Anyone who knows me for more than ten minutes knows of my deep and abiding fondness for dinosaurs. It’s a holdover from that phase most children go through, re-ignited for me during a summer class on the extinct beasts during college. Yet the drawback of being an adult who loves dinosaurs is readily apparent when you visit the shelves of your local library or bookstore. Most dinosaur books are aimed at a far younger audience than myself, and the books for adults are often more technical works. Imagine my delight in seeing the newest book by John Pickrell waiting to be cataloged at my library! I placed a request for the book as quickly as I could pull out my smart phone, and I was not disappointed. “Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew” is an excellent overview of many of the fascinating and bizarre new discoveries, and rediscoveries, of the past decade.
A journalist and editor by trade, Pickrell is passionate about dinosaurs, having led several digs in the past. This background ensures that, in writing for a popular audience, he can easily strike the right balance. The reader learns enough of the details of the spectacular finds across the world without getting too bogged down in questions of dinosaur anatomy. And these discoveries truly are astounding! From the fascinating feathered dinosaurs being found in China to the cold-climate dinosaurs of Alaska, these strange and wondrous species are being uncovered at an increasingly rapid pace, upending ideas we had about dinosaurs as recently as ten years ago. While many of these new species are being unearthed in places we hadn’t looked before, like Madagascar, Siberia, and, of all places, Antarctica, more still are being discovered in places paleontologists had previously searched.
The ending of the Cold War re-opened Mongolia for exploration by Western paleontologists, and scientists returned to North Africa to uncover new examples of Spinosaurus over half a century after the original fossils were destroyed during the Second World War. Surprisingly, at least to this non-scientist, there are new finds being uncovered in museum collections, some of which have sat unexamined or forgotten for decades before a curious eye recognized something different about them.
New techniques are also shedding more light on the dinosaurs and the world that they inhabited. Paleontologists pay attention to what the rocks around the fossils themselves can reveal, such as insight regarding vegetation, climate, and the presence of non-dinosaur species. And Pickrell doesn’t neglect the human element. The history of hunting dinosaurs, after all, is not just about what was found, but the men and women who found the fossils, occasionally at great peril. To read “Weird Dinosaurs” is to realize that we live in a second golden age of dinosaur exploration and discovery. There is likely a lot left to be uncovered, a prospect thrilling to those who delight in dinosaurs. If you aren’t yet among that group of enthusiasts, Pickrell’s book might just be enough to change your mind.
Reviewer Brady Clemens is the district consultant librarian at Schlow Centre Region Library.