hands, an inspiring one. (Bust)

About the Author

Shelley Emling has been a journalist for twenty years. She is a foreign correspondent for Cox Newspapers, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Fortune, USA Today, and The International Herald Tribune. She lives in London.


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Product Details

  • Series: MacSci
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230611567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230611566
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hailing from the Lone Star State, Shelley Emling studied journalism at the University of Texas in Austin before setting off to New Orleans to do the 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. reporting gig for UPI. And that was just the beginning of an ongoing effort to satisfy her wanderlust.

Indeed, in 1990, she left with $2,000 to her name for Guatemala, bound and determined to become a foreign correspondent. While there, she and her (then boyfriend) eloped and she wrote a book called Your Guide to Retiring to Mexico, Costa Rica and Beyond that was published in 1996.

Reporting from Central and South America for a whole host of publications was just the beginning!

Before becoming AOL's Montclair Patch editor in June 2010, Shelley was a London-based foreign correspondent for six years, covering everything from Prince William's love life to European politics. Previously she covered New York City before and after 9/11, the Caribbean and Latin America, and Atlanta -- all for the Cox Newspaper chain.

Shelley left London and moved to Montclair, New Jersey in 2009 with her husband and three energetic children.

After years of rejection letters, her much-acclaimed book, The Fossil Hunter, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in October 2009.

That led her to learn more about -- and write an awful lot about -- science and religion.

And it also led to the writing of Shelley's latest book Madame Curie and her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science's First Family to be published in August 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Russell Cashman on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The main strength of this book is as a biography. There have been other books by people like Martin Rudwick (Worlds Before Adam) and Christopher McGowan (The Dragon Seekers) that have discussed some of Mary Anning's contributions to the historical development of paleontology and geology, but this book is a true biography that describes her life, both her inner life and her interactions with her community, which in her case was really two separate communities, the community of wealthy and well educated gentleman geologists with whom she worked, and the community of the poor working class people of Lyme Regis in which she and her family lived. The book does a particularly good job of describing how social and economic changes (and even natural disasters) in early 19th century Britain affected peoples lives in a place like Lyme Regis. It also inevitably touches on issues of gender and class in the scientific community of the early 19th century and English society in general. The author also attempts to put Anning's work into context with regard to the major intellectual developments in the fields of paleontology and geology during the first half of the 19th century and for the most part is successful in doing so. However, there are a few jarring discrepancies like when she implies that Charles Lyell never accepted evolution, when in fact by the 1860s he did, even if continued to doubt (as did Alfred Russel Wallace) that all aspects of the human mind could have been produced by a purely material process like natural selection, which is a big part of why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5.Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ladyslott VINE VOICE on May 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I recently read Tracy Chevalier's newest book Remarkable Creatures, the story of Mary Anning, a woman I had never heard of but is getting the attention she so richly deserved. I enjoyed Remarkable Creatures so much I was very happy to learn of this biography of her life. For anyone who doesn't normally like nonfiction I would recommend this book, it is written in a very accessible style and the story is so astonishing it reads like fiction. Emling has written a book that I found easy to read and hard to put down.

Mary Anning was born in 1799 and lived in the Lyme Regis area of England her entire life; she learned to fossil hunt as a small child, at that time a fossil was anything dug out of the ground, most of Mary's fossils finds were ammonites. Living on the very edge of poverty and barely literate she became one of the most renowned paleontologists of her time. At the age of 11 she found the first entire fossil skeleton of an ichthyosaur; a fossil that is still on display in the Natural History Museum in London. This find was the first step in the eventual theory of evolution by Darwin, who used Mary's finds and works extensively in his Origin of the Species.

The fact that Mary found this one specimen would be pretty astonishing, but she also discovered the first complete plesiosaurus, the first pterosaur (pterodactyl), a new fossil fish (Squaloraja), along with many other smaller finds. With all this she is barely known today and was often overlooked or not credited during her lifetime - most likely because she was a woman and the scientific community at that time was male dominated. Although she had many well known friends in the geological world during her lifetime she was never accorded the accolades, respect or monetary earnings these men achieved.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By beachbugs on July 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As a biology professor, I read this book to add some color to my lectures on Victorian science. I came across it by accident and was quite surprised that Ms. Emering was able to write a sympathetic and accurate account of this remarkable woman, Mary Anning. The book is not an academic exercise, but the references, included as in-text notes, are balanced and cover much of the literature available on Mary Anning. Much of the material is from letters, diaries, and contemporary documents. Clearly, the author spent time in Lyme Regis talking to people, walking the beach, and feeling Mary's presence. The book is a fine popular account of a poor, mostly obscure woman naturalist working in a time when women had few of the opportunities of today. Well known naturalists of the time, Buckland, Mantell, Owen, and De la Beche, to mention a few, used her specimens, visited her at home, did field work with her, and frequently asked her advice. They never gave her public credit for her contributions, nor did they acknowledge her in their publications. It didn't cross their minds; she was a woman. Later in Mary's life, she received some the credit and respect she richly deserved, but through most of her life, especially at the end, she struggled. This book is worth your time if you are remotely interested in cultural history, Victorian society, the historical role of women, or an old fashioned story of a heroine overlooked. The biology was treated very competently by the author and stands by itself as a good popular account. In my view, this is a book about Mary; not the pleiosaurs and pterodactyls she excavated and studied. Ms. Emering writes in a rich, flowing style with much imagery. She educates the reader, but they not be aware because they become an observer in Mary's world. Mary Anning's life teaches us much, and not only about fossils.
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