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Early birds

  • Blog Post by: Jim Williams
  • April 12, 2012 - 9:48 PM

 When I was a boy there weren’t any dinosaurs. It’s not that I predate them. Dinosaurs had yet to gain fame, had yet to appear on pajamas and posters, wallpaper and trading cards. Dinosaurs had not gone public.

Was it around the time when the movie “Jurassic Park” was released? Did dinosaurs go big time then? I remember buying books about dinosaurs, Dinosaurs Light, meant for children, to be read at their bedtime, not ours.

A couple of weeks ago I, in effect, pushed my shovel deep into the side of a Wyoming wash, and discovered “The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs.” This is a book for adults, well worth sharing with children. 

The author and illustrator is Gregory S. Paul, known worldwide for his research on and illustrations of dinosaurs. He consulted for the “Jurassic Park” movie.

If dinosaurs still lived, this field guide would serve you as well as any bird guide on the market today. It is constructed in similar fashion. There is an extensive introduction covering history of discovery and research, an explanation of what exactly a dinosaur is, how they evolved, how you determine their age, why they went extinct. The author discusses biology (including feathers), behavior, growth, the evolution and loss of avian flight, and what it would be like if dinosaurs had lived on.

Dinosaur conservation? If they had made it to modern times, Paul writes, they would have posed insurmountable problems for modern zoos. (Recommended viewing: “Jurassic Park.”)

There are more than 600 color and black-and-white illustrations with descriptions of 735 dinosaur species. Included are dozens of species in the family Avepod, the bird-footed dinosaurs, some of which, yes, had feathers 

Paul is an extraordinary artist. His work here includes life studies and skeletal drawings, the latter like dinosaur x-rays.

You could say this beautiful book comes at the head of the lineup of the birding field guides we use. As Paul draws these avian ancestors, these were beautiful creatures, and strange. Sapeornis chaoyangensis, for example, had a turtle-like head, wings like a condor, and the feet of a three-toed eagle.

It’s too bad the lives of dinosaurs and humans did not overlap. One could have had a very impressive life list. Feeders for these creatures would have been a different story. 

Princeton University Press, 320 pages, hard cover, index, $35.

 

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