Not sure if this is better suited to General Questions, IMHO, or Cafe Society.
I would like to update my prehistoric knowledge of dinosaurs. Due to my lifetime interest, I have a cobbled-together understanding from such sources as 40-year-old pop science books, occasional web articles, Wikipedia, Stephen Jay Gould essay collections, and the like. It seems like there’s been a lot of re-evaluation in recent decades. Is there a good source for understanding moderately technical details?
I have a vague awareness of cladistics, but am not up for hard statistical analysis.
For example, 45 years ago, I was led to believe the big sauropods were Jurassic-only. Now I see we know about Cretaceous sauropods. When I read that there were groups like diplodoconts, titanosauridae, and brachiosauridae, I wonder what the relationships were between those groups.
Anyway, please recommend modern dinosaur books (for an adult). I am capable of handling a certain amount of dry writing and technical details, and would like to get facts, controversies, and even the history of how the current consensus developed.
Some excellent big fat encyclopaedic treatments, which are great in that they usually contain very upto date information on geology, genetic analysis and the other sciences that add so much to dinosaur study, as well as all the latest species and relationships.
Personal faves -
Greg Paul - Dinosaurs, a field guide.
Tom Holtz and Luis Rey - Dinosaurs: the most complete, upto date, encylcopaedia for dinosaur lovers of all ages.
Steve Brusatte - Dinosaurs. Large format, so some excellent graphics. Getting a bit out of date now.
These aren’t cheap but make up in endless reading, browsing and gawping at pictures. All are well-written
Well worth subscribing as well to Prehistoric Times, which is a bimonthly mag for dinosaur enthusiasts, ranging from real palaeontology to dinos in poular culture, figures and collectables. It has an excellent overview of new book issues and recent discoveries. Great artwork.
Anything by Donald Glut. Seriously, anything.
Theres also a big stratum of kids books and cheapie knock-offs. I’d stay clear of them if you are after the most recent information. You can readily work out how out of date the books are by the pictures:
feathers on tyrannosaurs - pretty much keeping up with research
depictions of South American dinosaurs - over past 10-12 years
tails dragging on ground - hopelessly out of date
mammoths being used as vacuum cleaners, dinosaurs as cranes - B+W TV era.
I definitely second the recommendation for Tom Holtz’s dinosaur book. It’s lively, engaging, and explains many concepts very simply but without talking down to the reader.
Greg Paul’s Dinosaurs: A Field Guide is interesting, but (as is classic for Greg Paul) he makes some odd taxonomic assertions that aren’t widely accepted in paleontological circles. For instance, IIRC he classifies Sapeornis as an oviraptorid and synonymizes Styracosaurus with Centrosaurus.
I also recommend the second edition of The Complete Dinosaur by Michael K. Brett-Surman, Thomas R. Holtz, James O. Farlow and Bob Walters. This is an encyclopedic work that’s jam-packed full of information.
Donald Glut’s Dinosaurs: The Encyclopedia is a massive series (I think it’s currently up to volume 7), also highly informative and up-to-date.
The Dinosauria by David B. Weishampel, Peter Dodson and Halszka Osmólska is also a good overview, although slightly dated (2007) and rather technical.
If you’re specifically interested in the theropod to bird transition, Glorified Dinosaurs: The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds by Luis M. Chiappe is a highly readable account.
We bought our son Dr. Holtz’s Dinosaur book when he outgrew the kids books without outgrowing his dino-mania. The illustrations are beautiful and the writing is about high school level. Easy enough for a light evening read. There is a lot of information in that book and it’s easy to read sections or chapters as you go without reading the whole book cover to cover (which you can do if you wish of course.)
That book is awesome on many levels, not the least of which is the quality of the illustrations. I remember picking this one up in the university bookstore during my first year of medical school and devouring it when I should have been studying human neuroanatomy.
(Amusing paleo-geek anecdote: In those days Paul Sereno [discoverer of Eoraptor and various other famous finds] used to give some of the lectures in our gross anatomy class. After I had read Greg Paul’s book, I happened to run into Dr. Sereno at a local restaurant and asked him what he thought of Greg’s hypothesis that deinonychosaurs were secondarily flightless descendants of Archaeopteryx. He gave me this funny smile and said that he thought Greg Paul was kind of “out there”. This, of course, was long before all the feathered dromaeosaurs were discovered in China. So I give props to Greg Paul for being somewhat prescient in this. :))