The best books on the popular cultural depiction of evolution, of the life of the past, and, how it changes

Dougal Dixon Author Of After Man: A Zoology of the Future
By Dougal Dixon

Who am I?

Dougal Dixon graduated from the University of St. Andrews with two degrees in geology. But although his education was entirely scientific his background was deeply artistic – a potentially unemployable combination back in the ‘70s. And so he ended up in publishing, as the Earth Science editor for an illustrated encyclopedia publisher. Since then he has become a full-time writer, specializing in geological articles for encyclopedias, handbooks on fossil collecting, and principally children’s books on dinosaurs. As well as that he has done a number of books on speculative evolution – exploring the principles of biology in novel ways.


I wrote...

After Man: A Zoology of the Future

By Dougal Dixon,

Book cover of After Man: A Zoology of the Future

What is my book about?

After Man explores a hypothetical future set 50 million years from now, a time period Dougal Dixon dubs the "Posthomic", which is inhabited by animals that have evolved from survivors of a mass extinction succeeding our own time. After Man used a fictional setting and hypothetical animals to explain the natural processes behind evolution. 


The books I picked & why

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The Palaeoartist's Handbook: Recreating Prehistoric Animals in Art

By Mark Witton,

Book cover of The Palaeoartist's Handbook: Recreating Prehistoric Animals in Art

Why this book?

So often we find popular level dinosaur books with the most ridiculous and inaccurate illustrations. Usually, the fault lies with the middle-man – the children’s writer or the artist. In this book, we have an instance that is, luckily, becoming more common – the academic who has the skills to communicate directly with the general audience. Dr. Witton has the experience of studying fossil animals (pterosaurs are his specialty) and in his book demonstrates how the various aspects of his work command an accurate approach to his artwork (he is a superb artist). Any speculation in his book is based on his sound observations – who would have guessed that the keratinous covering of the horns of Triceratops continued to grow throughout life and so the horny sheaths would have produced weird curly structures like those of elderly sheep?

The Palaeoartist's Handbook: Recreating Prehistoric Animals in Art

By Mark Witton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Palaeoartist's Handbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Extinct worlds live again in palaeoart: artworks of fossil animals, plants and environments carefully reconstructed from palaeontological and geological data. Such artworks are widespread in popular culture, appearing in documentaries, museums, books and magazines, and inspiring depictions of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals in cinema. This book outlines how fossil animals and environments can be reconstructed from their fossils, explaining how palaeoartists overcome gaps in fossil data and predict 'soft-tissue' anatomies no longer present around fossil bones. It goes on to show how science and art can meet to produce compelling, interesting takes on ancient worlds, and it explores the…


All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

By John Conway,

Book cover of All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

Why this book?

The reason that many dinosaur restorations are inaccurate is mostly because the artists base them only on the bones and skeletons. In an interesting exercise the authors and artists here have taken modern animals and imagined how future palaeontologists would illustrate them on the same basis. An elephant has no trunk (the soft musclular material would not have fossilized). A humming bird is a vampire (its long narrow beak looks so much like a hypodermic needle). A manatee is a pig-like animal grazing on upland meadows (or so we would surmise if we only knew of its skull). As a contrast they take the traditional view of fossil animals and make perfectly reasonable predictions of their behaviour based on modern animal lifestyles. Hypsilophodon eats millipedes (although it was definitely a vegetarian - but most modern vegetarian animals eat the occasional meaty snack). Protoceratops climbs trees (although its feet show it to be a ground dweller like a goat - but a goat can climb trees).

All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

By John Conway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Yesterdays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All Yesterdays is a book about the way we see dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Lavishly illustrated with over sixty original artworks, All Yesterdays aims to challenge our notions of how prehistoric animals looked and behaved. As a critical exploration of palaeontological art, All Yesterdays asks questions about what is probable, what is possible, and what is commonly ignored. Written by palaeozoologist Darren Naish, and palaeontological artists John Conway and C.M. Kosemen, All Yesterdays is scientifically rigorous and artistically imaginative in its approach to fossils of the past - and those of the future.


The Unfeathered Bird

By Katerina van Grouw,

Book cover of The Unfeathered Bird

Why this book?

So you want to paint dinosaurs? An artist depicting a modern animal works from life, or works from photographs. Neither option is open to the dinosaur artist. But now that we know that dinosaurs are evolved from birds we have modern examples that can give us a start – at least we can see the layout of muscles and how they bulk out the body around the skeleton. This book is a wonderful atlas of bird parts and can provide a perfect guide to how bones are articulated and how the muscles are built up. It is the nearest that a dinosaur artist will get to a direct visual reference! And it is so beautifully done that it works as a coffee table book – something to be just looked at and admired.

The Unfeathered Bird

By Katerina van Grouw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unfeathered Bird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is more to a bird than simply feathers. And just because birds evolved from a single flying ancestor doesn't mean they are structurally all the same. With over 385 stunning drawings depicting 200 species, The Unfeathered Bird is a richly illustrated book on bird anatomy that offers refreshingly original insights into what goes on beneath the feathered surface. Each exquisite drawing is made from an actual specimen and reproduced in sumptuous large format. The birds are shown in lifelike positions and engaged in behavior typical of the species: an underwater view of the skeleton of a swimming loon, the…


The Riddle of the Dinosaur

By John Noble Wilford,

Book cover of The Riddle of the Dinosaur

Why this book?

We can be a bit precious about all this. But it is important to keep in mind that we have not always known as much as we do now about the history of life on earth. Wilford gives us a very readable account of the practical history of palaeontology - the people involved, the excitement of the discoveries, the anecdotes of the expeditions, the thought processes that went into the interpretations . . . And how the public have percieved the various discoveries throughout history.

The Riddle of the Dinosaur

By John Noble Wilford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Riddle of the Dinosaur as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sketches the history of paleontology, traces the study of dinosaurs, and summarizes what we have learned about their lives and the reason for their extinction


Dinosaurs Ever Evolving: The Changing Face of Prehistoric Animals in Popular Culture

By Allen A. Debus,

Book cover of Dinosaurs Ever Evolving: The Changing Face of Prehistoric Animals in Popular Culture

Why this book?

Like Wilford’s book, this one goes through the history of palaeontology, but puts it in the context of society at the time. For example the general appreciation of the dinosaur in the last 150 years has gone from an amazing curiosity, through a symbol of something that was too clumsy to survive, through a metaphor for our own vulnerability to climate change or pollution or nuclear annihilation, to the venerable ancestor of our lovely birds . . . It can be a bit nerdy at times – overly detailed plot lines of particular films or comic books – and can be somewhat repetitive – the same examples cropping up again and again. The sweep of the work references other writers in the field – including Septhen Jay Gould, Donald F. Glut and the above John Noble Wilford – giving a great coverage of the subject

Dinosaurs Ever Evolving: The Changing Face of Prehistoric Animals in Popular Culture

By Allen A. Debus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dinosaurs Ever Evolving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From their discovery in the 19th century to the dawn of the Nuclear Age, dinosaurs were seen in popular culture as ambassadors of the geological past and as icons of the ""life through time"" narrative of evolution. They took on a more foreboding character during the Cold War, serving as a warning to mankind with the advent of the hydrogen bomb. As fears of human extinction escalated during the ecological movement of the 1970s, dinosaurs communicated their metaphorical message of extinction, urging us from our destructive path. Using an eclectic variety of examples, this book outlines the three-fold ""evolution"" of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dinosaurs, paleontology, and ornithology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dinosaurs, paleontology, and ornithology.

Dinosaurs Explore 62 books about dinosaurs
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Ornithology Explore 5 books about ornithology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, and Dinosaurs a Children's Encyclopedia if you like this list.