Book Review – The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs – Gregory S. Paul

We had known about the launch of this book for sometime,after all, it came out last year and I recall reading the review out of Prehistoric Times magazine to colleagues at one of our  Friday afternoon meetings, but nobody took the hint and purchased it.  However, after having contacted the author on a technical issue concerning the anatomy of Spinosaurids I decided that enough was enough and I have bought it, using the excuse of an “early Christmas present to myself”.

For those not yet acquainted with the work and illustrations of Gregory S. Paul, let me quickly put you in the picture before providing a brief review of this offering.  Gregory S. Paul  is a world renowned illustrator of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.  His enthusiasm for all things Dinosauria is quite remarkable and his research into this subject and deep understanding of these prehistoric animals makes him one of the most respected technical illustrators in the field of Earth Sciences.  He has produced a number of books related to palaeontology as well as being a frequent contributor to Nature and Scientific American as well as numerous other respected science-based journals.

Caught on the Hop when my Field Guide Arrived

I promise I will keep this in the Everything Dinosaur office

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs – Reviewed

This publication is aimed at the casual reader as well as the serious academic, it combines beautiful anatomical illustrations and life-pose depictions with concise data on a vast range of the Dinosauria.  I note that the jacket states that more than 735 individual species are covered with over 600 colour and black/white illustrations, I won’t dispute these figures but suffice to say that this book is crammed full of dinosaurs, dinosaur illustrations and dinosaur facts and figures.

The book is laid out like a comprehensive field guide to the subject.  It reminds me of the sort of handy, practical guidebooks produced for enthusiastic ornithologists and bird spotters.  If one was able to travel back to the Mesozoic then this book would be just the thing to help the explorer distinguish between different Hadrosaurines should he or she encounter them.  A sort of “spotters” guide to dinosaurs with lavish accompanying notes.  If dinosaur fans have ever tried to unravel the differences between Euoplocephalus and Ankylosaurus then reading pages 233-235 would be a good place to start.

However, this book is not just a dinosaur directory, it starts with a comprehensive outline of dinosaur research, dinosaur discoveries and other information setting the scene for the descriptions that are to follow.  In fact, about one-fifth of the 320 pages or so are dedicated to providing detailed descriptions regarding dinosaur anatomy, physiology, behaviour and reproduction.  Each of these subject areas is broken down into manageable “chunks” before the major dinosaur groups are introduced.

The rest of this highly informative volume is dedicated to describing the various dinosaur families, genera and species.  Although it is not a comprehensive account, a number of “nomen dubium” the author has to be praised for featuring so many members of the Dinosauria.  We have already found it useful, helping to resolve the issue we encountered regarding the Spinosaurids.  “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs” has obviously been a labour of love and the author’s enthusiasm for these prehistoric animals really does come across.  Just a couple of quibbles, being based on this side of the Atlantic, (Britain) we note that this book is written in American English so expect to see words such as paleontology and behavior, rather than the English spellings.  Secondly, the back of the jacket shows a black and white illustration of a herd of mixed Sauropods.  The white area of the jacket is going to get quite grubby with all the handling, but these are really only minor points.

One of the Many Colour-Life Studies (Sinosauropteryx prima)

Theropod attempting to catch the “early bird”

Picture Credit: Gregory S. Paul

The overall layout is easy to follow, we loved the helpful guide to the group and species descriptions which included what we call a “taxonomic timeline” showing the different types of dinosaur families and when they lived.   Also, extremely useful is the well crafted index of taxa and the separate listing of geological formations referred to within the text.

We thoroughly recommend this book, do what I did and treat yourself to an “early Christmas present”.

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