The best paleontology books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about paleontology and why they recommend each book.

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The Riddle of the Dinosaur

By John Noble Wilford,

Book cover of The Riddle of the Dinosaur

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


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. 


Dinosaurs Ever Evolving

By Allen A. Debus,

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

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

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…


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. 


Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of Their Lost World

The best seller of all time, a lively romp through dinosaur research (and researchers). This is for all readers, and you’ll be hooked by the lively, pacy text by Steve, as he hurtles from continent to continent, digging up bones from China to Poland, working on Tyrannosaurus rex and other great beasts in the basements of the world’s museums, and sharing with readers what it’s like to be a working paleontologist. For aspiring young bone-diggers, this is an inspiration, although it’s not like this all the time: paleontologists also sometimes have to mark student essays and fight with university systems to get their field trip costs refunded!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

By Steve Brusatte,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Times Science Book of the Year.
A Sunday Times Bestseller.

66 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the earth. Today, Dr. Steve Brusatte, one of the leading scientists of a new generation of dinosaur hunters, armed with cutting edge technology, is piecing together the complete story of how the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years.

The world of the dinosaurs has fascinated on book and screen for decades - from early science fiction classics like The Lost World, to Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo, and the monsters of Jurassic Park. But…


Who am I?

I’ve been mad about dinosaurs and ancient life since I was seven. I have been amazingly lucky to be able to develop a career as a professional palaeontologist and to be able to research and talk about the subject. We were first to show the original colours of dinosaur feathers, and this discovery provides a perfect way to open the discussion about how palaeontologists know what they say they know. In my books, I seek to amaze, amuse and inform. I have written many books, including pop science, textbooks, technical-scientific works, and books for children, and every year brings new discoveries to be transmitted to the world.


I wrote...

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

By Michael J. Benton, Bob Nicholls (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

What is my book about?

Dinosaurs are not what you thought they were - or at least, they didn't look like you thought they did. This is a new visual guide to the world of the dinosaurs, showing how rapid advances in technology and amazing new fossil finds have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. Stunning new illustrations from paleoartist Bob Nicholls display the latest and most exciting scientific discoveries in vibrant colour.

For the first time, we can claim that each illustration shows dinosaurs as they really were, each aspect of their skin or feathers, colours and patterns based on fossil evidence interpreted with the latest technology. Only 25 years ago, in 1996, the first dinosaur with feathers, Sinosauropteryx, was reported from China. Since then, thousands of amazing new specimens have come to light, and laboratory methods have improved enormously. Who says palaeontology is a dead, old discipline!

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.

Wonderful Life

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Book cover of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Stephen Jay Gould’s book frames the history of life within the context of earth’s history. It focuses on the fauna of the Burgess Shale that Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered in 1909 at a small quarry on a steep mountainside in the Canadian Rockies. Gould’s book brings to life the Cambrian Explosion, when multicellular life suddenly, in geologic time, introduced all the phyla that exist today, including chordata, our own phyla and demonstrates to readers that “the beauty of nature lies in its details.”

Wonderful Life

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wonderful Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived-a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.


Who am I?

For most of my career as an oil explorationist I have worked with geologists, an exceptional group of men and women who, from observing earth’s surface as it is configured today, can decipher earth’s history. By understanding how rocks were originally formed and how in subsequent millennia rocks have been buried, transported warped, eroded, re-deposited, and altered by high pressures, high temperatures, hot water, and all the tectonic forces of nature that have formed the surface as we see it today, they believe, really believe, that they can visualize the subsurface.  It’s a fascinating four-dimensional detective story. 


I wrote...

Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman

By Sam L. Pfiester,

Book cover of Solomon's Temple: Musjid-i-Suleiman

What is my book about?

Solomon’s Temple is a historical novel about the first discovery of oil in the Mideast. All the characters are real. All the dates are accurate. All the incidents actually happened. Solomon’s Temple tells the story of the first oil explorationists in Persia whose discovery in 1908 changed the world, and of the visionaries – including Winston Churchill – who understood its impact.

Book cover of Life. An Unauthorized Biography. A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth

In this magisterial view of life’s progress, the author, a paleontologist, guides readers through its expansions and setbacks caused by the Earth’s ever-changing geological environments. This is no sterile account. Published in an excellent format, the writer’s travels and studies, and efforts of others, in uncovering past life are supported by vivid writing and splendid images. The book depicts landscape and submarine scenes of fossil finds, the creatures themselves, their relationships, and amazing reconstructions of past collective life scenes. 

In describing life from its primitive start through its explorative passages to human advent, the book opens up and pieces together the grandest story on Earth. 

Life. An Unauthorized Biography. A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth

By Richard Fortey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life. An Unauthorized Biography. A Natural History of the First Four Thousand Million Years of Life on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magisterial exploration of the natural history of the first four thousand million years of life on and in the earth, by one of Britain's most dazzling science writers.

What do any of us know about the history of our planet before the arrival of man? Most of us have a dim impression of a swirling mass of dust solidifying to form a volcanic globe, briefly populated by dinosaurs, then by woolly mammoths and finally by our own hairy ancestors. This book, aimed at the curious and intelligent but perhaps mildly uninformed reader, brilliantly dispels such lingering notions forever. At…


Who am I?

My final high school year in Tasmania added a new topic, geology. I and my school friends knew little about it but signed up. In the first lesson, the teacher pointed at the adjacent sunlit river gorge saying “There is your laboratory.” We were hooked and most of us became professional geologists. I started off in museums where mineral, rock, and fossil collections were a font of knowledge and generated field collecting, research, and educational activities. This led to MSc and PhD degrees from universities at both ends of Australia. A base at the Australian Museum led to travel around Australia and visits to many overseas institutions and meetings.


I wrote...

The Volcanic Earth: Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics : Past, Present & Future

By Frederick Lin Sutherland,

Book cover of The Volcanic Earth: Volcanoes and Plate Tectonics : Past, Present & Future

What is my book about?

The Volcanic Earth takes readers into Earth’s evolution over 4.5 billion years. Early fragments of rocks remain, while present active zones form a snapshot of newer global volcanism. Volcanoes may command spectacular scenery or hide under seas or ice. They interact with landscapes, the biosphere, the atmosphere, and human populations, often with disaster but some benefits. The book illustrates volcano genesis, within Earth’s underlying heat engine and the upheavals between continents and oceanic plates. 

The book especially illustrates three contrasting zones, born as the Supercontinent Gondwana split apart. Eastern Australia developed continuing basaltic volcanism and long migrating chains of shield volcanoes. New Zealand developed the classic explosive volcanoes of the Pacific margin collision zones, the ‘Rim of Fire’. Western Antarctica remained polar and formed ice-shrouded volcanoes.     

Dinosaurs

By David E. Fastovsky, David B. Weishampel, John Sibbick (illustrator)

Book cover of Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural History

This is the best textbook about dinosaurs. If you want to have all the latest information about the diversity of dinosaurs, how their bones are found and excavated, their history through time, all the key groups, how they are related to each other, and what we know about their life and times, this is the book. This is a tried and tested textbook, now in its fourth edition, but full of anecdotes, great text and great illustrations, many of them by the maestro, John Sibbick.

Dinosaurs

By David E. Fastovsky, David B. Weishampel, John Sibbick (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The ideal textbook for non-science majors, this lively and engaging introduction encourages students to ask questions, assess data critically and think like a scientist. Building on the success of previous editions, Dinosaurs has been thoroughly updated to include new discoveries in the field, such as the toothed bird specimens found in China and recent discoveries of dinosaur soft anatomy. Illustrations by leading paleontological illustrator John Sibbick and new, carefully-chosen photographs, clearly show how dinosaurs looked, lived and their role in Earth history. Making science accessible and relevant through clear explanations and extensive illustrations, the text guides students through the dinosaur…


Who am I?

I’ve been mad about dinosaurs and ancient life since I was seven. I have been amazingly lucky to be able to develop a career as a professional palaeontologist and to be able to research and talk about the subject. We were first to show the original colours of dinosaur feathers, and this discovery provides a perfect way to open the discussion about how palaeontologists know what they say they know. In my books, I seek to amaze, amuse and inform. I have written many books, including pop science, textbooks, technical-scientific works, and books for children, and every year brings new discoveries to be transmitted to the world.


I wrote...

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

By Michael J. Benton, Bob Nicholls (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

What is my book about?

Dinosaurs are not what you thought they were - or at least, they didn't look like you thought they did. This is a new visual guide to the world of the dinosaurs, showing how rapid advances in technology and amazing new fossil finds have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. Stunning new illustrations from paleoartist Bob Nicholls display the latest and most exciting scientific discoveries in vibrant colour.

For the first time, we can claim that each illustration shows dinosaurs as they really were, each aspect of their skin or feathers, colours and patterns based on fossil evidence interpreted with the latest technology. Only 25 years ago, in 1996, the first dinosaur with feathers, Sinosauropteryx, was reported from China. Since then, thousands of amazing new specimens have come to light, and laboratory methods have improved enormously. Who says palaeontology is a dead, old discipline!

Book cover of Dinosaurs a Children's Encyclopedia

The books so far are more for adults than children, although many children show remarkable powers of reading and learning with any dinosaur book. But this one is aimed at children, and it’s comprehensive and up to date. Dinosaur fans love lists and catalogues, and they want a book that has everything. This is probably the best such book, and it packs in a huge amount of material into its 300 pages.

Dinosaurs a Children's Encyclopedia

By Dorling Kindersley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dinosaurs a Children's Encyclopedia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Travel back in time to learn about every kind of dinosaur with this comprehensive dinosaur book for children.

With nearly 400,000 copies sold Dinosaurs: A Children's Encyclopedia is a global best-seller. It includes detailed fact files and colour illustrations of more than 320 species.

Discover the biggest, the scariest, and the strangest animals ever to inhabit our world, from Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus to horse-eating prehistoric birds and giant millipedes the size of crocodiles. Find out exactly where and when each animal lived, how large it grew, and how it captured prey or fought off enemies. Expert-verified reconstructions reveal what each…


Who am I?

I’ve been mad about dinosaurs and ancient life since I was seven. I have been amazingly lucky to be able to develop a career as a professional palaeontologist and to be able to research and talk about the subject. We were first to show the original colours of dinosaur feathers, and this discovery provides a perfect way to open the discussion about how palaeontologists know what they say they know. In my books, I seek to amaze, amuse and inform. I have written many books, including pop science, textbooks, technical-scientific works, and books for children, and every year brings new discoveries to be transmitted to the world.


I wrote...

Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

By Michael J. Benton, Bob Nicholls (illustrator),

Book cover of Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World

What is my book about?

Dinosaurs are not what you thought they were - or at least, they didn't look like you thought they did. This is a new visual guide to the world of the dinosaurs, showing how rapid advances in technology and amazing new fossil finds have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. Stunning new illustrations from paleoartist Bob Nicholls display the latest and most exciting scientific discoveries in vibrant colour.

For the first time, we can claim that each illustration shows dinosaurs as they really were, each aspect of their skin or feathers, colours and patterns based on fossil evidence interpreted with the latest technology. Only 25 years ago, in 1996, the first dinosaur with feathers, Sinosauropteryx, was reported from China. Since then, thousands of amazing new specimens have come to light, and laboratory methods have improved enormously. Who says palaeontology is a dead, old discipline!

I am not a Dinosaur!

By Will Lach, Jonny Lambert (illustrator),

Book cover of I am not a Dinosaur!

From the lizard-looking Dimetrodon to the wooly mammoth to the 1,000-pound turtle-like Glyptodont, as well as the modern-day Latimeria fish species that was believed to have gone extinct millions of years ago (Surprise! It turned up in a fisherman’s net!), puts this book in the “must-read” category. A bouncy rhyming text that highlights large creatures that roamed the Earth both before and alongside dinosaurs, makes this book a win, especially since it lands at a modern-day avian dinosaur that can be seen in tweety parakeet.

I am not a Dinosaur!

By Will Lach, Jonny Lambert (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I am not a Dinosaur! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Way back in time, astonishing creatures lived on our planet. But they weren’t all dinosaurs! In this fun, fascinating book, you’ll meet some of these amazing prehistoric creatures, from a very big fish with 7-inch teeth to a flying reptile. Based on specimens in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, I Am NOT a Dinosaur! uses riddle-like rhymes and bright illustrations to reveal 16 creatures. With an introduction from Chairman of Paleontology at the Museum, Dr. Mark Norell, the book also features short notes, fossil photos, and an illustrated timeline to explain everything, simply and clearly, to…


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.

Book cover of The Illustrated Dinosaur Dictionary

This book is great for those who want a more exhaustive reference book. This is one of several good dictionaries of dinosaurs and related terms. It is illustrated in black and white, but the text predominates, and as such it serves as a reliable reference for facts about dinosaurs, including many that are not found in mass-produced gift books. I also like that it includes the etymology of entries. It’s a little old (1983), but was awarded several honors, including being a Golden Kite Honor Book, and ALA Notable Book, and a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book.

The Illustrated Dinosaur Dictionary

By Helen Roney Sattler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A dictionary with entries for all known dinosaurs, about 300 at last count, and other animals of the Mesozoic Era, as well as general topics relating to dinosaurs, from Acanthopholis to Zigongosaurus.


Who am I?

I am, like so many other young people (yes, I still think of myself as young!), fascinated with dinosaurs and prehistory, and have been for as long as I can remember. What I really find interesting and engaging is the combination of the fact that they do not exist anymore and therefore are otherworldly with the fact that they are real and actually of this world!


I wrote...

Dinosaur Name Poems/Poemas de Nombres de Dinosaurios

By Steven Clark Cunningham, Valeska M. Populoh (illustrator), Myriam Gorospe (translator)

Book cover of Dinosaur Name Poems/Poemas de Nombres de Dinosaurios

What is my book about?

These are 30 poems that encourage love of language. Approved by the Paleontological Research Institution, this bilingual (English/Spanish) book received two 2009 Moonbeam Awards in the Children’s-Poetry and Spanish-Language-Book categories. Tackling dinosaurs from A (Allosaurus) to V (Velociraptor), each poem plays on the meaning (etymology) of the ancient animal's name. The richly hued watercolor collages delight with whimsy, and the expansive bilingual glossary has lots of interesting information about dinosaurs to satisfy the inquisitive nature so many children bring to learning about these beloved creatures.

Appropriate for very young children, who will love the pictures, rhyme, and rhythm, and for older youth, who can appreciate the plays on words, this book is also great for adults who want to enjoy some fun reading or brush up on their Spanish.

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