Dinosaur Hunters: 150 Years of Extraordinary Discoveries


310 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55013-300-4
DDC 567.9'1'09





Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is associate director of programs at the Canadian Museum
of Nature in Ottawa.


While most of paleontology is arcane, the study of dinosaurs has
attracted much attention, both literary and otherwise. Spalding, an
intimate of the field, chronicles the pursuit of these fossils over the
past two centuries, organizing his material by the geographical areas in
which these creatures flourished.

While the exploits of English-speaking hunters will be familiar, the
accounts of other workers and places, such as Louis Dollo in Belgium and
Polish work in Mongolia, are especially welcome. Beyond appropriately
portraying dinosaur hunters as a diverse and colorful assemblage in
spectacular landscapes like the western badlands and the Mongolian
Flaming Cliffs, Spalding recounts the public impact of such events as
superlative names, Carnegie’s casts, and Andrews’s flamboyance,
along with the consequent development of monuments, parks, and major
exhibits. Woven into the exposition are discussions of technical
problems like pyrite disease, political realities such as intervening
wars and the exporting of specimens, and evidence beyond skeletons,
including footprints, gizzard stones, eggs, and associated pollen.

Among the other issues and topics touched on are controversies over
warm-bloodedness; assembling fragmentary skeletons; the distinctness of
dinosaurs, birds, and other reptiles; general aspects of systematics and
zoogeography; science as a cultural force; and the possible meaning of
the fall of the dinosaurs for our contemporary environmental crisis. The
book would surely have been enriched had there been more detail on these

Spalding’s style is direct and pleasantly seasoned with anecdotes
highlighting the human tenacity and foibles that attend any great
enterprise: courage, vision, greed, recriminations. However, the book
cries out for richer illustrations and is too tightly bound. At a time
when the crisis in science education could be alleviated, in part, by
the judicious promotion of role models, the text makes it clear how
paleontology could contribute. For Canadian readers, there are good
accounts of our rich natural heritage in dinosaurs. All in all, a good
introduction to this fascinating cohort of investigators.


Spalding, David A.E., “Dinosaur Hunters: 150 Years of Extraordinary Discoveries,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/13484.