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Dinosaurs: a field guide – Gregory S. Paul ***

This isn’t the only book with this title, indicating that the whole idea of a field guide you can take out and help in ‘spotting’ dinosaurs is rather an attractive concept, at least to publishers. I am rather doubtful in this particular case whether the book would make a good practical field guide – it is too big, coming in somewhere between a large hardback and small coffee table book in size, and there is too much introductory text.
I’d also suggest that a field guide to dinosaurs should be a book you can take out to use to spot live dinosaurs, what this book is (more practically, I admit) one that that concentrates on skeletons, and would be more appropriately described as a field guide to dinosaur skeletons.
There is no doubt that Gregory S. Paul knows his stuff, but this book falls at one of the main hurdles to producing a good popular science book – identifying who it is aimed at. Dinosaurs are incredibly popular with younger children, but the dry, detailed tone of the introductory text, which is packed with information, really wouldn’t appeal to the younger reader. Similarly, the guide pages are too detailed and slightly dusty feeling for anyone but a resting academic or older dino anorak.
The other test of how a dinosaur book is pitched is to see how it treats that favourite, the T. rex – it does get a full page picture, but the entry lacks the sort of excitement I would hope to get from such a sauric superstar. I was also slightly disappointed there was no mention – even if it were to dismiss it – off the much vaunted speculation in the last few years that T. rex was a scavenger rather than a hunter.
It is all very structured and analytical and scientific. But I’m really not sure who is going to read it, or why I would buy this rather than one of the many other dinosaur titles. Having said that, the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon suggest someone loves it – so if esoteric dino details are your thing, it’s definitely one to add to your library.

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Review by Jo Reed

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