The best fossil books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about fossils and why they recommend each book.

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The Meaning of Fossils

By Martin J.S. Rudwick,

Book cover of The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Palaeontology

It’s one thing to appreciate that fossils record the history of life, but something else altogether to understand how we came to know that. Rudwick’s classic book recounts the discoveries, large and small, that over centuries revealed fossils to be remnants of lost worlds. An exceptional exercise in the history of science. The Meaning of Fossils is required reading for students of paleontology.

The Meaning of Fossils

By Martin J.S. Rudwick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"It is not often that a work can literally rewrite a person's view of a subject. And this is exactly what Rudwick's book should do for many paleontologists' view of the history of their own field."-Stephen J. Gould, Paleobotany and Palynology

"Rudwick has not merely written the first book-length history of palaeontology in the English language; he has written a very intelligent one. . . . His accounts of sources are rounded and organic: he treats the structure of arguments as Cuvier handled fossil bones."-Roy S. Porter, History of Science


Who am I?

An acclaimed scientist, teacher, and writer, Andrew Knoll has travelled the world for decades, investigating ancient rocks to understand the intertwined histories of our planet and the life it supports. His boyhood thrill at discovering fossils has never deserted him. It continues to motivate him to explore topics that range from the earliest records of life and the emergence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere; the diversification of both plants and animals, and the intricacies of mass extinctions, past and present. He has also participated in NASA’s exploration of Mars.


I wrote...

A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

By Andrew H. Knoll,

Book cover of A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

What is my book about?

We live our lives tethered to the Earth, but how well do you know our planetary home?

Drawing on his decades of field research and up-to-the-minute understanding of the latest science, Andrew H. Knoll delivers a rigorous yet accessible biography of Earth, charting our home planet’s epic 4.6-billion-year story. Placing twenty-first-century climate change in deep context, A Brief History of Earth is an indispensable look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Planet Ocean

By Bradford Matsen, Ray Troll,

Book cover of Planet Ocean: A Story of Life, the Sea and Dancing to the Fossil Record

Planet Ocean is a rollicking romp of a book, even while it is being deeply informative. The writing is full of wit and story, with a strong undertow of awe at the wonders of evolution and geologic time. We learn about these things along with Matsen as he and Troll go on a trilobite safari, visit museums and scientists, and dig for dinosaurs in the badlands of Alberta. The book is lavishly illustrated with Troll’s surreal, sublime, whimsical, and always arresting depictions of such creatures as Xiphactinus, Anomalocaris, Hesperornis, Hallucigenia, and of course Helicoprion.

Planet Ocean

By Bradford Matsen, Ray Troll,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the paperback edition of the great pop-paleontology book with the fabulous art that inspired a show that toured the nation's natural history museums. In its own way it has inspired many people to take a new look at the fossil record and imagine creatures and things as they might have been—a blend of word and image unlike any other.


Who am I?

When I was young, I worked on fishing boats in Alaska and developed an affection for weird sea creatures. All manner of unusual marine life would come up on the line, like wild-looking sea stars, pointy-nosed skates, and alien-looking ratfish. Later, I graduated from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks with a degree in Communications. One of my early jobs was with the Washington Department of Wildlife public information department, writing about fish, as well as other wildlife-related topics. When I moved to Bozeman, Montana, I had the opportunity to create content for a museum exhibit on early life forms. That hooked me on all things paleo. It is a joy to write about and share the things I love—like oddball creatures from deep time.


I wrote...

Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

By Susan Ewing,

Book cover of Resurrecting the Shark: A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil

What is my book about?

In 1993, Alaskan artist and paleo-fish freak Ray Troll stumbled upon the weirdest fossil he had ever seen: a platter-sized spiral of tightly wound shark teeth. This chance encounter in the basement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sparked Troll's obsession with Helicoprion, a mysterious monster shark from deep time. In 2010, tattooed amateur strongman and returning Iraq War veteran Jesse Pruitt was also severely smitten by a Helicoprionfossil in a museum basement in Idaho. These two bizarre-shark disciples found each other, and an unconventional band of collaborators grew serendipitously around them, determined to solve the puzzle of the tooth whorl once and for all.

In this groundbreaking book, Susan Ewing reveals these revolutionary insights into what Helicoprion looked like and how the tooth whorl functioned, pushing this dazzling and awe-inspiring beast into the spotlight of modern science.

Fossil by Fossil

By Sara Levine, T.S. Spookytooth (illustrator),

Book cover of Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones

What I love about this book is the pattern of step-by-step questions posed to the young reader about what kind of dinosaur they would be if certain bones were added or lost to their skeletons, followed by a surprising answer. Not only does this book explore some of the most popular land-walking dinosaurs, it also extends to the first reptiles that flew (Pterosaurs) and others that swam in the seas. My favorite part of this book is that it brings readers to recognize that modern-day avian dinosaurs are still among us—in birds! Along with an ultimate invitation to step into the best place for observing and learning more about them, which is outdoors.

Fossil by Fossil

By Sara Levine, T.S. Spookytooth (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What dinosaur would you be if you had a bony ridge rising from the back of your skull and three horns poking up from the front?

Answer: a triceratops!

This picture book will keep you guessing as you find out how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of dinosaurs!


Who am I?

Long before becoming an author and awarded science teacher, I was a child who explored the unpaved colonial roads in rural New Hampshire and brought home bucket loads of tadpoles, frogs, and turtles from nearby wetlands. I knew the rock walls that lined those roads had been placed by others who’d worked the land long before. My curiosity extended to wondering what the area had been like before humans started changing things. In retrospect, perhaps I wrote Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! in part for that backwoods girl full of questions about the world around her. Equally so, it’s for every curious child—even those who aren’t sure about dipping their toes into the mud just yet. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!

By S.K. Wenger, Jojo Ensslin (illustrator),

Book cover of Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!

What is my book about?

In this quirky tale with a STEM foundation, Chicken Frank wants to convince his doubting barnyard friends that he is a dinosaur. But no one believes him. When the results of a DNA test inspire Frank to hold a reunion with a toothy distant relative, will he become a tasty chicken nugget?

Showing friendship and family can be found in unexpected places, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! will appeal to dinosaur and animal lovers everywhere. It offers a perfect blend of humor and information in its exploration of evolution, extinction, and scientific debate.

Life on a Young Planet

By Andrew H. Knoll,

Book cover of Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth

Harvard geobiologist Andy Knoll vividly captures the dynamic field of Precambrian paleontology in this unique, zippy read. Personalities—both fossils and the people who study them—come alive as Knoll races across the eons. With episodes from life’s enigmatic origins, to scrappy contentious black smudges that might or might not be the remains of cells, to some of the most exquisite and revealing microfossils on Earth, Life on a Young Planet takes its readers on a unique journey.

Life on a Young Planet

By Andrew H. Knoll,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life on a Young Planet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Australopithecines, dinosaurs, trilobites--such fossils conjure up images of lost worlds filled with vanished organisms. But in the full history of life, ancient animals, even the trilobites, form only the half-billion-year tip of a nearly four-billion-year iceberg. Andrew Knoll explores the deep history of life from its origins on a young planet to the incredible Cambrian explosion, presenting a compelling new explanation for the emergence of biological novelty. The very latest discoveries in paleontology--many of them made by the author and his students--are integrated with emerging insights from molecular biology and earth system science to forge a broad understanding of how…


Who am I?

Robert M. Hazen, Senior Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Earth and Planets Laboratory and the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University, received the B.S. and S.M. in geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ph.D. at Harvard University in Earth science. His most recent book is The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years from Stardust to Living Planet, which explores the intricate coevolution of the geosphere and biosphere.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet

What is my book about?

Hailed by The New York Times for writing "with wonderful clarity about science . . . that effortlessly teaches as it zips along," nationally bestselling author Robert M. Hazen offers a radical new approach to Earth history in this intertwined tale of the planet's living and nonliving spheres. With an astrobiologist's imagination, a historian's perspective, and a naturalist's eye, Hazen calls upon twenty-first-century discoveries that have revolutionized geology and enabled scientists to envision Earth's many iterations in vivid detail--from the mile-high lava tides of its infancy to the early organisms responsible for more than two-thirds of the mineral varieties beneath our feet. Lucid, controversial, and on the cutting edge of its field, The Story of Earth is popular science of the highest order.

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

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

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…


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. 


Trilobite

By Richard Fortey,

Book cover of Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution

Richard Fortey, a renowned paleontologist and acclaimed science writer, uses trilobites – those marvelous multi-limbed denizens of Paleozoic seas – to explain how fossils illuminate the past.  Fortey has studied trilobites for decades, and his expertise shines through on every page.  At the same time, his skills as a storyteller bring these ancient arthropods and the worlds they inhabited to vivid life. An enjoyable way to learn how paleontologists think. 

Trilobite

By Richard Fortey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With Trilobite, Richard Fortey, paleontologist and author of the acclaimed Life, offers a marvelously written, smart and compelling, accessible and witty scientific narrative of the most ubiquitous of fossil creatures.

Trilobites were shelled animals that lived in the oceans over five hundred million years ago. As bewilderingly diverse then as the beetle is today, they survived in the arctic or the tropics, were spiky or smooth, were large as lobsters or small as fleas. And because they flourished for three hundred million years, they can be used to glimpse a less evolved world of ancient continents and vanished oceans. Erudite…


Who am I?

An acclaimed scientist, teacher, and writer, Andrew Knoll has travelled the world for decades, investigating ancient rocks to understand the intertwined histories of our planet and the life it supports. His boyhood thrill at discovering fossils has never deserted him. It continues to motivate him to explore topics that range from the earliest records of life and the emergence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere; the diversification of both plants and animals, and the intricacies of mass extinctions, past and present. He has also participated in NASA’s exploration of Mars.


I wrote...

A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

By Andrew H. Knoll,

Book cover of A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

What is my book about?

We live our lives tethered to the Earth, but how well do you know our planetary home?

Drawing on his decades of field research and up-to-the-minute understanding of the latest science, Andrew H. Knoll delivers a rigorous yet accessible biography of Earth, charting our home planet’s epic 4.6-billion-year story. Placing twenty-first-century climate change in deep context, A Brief History of Earth is an indispensable look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon

By Jeannine Atkins, Michael C. Dooling (illustrator),

Book cover of Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon

In more recent years, Jeannine Atkins has given us the beautifully written “novels-in-verse” Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science and Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math. The richly illustrated picture book Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon is one of Atkins’s earlier efforts to showcase the contributions women and girls have made to science. The story of Mary Anning is also important for what it tells us about the role of working-class people in the history of science. Mary’s father had been a carpenter until his untimely death, and the family supplemented their meager income by selling “curiosities” (i.e., fossils) they unearthed on the seashore near their home in Lyme Regis, England.

Mary’s careful reconstructions of fossils (including the world-famous ichthyosaur that she and her brother uncovered) helped transform the field of paleontology, earning her as much respect as a working-class woman could get in the world of…

Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon

By Jeannine Atkins, Michael C. Dooling (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over two hundred years ago, a young girl discovers a fossil, and begins a lifelong vocation that earns her a place in history. "The patience and dogged determination of the unconventional Mary shines through, making her story one not only for dinosaur-lovers, but for those appreciate stories of strong girls as well." -- Publishers Weekly.


Who am I?

I'm a historian of science who specializes in modern China. My professional life revolves around teaching history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and writing for academic audiences. But my not-so-secret dream has always been to write for children. I've been a regular visitor to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where I've gorged on illustrated books for children. Encouraged by a chance meeting with a publisher’s representative attending an event at the Carle, I decided to distill my academic book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China, into a children’s story. I’m proud that my fans now include elementary-school students. (And at least one professional historian admitted he read the kids’ version first!)


I wrote...

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

By Sigrid Schmalzer, Melanie Linden Chan (illustrator),

Book cover of Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

What is my book about?

Moth and Wasp tells the story of a real Chinese scientist, Pu Zhelong, through the eyes of a fictional village boy—a composite character I created from people I interviewed who grew up in China during the Mao era (1949-1976). Melanie Chan’s illustrations bring the narrator’s memories to life while incorporating traditional Chinese folk art and elements of the Chinese written language.

Pu Zhelong was an insect scientist committed to serving the people by finding environmentally friendly and affordable ways to control agricultural pests. He personified the best of Maoist science, combining Chinese knowledge rooted in the countryside and Western scientific learning from overseas. The villagers are initially skeptical of Professor Pu’s proposal to breed and release parasitic wasps, but the city-born scientist wins them over with his willingness to get his hands and feet dirty. The narrator admires Pu and even makes a contribution to the research. He discovers that a university scientist can be at home in the villages… and a village kid can go to the university and become a scientist himself. 

Ancient Man

By William R. Corliss,

Book cover of Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts

Corless spent his life trawling through old magazines and scientific journals and recording articles about ancient artefacts that baffled the author at the time. He makes no comment on the articles, some of which reveal amazing discoveries. For example, the one about an iron cup that was found in a coal mine in Oklahoma. The coal had formed around it some 300m years ago and yet there it was—man-made but by whom. He outlines many other baffling discoveries as described in articles going back to the 19th century.

Ancient Man

By William R. Corliss,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Nearly four hundred articles and archaeological investigations probe the enigmatic artifacts of prehistoric man including pyramids, mounds and engineering structures as well as tools, flints, pictographs, drawings, skeletons, and fossils


Who am I?

I began life as an apprentice motor engineer before starting my own business. Before I married, I used my holidays to visit some of the great historical sites of the Middle East, including, of course, Egypt. That first look at the pyramids, both inside and out, set me on a lifetime study of them and other sites across Europe. Relying on the physical work of others I was able to put down on paper my thoughts on a much earlier civilization that seems to have come from nowhere, erected incredible monuments, and then simply vanished. Now, I still have a very keen interest in it all and slowly I'm amassing enough material for another book.


I wrote...

From Whence We Came – The Biblical Age of World Enlightenment

By Robert Soper,

Book cover of From Whence We Came – The Biblical Age of World Enlightenment

What is my book about?

When seeing the Giza pyramids for the first time in 1963 I listened carefully to what the tour guide had to say. And then I looked at the Great Pyramid and to me, as an engineer, it did not add up. Since then, I've looked at other sites across the globe and again, nothing made sense. When I retired, I put it all down on paper which ended up as two controversial books on the subject.

My own research came up with credible arguments on both sides of the Darwin v Creation debate and by comparing three other massive construction projects from our own era to the Giza complex, I showed that only a very advanced hi-tech society could be responsible. It also showed irrefutable links to other sites across the globe.

Extinctions

By Michael Hannah,

Book cover of Extinctions: Living and Dying in the Margin of Error

The history of life’s diversity, as revealed in the fossil record has been tumultuous. Periods of explosive evolution alternated with times of major species loss. Hannah skillfully utilizes the geologic record to provide a historical context for our current global ecological emergency and the rapid demise of many key species. He makes a strong case that those who ignore the clear messages of geologic history are doomed to experience the worsening “Sixth Extinction” during the newly defined Anthropocene epoch.

Extinctions

By Michael Hannah,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Are we now entering a mass extinction event? What can mass extinctions in Earth's history tell us about the Anthropocene? What do mass extinction events look like and how does life on Earth recover from them? The fossil record reveals periods when biodiversity exploded, and short intervals when much of life was wiped out in mass extinction events. In comparison with these ancient events, today's biotic crisis hasn't (yet) reached the level of extinction to be called a mass extinction. But we are certainly in crisis, and current parallels with ancient mass extinction events are profound and deeply worrying. Humanity's…


Who am I?

A visit to the American Museum of Natural History when I was seven years old hooked me on dinosaurs and geology in general. I have maintained that passion to uncover the history of the earth with fieldwork on all seven continents, cutting-edge research, and teaching undergraduates to appreciate the implications of our tenancy on the planet, and our place within the solar system, the galaxy, and the wider universe.


I wrote...

Cataclysms: A New Geology for the Twenty-First Century

By Michael R. Rampino,

Book cover of Cataclysms: A New Geology for the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

Cataclysms offers a cosmic context for the earth’s geologic evolution, in which periodic disasters from above in the form of comet and asteroid impacts and from below in the form of huge outpourings of lava have led to catastrophic mass extinctions of life. This “new geology” sees the earth’s position in the solar system and the galaxy as the key to understanding our planet’s geology and the history of life.

The book concludes with a controversial consideration of exotic dark matter in the galaxy as a potential triggering mechanism, exploring its role in heating the earth’s core and spurring periodic bursts of geologic activity.

Ravished

By Amanda Quick,

Book cover of Ravished

Another favorite romance trope of mine is Beauty and the Beast, and Quick gives us The Beast of Blackthorn Hall paired with a paleontologist heroine who brooks no nonsense, especially from the Beast. The poor man doesn’t understand how outmatched he is until it’s too late. There are caves, dinosaur fossils, smugglers, the ocean tide, and the wonderful road to love for two characters who really, truly, need each other. The dialogue absolutely sparkles. Amanda Quick is a pen name for NYT bestselling author Jayne-Ann Krentz.  

Ravished

By Amanda Quick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the cozy confines of a tiny seaside village to the glittering crush of the a fashionable London soiree comes an enthralling tale of a thoroughly mismatched couple . . . poised to discover the rapture of love.

There was no doubt about it. What Miss Harriet Pomeroy needed was a man. Someone powerful and clever who could help her rout the unscrupulous thieves who were using her beloved caves to hide their loot. But when Harriet summoned Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, to her aid, she could not know that she was summoning the devil himself. . . .…


Who am I?

I’ve been reading historical romance since I was a teen and writing it since I published my first historical romance in 1987. Since then I’ve written over forty romance novels, short stories, and novellas, many of which are historical romances. I adore history and research is never a chore for me. Graduate school and a project on Eleanore Sleath, an English author of Horrid Novels from the early 19th century, honed the research skills that I bring to my historical novels. There are times when readers need the certainty of the happy ending that Romance promises, and I love delivering on that promise in all my books. I hope everyone finds a new author to love from this list!


I wrote...

Scandal: A Regency Historical Romance

By Carolyn Jewel,

Book cover of Scandal: A Regency Historical Romance

What is my book about?

Most women fall at the feet of the scandalous Earl of Banallt, but not Sophie. The young wife of a fellow libertine is unconventional, brilliant, and uninterested in the earl’s advances. Sophie refuses to be seduced, and soon Banallt wants her more than ever. Years later, unrequited love has changed Banallt and the widowed Sophie is free of her scoundrel of a husband. When he makes a declaration of love, the heartbroken Sophie can’t help but deny him. As her life begins to fall apart, only Banallt stands by her. Can she keep herself from giving into a passionate affair with a rake who can’t be trusted?

“WOW. Simply, wow. That is the only word I can use to describe this masterpiece.” (Romance Novel TV) 


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