The World of Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Tour
By Mark A. Norell
University of Chicago Press, 2019
A publishing season wouldn’t be complete without an oversize full-color dinosaur book, and if such a book isn’t produced under the auspices of the great American Museum of Natural History, it will naturally wish it were. Such a book must be as up-to-date as the breakneck pace of paleontological developments allows; it must be as visually stunning as its subjects; and, if possible, it must be written by somebody with a CV as long as your arm.
New from the University of Chicago Press is just such a book: The World of Dinosaurs by Mark Norell, the chairman of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History (the only true must-see destination for Manhattan tourists) and one of the specialists who oversees what is surely the most impressive collection of dinosaur bones and remains and artifacts in the world. In this book - extensively illustrated with photos and drawings - Norell takes readers through the whole sprawling story of dinosaurs, organized not by geologic era but by overarching phylogenetic groupings, everything from various ceratopsians to the famous Tyrannosaurus rex and hundreds of their lesser-known kin. This author is well-practiced at conveying vast amounts of complex scientific information in a smooth and accessible narration, and as a result The World of Dinosaurs is every bit as much a delight to read as it is to page through. Although Norell is quick to point out that readers themselves, like the millions of visitors to the American Museum, add a crucial ingredient:
To look at a skeleton of one of these animals stimulates our curiosity. We can’t directly observe the look, behaviour, or diets of these extinct beasts the way we can a New York City pigeon, but we can use our imaginations. And that is much of what people do. They bring the museum bones to life, each in their own way.
That re-animation of the lost marvels of dinosaurs is the heart of their perennial appeal - they were here for millions upon millions of years, and yet we will never see them - and it’s made considerably easier by books like this gem.
—Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Spectator, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.