Updated: May 12
Being in the midst of the golden age of online information, reading a book these days may seem somewhat archaic. I, however, argue that their is something about a book that feels more special, which makes the information in it stick in my head much easier. Not only that, these babies look great on the bookshelf, meaning reading them seems all the more special.
Books go into detail that resources on the internet simply can't without using tremendous amounts of internet and seeming much more intimidating. I'm sure not many would click on a YouTube video that is 15 hours long or a blogpost that would take 4 hours to scroll through. A book though? You can pick it up any time, carry it anywhere and read it wherever there is light.
So, without further ado, let's look at my top 14 paleontology books!
Voyage of the Beagle
Written in Stone
Your Inner Fish
A Remarkable Journey
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles
Dinosaurs: 10 Things You Should Know
Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction
Fossils: A Very Short Introduction
Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World
Geology: A Complete Introduction
The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin
The first book on this list is also the oldest one. Yes, you read it right, this is the original true tale of the famous voyage of the Beagle, the world round trip that Charles Darwin took that helped inspire is famous evolution hypothesis. The book is an account from the man himself when he was just 22 years old and he goes into excruciating detail about everything he sees, from the land to the animals and everything in between. It really is an amazing read and takes you into several different worlds, both natural and Victorian.
Field Palaeontology, Roland Goldring
Here is an undergrad classic. Field Palaeontology by Roland Goldring is a handy read if you fancy having a wonder for the odd fosssil, but downright essential if you're a little more serious. Goldring dedicates detailed chapters to everything you would need to know to correctly find your own fossils, from field equipment to correct strategies to taphonomy to classification and so much more. Even after doing this sort of thing for a few years, I still find it massively useful to dip in and out of, which is the great thing with these sorts of books: you don't necessarily have to read it chronologically back to back. You can if you want of course, but it acts as a great reference for to odd bit of know-how that you might be struggling with.
Written in Stone, Brian Switek
I have said once before on this blog that you can't be an expert in everything to do with paleontology. The subject is simply too big. Not only that but trying will leave you cross-eyed with a whirlwind of tabs open on your laptop whilst it's heating up to the surface temperature of the sun.
Having said that, if you can ever come as close as possible by getting an overview of everything to do with past life without any resulting migraine, it's Written in Stone by Brian Switek. Switek has expertly integrated the tapestry of life with how the rocks wee find them in are created, concisely going over so much that we have discovered and how we have discovered it. From dinosaur integument to how vertebrates conquered the land to how whales first started and returned to see, it's all here!
Your inner fish, Neil Shubin
Here is one you may have heard of, especially since a documentary was made based on it and presented by the author. Even if you've seen that documentary, if you have never actually read Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, you're doing yourself a disservice. The documentary was great, showing how Homo sapiens got to where they are today since the Devonian, but it can never be in as much detail as the book.
Want to know our entire lineage from fish and how tetrapods came to rule the land? This is a definite read for you.
The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, Michael J. Benton
Ok, I may fan-boy just a little at the mention of this guy's name, but it's for good reason. Professor Michael Benton has been making contributions to paleontological research for well over 40 years, working in one of the UK's epicentres for paleontology, Bristol. In The Dinosaurs Rediscovered, he flexes that experience by going into immense detail about all of the research that has been done on dinosaurs in the past half century and how it has created the 'dinosaur renaissance' that we are currently seeing.
I personally couldn't put this thing down, since it offers the 'best of' in terms of his own and other's research (I can't say that I've read all of his papers, since I would need to quit my job and not see my girlfriend, family or friends for a couple years in order to get through them all). Having said that, the detail is still pretty heavy and might not be the best for a beginner in paleontology who doesn't want a steep learning curve. If you do have some good foundational knowledge, however, this book offers so much insight into what we know and how research actually works.
A Remarkable Journey, R. Paul Thompson
I don't think it's a stretch to say that most of us know how evolution works to a fairly basic standard (hopefully). However, there are details that many find enigmatic, from 'if we're descended from monkeys, why are they still around?' to 'how do genetics decide which characteristics are passed on?' and everything in between.
I don't think any other book on this list goes into detail about the concept of evolution better than this one. A Remarkable Journey by R. Paul Thompson is a look at the story of evolution from the theory's inception to today as well as how these concepts work in the natural world, looking at entire ecosystems all the way down to DNA structures. If you want to be an expert on evolution itself, pick up this book, because it will answer all of your questions as well as ones you didn't know you had.
The Rise and fall of the dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte
Steve Brusatte is another household name in paleontology, this time from across the pond. Brusatte is another paleontologist who is world-leading in this field of research and this book shows it. Taking a slightly different approach to the previous books, Brusatte clearly understood what ticks the most with people: telling a story.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is the story from start to finish in painstaking detail of these Mesozoic reptiles. Told chronologically, it is a great pick for both beginners and for those who are a little more advanced but would still like more insight. Along the way, Brusatte also shares a peak into the world of research, along with some amazing pictures and beautiful art.
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, David Hone
But maybe you're bored of talking about dinosaurs as a general group. Maybe you have a particular interest in certain groups and want to know more. David Hone has you covered here. The Tyrannosaur Chronicles takes a look at 100 million years of existence in which Tyrannosaurs are found, offering up the latest in terms of their evolution, geography, morphology, ecology and, hell, even social behaviour! All in detail with regards to almost every species known within this group.
If you're a classic T.rex fan, this book is for you.
Dinosaurs: 10 Things You Should Know, Dean R. Lomax
Maybe you fancy a lighter read than the previous books. If you're looking to get your toes wet in the world of dinosaurs and want a simple, yet extremely informative book to read on your commutes, Dinosaurs: 10 Things You Should Know by Dr Dean R. Lomax is the perfect book to start you off on your dinosaur knowledge journey.
As the name suggests, these are 10 basic concepts about dinosaurs that it is essential to know. These aren't just silly fun facts either. I love this book as it has taken a similar approach to what I have always tried to push with Dino-gen. Short fun facts have larger implications when you start to think about them and they soon change your whole perception of prehistoric life. This is definitely the kind of book that will spark a never-ending hunger to know more about these animals.
A Very Short Introduction, Various
Speaking of introductions to certain topics, our next three books are part of an incredibly large series called 'A Very Short Introduction'. This series is absolutely amazing, since it gets experts from all sorts of fields and has them write a very short, succinct introduction to pretty much any topic you can think of. I personally have the ones covering logic, chemistry, forensic science, black holes and, of course, the three that I am covering here: dinosaurs, fossils and rocks.
These pocket rockets of knowledge are amazing for those that have literally zero knowledge about a subject and want to know more, whilst still being handy for those who are a little more advanced but need the odd reminder. If you're looking for a good quick read but feel overwhelmed, these little babies are the short and sweet books for you.
Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World, by Michael Benton and Bob Nicholls
We're back to my man Michael Benton. Now, I personally can't stand seeing horrifically inaccurate pictures of dinosaurs in 'educational' books and, clearly, the same thing bothered Michael Benton and renowned paleo-artist Bob Nicholls. So, they went ahead and made Dinosaurs: New Visions of a Lost World.
Now, there is no shame in being an adult and enjoying picture books, especially when they're as good as this. Whilst it's still jam-packed with information about Mesozoic reptiles, it also offers a breath-taking visual representation of, not movie monsters, but real world animals that existed millions of years ago. A picture can say a thousand words and this book is the best example of it. If you want to see what dinosaurs actually looked like, be sure to grab this one.
...we'll also let it slide that it's not dinosaur on the book's cover...
Otherlands, Thomas Halliday
This is actually my most recent book on the shelf, having got it for Christmas. Otherlands by Thomas Halliday is a different approach to paleontological information. Whilst it is as full of information as many others on this list, it takes a narrative approach of looking at things on an area by area basis, rather than particular groups or a timeline. What's more is that Halliday does a great job of exploring so much more than just dinosaurs (though they are also explored), immersing into entire worlds full strange occurrences and organisms.
Judging from what I have read, Thomas Halliday is certainly one of the more poetic authors on this list. So if you want an educational and fun look at life beyond the dinosaurs that seem to sell, check out this award winner.
Geology: A Complete Introduction
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Knowing about geology matters in this science! For those that have maybe read through Rocks: A Very Short Introduction, or simply want a more in depth guide, this book offers a great starting point that goes through the nature of rocks and what we can find out from them in much greater depth. Whilst it assumes you're staring from scratch, it does a great job of guiding you through a steep learning curve, so you'll be an adept in no time!
And there we have it. I may do another post of this nature in the future as I add more books to my arsenal (who knows, maybe even my own...), but for now, I'll catch you next time.