The Dinosaurs Rediscovered review – a transformation in our understanding

April 17, 2019 Off By readly

Colour, speed, how they ate … our knowledge of dinosaurs has undergone a revolution, as this expert survey makes clear

“Dinosaur” is still sometimes used as a pejorative. The image of a lumbering swamp monster doomed to extinction has proved too appealing an insult for some to abandon. They should beware, though. Nothing is more out-of-date and stuck-in-the-mud than to imagine that dinosaurs were anything other than astonishingly successful. Over the past half century, a palaeontological revolution has transformed our understanding of them. Recently, it has been picking up ever more dramatic speed. “One by one,” Michael Benton writes, “the speculations about evolution, locomotion, feeding, growth, reproduction, physiology, and, finally, colour have fallen to the drive of transformation.” Dinosaurs these days are the cutting edge.

Benton’s new book explains why. No one with even the faintest interest in the subject will want to miss it. He is one of the world’s most eminent palaeontologists, and throughout his distinguished career has been at the heart of the step change in dinosaur palaeobiology. He is also, though, a natural communicator. As a child, he had yearned to become a palaeontologist so that he could be paid for doing what he loved: “collecting fossils, drawing ancient creatures, and reading about dinosaurs endlessly”. As a professor, he has made sure to pay back his debt to the amateur enthusiast he once was. He served as a consultant on the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs; he founded an education programme to take palaeontology into schools. Now, with The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, he has written a book for the general reader that explains not just what specialists know about them, but how they have come to that point. It is an account, as Benton puts it, of “the transformation of palaeontology into science”.

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