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Book Review

Dinosaur Hunters

Reviewed by Robert J. Sawyer

First published in Quill & Quire, March 1993
DINOSAUR HUNTERS, David A. E. Spalding; $29.25 hardcover 1-55013-300-4, 336 pp., 6x9, Key Porter Books, March 1993

Copyright © 1993 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Everyone knows the names Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus. With Dinosaur Hunters, David Spalding, formerly with the Provincial Museum of Alberta, tries to make the names of the people who discovered these ancient giants equally well known.

Some individual dinosaur collectors have previously written their own books or have had books devoted to them, but until now there's been no volume summarizing the work of all major dinosaur hunters past and present. Spalding's offering is a veritable who's who of dinosaurian paleontology, sprinkled with intriguing excerpts from fossil hunters' own diaries.

Unfortunately, it's precisely this wide scope that weakens the book. Much of it reads like a catalog of names and dates. Only occasionally does Spalding capture the quirky personalities of dinosaur hunters, or make the reader's pulse quicken with tales of hair-raising exploits. He does, however, do a good job of debunking some apocryphal tales about paleontology's most-famous figures.

The book is organized geographically; in flipping a single page, we're taken jarringly from Philip Currie working today in Alberta (the end of the North American section) to Roy Chapman Andrews in Mongolia in the 1920s (the beginning of the Northern Asia section). Because of this, it's hard to see how dinosaur collecting has changed over the years. And several paleontologists (including Ottawa's Dale Russell, who, as one of the world's foremost dinosaur experts, surely merits a coherent discussion) are scattered throughout the book, victims of not having confined their work to Spalding's neat sections.

Dinosaur Hunters is a good, but not great, book that will be best enjoyed by those who are already familiar with the Mesozoic giants; very little space is devoted to facts about the ancient beasts. This is solely the human side of the dinosaur story. One could simply wish that it were a little more human.

Robert J. Sawyer's latest science-fiction novel, Fossil Hunter (Berkley/Ace, May 1993), is about an intelligent dinosaur who is himself a paleontologist.

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