The 10 Best Dinosaur Books to Buy

Ten Books No Dinosaur Lover Should Do Without

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Tons of dinosaur books are written every year for kids, but if you want the most reliable, up-to-date information it's best to consult literature aimed at science-minded teenagers and adults (or even other scientists). Here's our list of the 10 best, most essential, readable, and scientifically accurate books about dinosaurs and prehistoric life.

Dorling-Kindersley's Prehistoric Life qualifies as a coffee-table book, full of stunning illustrations (photographs of fossils, detailed depictions of prehistoric animals in their natural habitats) and voluminous amounts of text. This handsome book doesn't only focus on dinosaurs, but also mammals, birds, plants and fish, ranging all the way from the Proterozoic age to the rise of modern humans; it also includes detailed descriptions of all the Earth's geologic epochs, which helps put its vast profusion of prehistoric life into an accessible context.

Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural History is a genuine college textbook, complete with scholarly references and questions at the ends of chapters, intended as exercises for undergrads or graduate students, but fun for lay readers to tackle as well. It's also one of the most detailed, comprehensive, and readable overviews of dinosaurs you can buy, especially notable for its detailed classification of the different types of dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era, and its authors (David E. Fastovsky and David B. Weishampel) have an infectious sense of humor.

Over the last couple of decades, Dougal Dixon's lavishly illustrated World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs has been sliced and diced by its publisher into numerous smaller and less comprehensive books, and the concept has been imitated ad infinitum by lesser writers using less striking illustrators. This is the edition to get, though, if you're looking for concise, crisply illustrated profiles of over 1,000 prehistoric animals, including birds, crocodiles, and megafauna mammals as well as dinosaurs both well-known and extremely obscure.

Many dinosaur books focus to a greater or lesser degree on the most famous dinosaur that ever lived, Tyrannosaurus Rex; Tyrannosaurus Rex: The Tyrant King goes whole hog (if you'll excuse the mammalian expression), with chapters about this apex predator written by some of the world's most notable paleontologists, utilizing the latest field research. This book covers everything from T. Rex's puny arms to its bulky, oversized skull; some of it can get a bit detailed and academic, but then again, no true T. Rex fan can have too much information!

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds focuses on a growing subset of the dinosaur kingdom: the small, feathered theropods of the late Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, many of which have been recently discovered in Asia, and at least one branch of which evolved into modern birds. John Long's text is the perfect accompaniment to Peter Schouten's stunning illustrations; you'll never look at a Compsognathus the same way again, or, for that matter, that pigeon nesting on your windowsill. And you'll never believe how many feathered dinosaurs there actually were!

Many people find it surprising that the fossils of so many marine reptiles, dating to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, have been discovered in landlocked Kansas, of all places. The evocatively titled Oceans of Kansas, by Michael J. Everhart, is an exhaustive if somewhat academic survey of the dozens of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs that have been discovered in the western U.S., as well as the distantly related pterosaurs that flew above the Western Interior Sea and occasionally preyed on these marine reptiles.

The Complete Dinosaur was getting on a bit in age--the first edition of this 750-page reference book was published in 1999--but dinosaur fans will be happy to know that a second edition, subtitled Life of the Past, appeared in 2012, under the supervision of the eminent paleontologists Michael K. Brett-Surman and Thomas Holtz. Page for page, this is the most comprehensive, scholarly, and just plain fun dinosaur book out there, with meaty contributions by a veritable who's who of famous scientists and researchers; this is the book to buy if you believe the recipient is a budding paleontologist.

As its subtitle implies, Ross Piper's Extinct Animals: Species That Have Disappeared During Human History has nothing to do with dinosaurs, focusing instead on 50 or so notable mammals, birds, and reptiles that have gone extinct within the last 50,000 years--ranging from the Golden Toad (a very recent casualty of human civilization) to Phorusrhacos, better known as the Terror Bird. Some of the terminology in this book is a bit odd, especially regarding the names of some of the better-known animals, but it's still a fun and informative read.

Bruce S. Lieberman and Roger Kaesler's Prehistoric Life: Evolution and the Fossil Record puts dinosaurs (and other extinct animals) in their proper natural context, with a focus on mass extinctions, plate tectonics, continental drift and global climate change. This textbook (intended for college students, but eminently accessible to curious laypeople) drives home the point that evolution isn't a linear process, but one that zigs and zags in response to an unpredictable and often-hostile environment, and the evidence for which crucially depends on the discovery of fossils.

The chief virtue of Gregory S. Paul's The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs is that it lists virtually every single one of the thousands of genera, and individual species, of dinosaurs that have ever been discovered, making it a handy desk reference. The problem is that Paul doesn't go into much, if any, detail about these dinosaurs, and his illustrations, though anatomically correct, can be a bit underwhelming. This book will also drive home the point that dinosaur taxonomy is a constantly evolving process--not everyone agrees about which species deserve genus and species status.