by Louie Psihoyos with John Knoebber
It’s hard to imagine that the world needs one more dinosaur book, but Hunting Dinosaurs may be the one. The towering, ugly reptiles are all there on spectacular display. The science is there too, from the monsters’ emergence more than 200 million years ago through the evolutionary permutations that allowed them to dominate the planet—and finally, to their untimely end, possibly as the victims of a comet strike.
Psihoyos and Knoebber don’t focus exclusively on the Cretaceous creatures. They also have corralled the equally colorful and bizarre Homo sapiens who have devoted careers and lives to studying them. There are historical figures such as Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles March, whose bitter fossil-hunting rivalry in the late 1800s led to deceit, thievery and a dramatic increase in the number of dinosaur species known to science. There are contemporary dino detectives as well, men and women whose work has revealed that many of the colossal reptiles were quick-footed, perhaps warm-blooded and brightly colored, and may even have been tender, nurturing parents.
Appealing as dinos and their devotees are, the authors have made the subject even more enticing with their utterly irreverent writing style and bizarre sense of wit. They have given sections of the book such names as “The Last Big Party Weekend of the Triassic” and “Cruisin’ the Dinosaur Freeway”; in addition to pictures of fossils in all forms, they have included dino-shaped, hot-air balloons and lawn ornaments and pictures of two chickens looking awfully surprised to find a dinosaur egg among their own. And their conversations with the scientists are somewhat…uninhibited. Psihoyos: “I ask Bob [Bakker] to describe other aspects of t-Rex….” Bakker: “Testicles as big as pumpkins.”
And they literally carried Edward Cope’s preserved skull along on their expedition. There is an entire chapter on the skull’s travels, complete with on-location photographs.
Psihoyos’ photos are technological marvels, which is not surprising, since he has worked for National Geographic for more than a decade. The book is like an especially fine article in that magazine, except that it doesn’t end just when you’re getting interested. (Random House, $40)