Like most people, I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a child. That interest began with toys and pyjamas with stegosaurus’ on them, but evolved into consuming every film and TV programme that contained dinosaurs.    So it makes sense that I’d want to put together a reading list of the most important books on dinosaurs. However, I did not continue to pursue my fascination into adulthood, which means that my wildly naive understanding of palaeontology stretches about as far as whatever Ross said on the TV show Friends, which is expectedly suspect.   As always, to learn a new subject – my first port of call is to turn to the most important books on dinosaurs. A quick scan on Amazon will show you a wealth of potential reading, so to condense this down to a finely picked reading list – I need an expert panel. This panel will help me assemble the list of the most important books on dinosaurs. Before we discover the most important books on dinosaurs, we must first meet that panel of experts…

Steve BrusatteSteve Brusatte

Steve Brusatte is a vertebrate palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist who specialises in the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of dinosaurs. He has published six books (with the most recent being The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs)  and has described over 15 new species of fossil animals. He is a “resident palaeontologist” and scientific consultant for the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs team.

David fastovskyDavid Fastovsky

David Fastovsky is a professor in the department of geosciences at the University of Rhode Island. His main research interests include paleobiology of Mesozoic, terrestrial vertebrates and pre-quarternary paleopedology. David’s study of the paleonenvironments in which dinosaurs existed has seen him travel the world. His most recent book is entitled Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural, which is co-authored by David B. Weishampel.

Ashley MorhardtAshley Morhardt

Ashley Morhardt is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Washington University, as well as a collaborating paleontologist for the St. Louis Science Center. As a paleoneurologist, her research stems from a desire to understand the evolution of neural diversity, especially with dinosaurs. Her research program investigates evolutionary patterns of the dinosaur brain and brain-region size and shape.

Dougal DixonDougal Dixon

Dougal Dixon blends his passionate interest in geology and zoology into his award-winning books about prehistoric life forms. He is an internationally recognized authority on dinosaurs and his books include The Complete Book of Dinosaurs. He has worked as an editor, consultant and as a special advisor for programmes and motion pictures about dinosaurs.

Mike BentonMichael J. Benton

Michael J. Benton is a British palaeontologist and professor of vertebrate palaeontology in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. His published work has mostly concentrated on the evolution of Triassic reptiles. Michael has written some wonderful books for children on the theme of dinosaurs, as well as a number of palaeontology books for adults, including his most recent book Dinosaurs Rediscovered.

Now, let’s discover some of the most important books on dinosaurs…

The Riddle of the Dinosaur by John Noble Wilford

Dougal Dixon:

Yes, it is over thirty years old but it tells of the historical discoveries that created the science that we know, in a way that grips the reader into wishing that he or she had been there, braving the wilds and discomforts, unearthing the fossils and remains that established the basis of our knowledge. Immersively readable.

All About Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews

all about dinosaurs - most important books on dinosaursDavid Fastovsky:

I begin with Roy Chapman Andrews’ All About Dinosaurs.  Andrews’ career began by sweeping floors at the American Museum of Natural History and ended by becoming its Director. In the 1920s, he undertook exotic, and highly productive expeditions to “Outer Mongolia,” where he was plausibly the rakish model for Indiana Jones. A prolific author, in mid-century, he penned a number of children’s books, including All About Dinosaurs.  The book now seems a mess: rife with crude artwork and grotesque misunderstanding.  But in its day, this popular, flawed, now-risible book inspired an entire generation of young vertebrate paleontologists, most of whom have spent their careers shaking the cobwebs from the shopworn, shabby dinosaurs Andrews describes.  That generation, and now their students, moved dinosaurs from an intellectual and biological backwater to the forefront of paleontological (and biological) discovery.  How much more important can a book be?

The Dinosauria by David B. Weishampel, Peter Dodson and Halszka Osmolska

Ashley Morhardt:

An encyclopedic resource, written by paleontologists, that covers all dinosaur groups and the science that studies them. A bit dense, but worth wading through for current, nuanced information. An excellent resource for paleontologists in training.

Michael J. Benton:

This is the ‘bible’ of the subject, listing all dinosaur species, their locations and history of study. Sadly, it’s rapidly becoming out of date, but this second edition of a book originally compiled in 1990 includes all the world’s experts giving frank and incisive statements about the validity of names, locations, phylogeny, and anatomy. It’s a great reference to track older literature and to get a candid view on which species names have been rejected by the community (about half the dinosaur species ever named turn out to be inadequate in one way or another and are not used as valid names any more). [People keep talking about a third edition, but nobody has the energy to compile the thousand or more pages needed!]

David Fastovsky:

There are a zillion dinosaur encyclopedias and bestiaries (aviaries?).  Most are recapitulations of what you can find in Wikipedia.  For professional paleontologists, however, there are several valuable compendia, edited by highly accomplished, academic paleontologists.  First among these is The Dinosauria.  A staggering amount of work went into its 859pages.  The editors selected the large headings– topics like “Dinosaur Systematics,” and “Dinosaur Distribution and Biology,” and within these specialists wrote authoritative, peer-reviewed chapters, all unified within the volume.  It will come as no surprise that The Dinosauria has been through two very different editions (1990; 2004).  A two-volume third edition has been in the works, but the magnitude of the undertaking has made its completion an extended proposition.  Do not read The Dinosauria beginning to end; it is meant as a resource, and not as a novel.

The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker

Steve Brusatte:

The gold standard for dinosaur books and the one that inspired me above all others when I got into dinosaurs as a teenager. This is THE book that first brought the idea of active, dynamic, energetic, intelligent, successful dinosaurs to the reading public. It marks a paradigm shift in the science, but it’s also highly readable and has an iconoclastic, countercultural edge.

The Palaeoartists’ Handbook: Recreating Prehistoric Animals in Art by Mark Witton

Dougal Dixon:

This is how artists interpret the information supplied by the researchers and the academics. It deals with the applications of modern biology to fossil remains, comparisons with modern animals in appearance and behaviour. And the main point is that these techniques are applicable to whatever new discoveries are made out there in the field and in the laboratory. It will still be used in thirty years time!

Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J. Benton

dinosaurs rediscovered - important books on dinosaursMichael J. Benton:

This is the dinosaur book I kept looking for, but it was never written – so I eventually wrote it myself. I wanted more than statements about this and that, but the evidence – how do we know this dinosaur ate plants by pulling and stripping branches, can we work out whether T. rex could run fast, what colour was that dinosaur? There’s been a revolution in the way we study palaeontology in the past thirty years, and I wanted to explore how far we had got in making the subject a science. The answer is: we’ve come a long way, and the field of speculation has been pushed aside by testable science in studying dinosaur origins, evolution and extinction, feeding, locomotion, reproduction, growth, physiology, and colour.

The Complete Dinosaur by M.K. Brett-Surman, Thomas R. Holtz Jr. and James O. Farlow

Ashley Morhardt:

A detailed and accessible book that is written by paleontologists for anyone interested in dinosaurs and “how we know what we know” about them. Covers dinosaur groups, techniques in paleontology, history of the field, and much more!

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

Steve Brusatte:

My favorite first-person science book of all time. Walter Alvarez is masterful in using straightforward prose to explain how he solved the riddle of the dinosaur extinction and proved the impact of a six-mile-wide asteroid 66 million years ago. It’s the type of first-person-big-discovery pop science book of the same variety of James Watson’s The Double Helix, but more enjoyable, humbler, and friendlier.

Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved by Darren Naish and Paul Barrett

dinosaurs - how they lived and evolvedDavid Fastovsky:

What non-specialists look for in a book on dinosaurs is a modern, readable, authoritative treatment of the group.  Several books qualify; S. Brusatte’s lovely The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, part memoir and part primer; M. Benton’s brilliantly titled, slightly idiosyncratic The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, a fascinating dim sum of new ideas about dinosaur paleobiology.  But, for a well-written cohesive treatment of dinosaurs as we understand them today, D. Naish’s and P. Barrett’s Dinosaurs:  How They Lived and Evolved is the way to go.  Written by two dinosaur specialists, it properly introduces, describes, and shows in living color, what is known about dinosaurs, providing a context that is both modern and essential.  This book may not be news to dinosaur paleontologists; however, for other paleontologists and interested people searching for a readable, up-to-date, succinct and coherent statement of what is known about Dinosauria, Dinosaurs is the book of choice.

The Bare Bones by Matthew F. Bonnan

Dougal Dixon:

Okay, so only a few chapters of this are actually about dinosaurs. But as a textbook about bones and skeletons – how they are assembled and how they work – it is superb. Especially as the earlier chapters deal with the early and simple vertebrates, and how they eventually evolve the structures that build into something as complex as a dinosaur. And being about actual physical remains, the likes of which we find as fossils, it is unlikely to go out of date with new discoveries.

Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs by Nicole Klein, Kristian Remes, Carole Gee and Martin Sander

Michael J. Benton:

University of Illinois Press has put out an amazing number of specialist books about dinosaurs and other palaeontological topics, and this is one of the best. It isn’t a random set of chapters about odd sauropod topics, but a controlled sequence of invited chapters that step through everything we want to know about how some dinosaurs got to be really huge. This represents the culmination of ten years of team-work by Sander and colleagues, drawing on data from zoo keepers about how much food an elephant eats (and poops) each day, the nutritive value of Jurassic plants, the ecology of different feeding and breeding strategies, and all coming up with an answer to the biggest question about dinosaurs: how could they be so big?

The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams

Steve Brusatte:

There is a dark side to the modern world of paleontology, which many people don’t realize. In this new book, New Yorker writer Paige Williams tells the story of the black market trade in dinosaur fossils and the sad story of one Mongolian tyrannosaur that was poached, smuggled, and auctioned…before being rescued. A cracking combination of dinosaurs and true crime!

She Found Fossils by Maria Eugenia Leone Gold, Abagael Rosemary West

Ashly Morhardt:

Not about dinosaurs per se, but a recent and extremely important resource that provides fun and interesting featured bios for many prominent female palaeontologists. A unique and accessible resource, this book is written by two female palaeontologists and is a fantastic book that was long overdue. Playful artwork and jargon-free text make this an excellent book for both kids and adults.

What do you think are the most important books on dinosaurs? Let us know which books you’d nominate as the most important books on dinosaurs, on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this, don’t miss our recent reading list, The Best Books on Climate Change.

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