Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs

Last year the Princeton University Press published a curious volume entitled The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, written and illustrated by Gregory Paul. Paul is a renowned dinosaur expert who has appeared in many publications and served as a consultant on the movie “Jurassic Park.”

The book is set up as an actual field guide, organized by taxonomy and listing the various species with scientific names, sizes and various pertinent information. (I should note that the book is much larger than something you’d want to be carrying with you while going out on a dinosaur safari; it’s more of a coffee table book.)

It’s illustrated with skeletal diagrams as well as the sort of colored-pencil sketches you’d expect to find in a bird-watcher’s notebook, except these are creatures that Paul didn’t draw from life while sitting in a blind somewhere. There are some more elaborate full-color renderings as well, but the sketches and diagrams comprise the majority of the visuals in the field guide. You can get a feel for Paul’s illustrations from the Daily Dinosaur blog posts that ran last fall.

There is also a hefty section in the front about dinosaur biology and behavior, examinations of dinosaur growth and energetics and other information you’d typically find in a book about dinosaurs (as well as some atypical info).

I was quite fond of dinosaurs as a kid but at some point my interest waned and I failed to keep up with it. By the time I was in high school biology, learning things that could have had bearing on my understanding of dinosaurs, I had forgotten a lot of the names of dinosaurs and couldn’t remember the various eras, let alone identify which types of dinosaurs lived in which time periods.

That said, the Field Guide is a wealth of information for the dino-lover, but it almost seems like too much to handle at once. It’s not really the sort of book you’d sit and flip through—once you get into the taxonomy section, the text becomes less interesting to the casual dinosaur fan and you find yourself wishing for more stories about dinosaurs rather than just lists of factoids to go along with the pictures.

There’s no doubt that Paul has done a tremendous job with the Field Guide and it’s quite impressive. If you’re serious about dinosaurs and want a meticulously researched guide, this is certainly the book for you. If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in just the pictures, this book might be a little too information-rich for you.

For more about The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, visit the Princeton University Press web page.

Wired: An encyclopedia’s worth of dinosaur facts, presented as a field guide; excellent illustrations and plenty of information.

Tired: Maybe a little too much information for the casual dinosaur scholar; text-to-picture ratio might be a bit high for kids.

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