There aren’t many dinosaur books that I’ve largely read in the pub in a single sitting, but Dinopedia (published by Princeton University Press) is engaging and entertaining enough to keep one occupied through at least two or three pints. Written and illustrated by Darren Naish – you know, the scientist, author, blogger, consultant and beardy weirdy of TetZoo fame – it’s a wee compendium of dinosaurian ephemera, covering assorted clades, scientific hypotheses, individual palaeontologists, pop culture tropes and more besides. It feels perfectly pitched at the sort of oddballs who might read this blog (or, indeed, write for it).
Darren’s extremely good at writing absorbing and lively material, especially when given permission to utilise his superb sense of humour. Dinopedia plays perfectly to his strengths, as demonstrated numerous times over on TetZoo. It’s filled with tiny chunks of Naishian wisdom. Even on subjects that will be very familiar to those of us at the nerdier end of the enthusiast scale – such as (yawn) hadrosaurs, macronarians and certain theropod genera (you already know which ones) – the book remains a fun read. Darren write good.
Unusually, Darren also draw good for this one – while Darren’s books are typically illustrated by other people, the text here is peppered with small monochrome illustrations of Darren’s own doing. They perfectly suit the format, and one certainly can’t complain that he hasn’t done his homework.
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment to be had from this book is in not knowing what Darren will write about next. As I’ve mentioned, the book straddles both the science and popular culture of dinosaurs, but the constraints of its small size force Darren to be highly selective and succinct. There is a bias towards subjects that are influential in the Dino Renaissance and beyond, and therefore perhaps most relevant to our current understanding of these animals, but in the end, Darren’s personal choices dictate most of what’s included here. And I’m quite happy about that, since as a result, the book feels relatively uncompromised even given the constraints of its pocket-sized form factor. The author is very clearly writing about what he loves, what he feels is important, be it Greg Paul, the ‘phytodinosauria’ hypothesis, allosauroids, Liaoning Province, the Bone Wars, or birds.
In fact, the book was originally only to cover dinosaur popular culture. While such a book would have been catnip to the likes of, well, me, it was perhaps a little too esoteric; in the end, the need to tangentially explain various scientific concepts resulted in the book’s mix of subjects. One might call that a compromise, but it hardly feels like it. A good balance is indeed struck.
One couldn’t call this a hugely important book as such – while it’s amazing that something this (relatively) esoteric was even published, there won’t be that much in here that’s brand new to the well-versed dinosaur enthusiast, nor is it particularly revelatory or boundary-breaking. What it is is a lot of fun, and although a potential reader will at least need to have at least some interest in dinosaurs, it’s accessible enough that even the more casual dino fan or pop-science enjoyer will have a good time.
From a very personal standpoint, it was exactly the right book at the right time to rekindle my passion for the subject matter, as well as brighten up a specific boozy few hours in the Hole in the Wall. I can credit Darren’s 2009 book The Great Dinosaur Discoveries for getting me back into dinosaurs as an adult, and now Dinopedia has helped remind me of why I love big, dumb, dead diapsid reptiles so much during a fairly difficult time. It’s well worth picking up, if you can.