Titles From the New Golden Age of Paleontology

Despite the billions of years that life has existed on our planet, there is only one geologic age that has uniquely captured our imaginations: the Mesozoic, also known as the age of dinosaurs. From the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs in mid-1800’s London to the latest Jurassic Park blockbuster, popular culture has been full of scaly, snarly beasts ruling our tropical planet.

But there has been little evidence to suggest dinosaurs lived that way. Like the Archosaurs themselves, the field of paleontology has evolved as we’ve uncovered new fossils and learned more about modern-day organisms. The latest research suggests a breathtaking diversity of forms that filled every biome, pole-to-pole, which has led to depictions that mirror the novelty (and, sometimes, absurdity) of extant species.

1 | Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker

This novel is told from the perspective of a Utahraptor, an apex predator during the Cretaceous. Bakker, a paleontologist, wanted to introduce the species to a wider audience and show that such animals would need to be both intelligent and social to thrive in such conditions. He also wrote The Dinosaur Heresies, which envisions dinosaurs as agile and hotblooded instead of the plodding lizards of old. At the time of publication, it was considered controversial but is now seen as the prevalent theory among paleontologists

2 | All Yesterdays by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Darren Naish

If you didn’t know what a bird was, would you think the long, pointed limbs supported flight or to stab prey? Could you imagine all the soft tissues of a hippo’s head just by looking at its skull? For a long time, depictions of dinosaurs had them “shrink wrapped” and engaging in the simplest of behaviors. But by looking at today’s animals, we know not everything about them can be gleaned just by their bones. All Yesterdays depicts dinosaurs with bizarre structures, behaviors, and breaking the cliches of paleoart, as well as including modern organisms and drawing them like we do dinosaurs, rendering them unrecognizable.

3 | Locked in Time by Dean R. Lomax and Robert Nicholls

Fossils are formed when the remains of an animal are covered by sediments, turning to rock over millions of years. This rarely happens to most bodies, but even rarer still are fossils that give us a glimpse of the behavior of the animals, moments before death. But fossils such as the legendary duel between a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor show, these treasures exist and can give us invaluable insights into the past.

4 | Pterosaurs by Mark P. Witton

Pterosaurs, the large group of reptiles that includes pterodactyls, were not dinosaurs, but they dominated the Mesozoic skies. They were the first clade of vertebrates to develop flight yet could be as large as giraffes. Witton’s book examines all we know about this diverse group that vanished at the end of the Cretaceous and covers every known species. With hundreds of references to other primary sources, it’s an excellent start to learn about these truly unique creatures.

5 | The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

Brusatte covers the entire history of dinosaurs, from their humble beginnings to their sudden end. It features the latest in modern paleontological theory and discussing how the latest discoveries shift our ways of looking at these quintessential creatures.

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