Book in Brief: Dinosaurs of the British Isles

A few months back I finally got a chance to visit one of the dinosaur museums that I had been longing to see since childhood – London’s Natural History Museum. Familiar fossil faces greeted me as I made my way through the historic halls. “Dippy” the Diplodocus stood at attention near the museum entrance, a Camarasaurus loomed in the dark doorway of the dinosaur hall, the claws of Allosaurus cast long shadows against the wall in the upper gallery, and an animatronic Tyrannosaurus – who else could it be? – snarled in a shadowy alcove.

None of these dinosaurs are found in Britain. Cast, bone, and robotics, they all represent creatures from the deserts nearer to my present home. It felt strange to be walking through a museum once overseen by Richard Owen, the anatomist who coined the word Dinosauria in 1842 from a trio of British finds, and have to look hard to spot the local fauna (Hypsilophodon tucked behind the bulk of Canada’s Scolosaurus, a reconstruction of Baryonyx on the bottom floor, the Maidstone Iguanodon propped up in an alcove near the exit). You’d think that England was depauperate of dinosaurs, or at least hosted meek species easily overshadowed by those found elsewhere. Maybe this can be fixed when the museum eventually updates its exhibits. As paleontologist Dean Lomax and artist Nobumichi Tamura demonstrate in Dinosaurs of the British Isles, fossil hunters have dramatically increased the number of UK dinosaurs since the days of Owen.

Dinosaurs-of-the-british-islesThe first portion of the book covers standard territory for dinosaur titles. What a dinosaur is. Early dinosaur discoveries. How fossils form. But what really makes Dinosaurs of the British Isles an essential title for any Mesozoic fanatic is its exhaustive exploration of dinosaurs unique to the UK. Starting with the Late Triassic maybe-dino Saltopus, the book moves upwards in time through the Late Cretaceous,  listing dinosaurs according to the rock units in which they are found. Each of these sections are absolutely packed with photos of fossils, skeletal reconstructions, and life restorations by Tamura, who continues to improve as he draws his way through the tree of prehistoric life. There’s no better single resource for catching up with Britain’s dinosaurs.

That’s why it’s truly a shame that the book’s formatting is chaos. While the content is excellent, the chapter and section breaks are often unclear. The yellow caption boxes set amongst photos of skeletons scattered across many pages are also distracting. Fact boxes, bone photos, restorations, and text are strewn through the pages in a way that left me feeling that I was looking at a printed out webpage rather than a true book. This is the only major criticism I have of the book, and, if it gets another edition in the future, I hope that the informative details within can be arranged in a more user-friendly way.

In the end, however, it’s the scientific details and illustrations that makes books like these. Lomax and Tamura certainly dug deep to provide those, creating a book that will be a rich resource for specialists and amateurs alike. Whether you’re particularly interested in Britain’s dinosaurs – be they classics like Iguanodon or newer discoveries such as Juratyrant – or you’re a dinosaur completist, Dinosaurs of the British Isles is a must-have reference for understanding how these animals have helped establish and altered our appreciation of past life.

Previous “Book in Brief” reviews:

The Antarctic Dive Guide, How to Clone a Mammoth, Sex on Earth

2 thoughts on “Book in Brief: Dinosaurs of the British Isles

  1. I can confirm, via the publisher, that any future editions of this book will have a similar layout. It is a shame that such a large chunk of this very short but positive review focused on what is purely a matter of personal preference and I would urge readers not to base their opinion solely on this review. There are plenty of other informative reviews and none of them have considered the layout chaotic. Let me consider the proposed “chaotic” nature of this book. First we need a baseline definition to work from. Chaotic: “in a state of complete confusion and disorder.” Hence, certain elements of the book do not quite fit this definition. For example, the book is organized by time period, from oldest to youngest and these are colour coded, such that with just a very quick glance at any page you can tell whether you are dealing with a Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous species. For each valid species there is a summary table, followed by an artistic life reconstruction, followed by a skeletal reconstruction, followed by the text (very occasionally this order differs slightly due to layout constraints [as there are lots of images], but this would hardly warrant being classed as chaotic as per the definition above) and the fossils from that species. Also, the fossils/species are ordered by the rock units from which they were recovered. All of the above points were noted by the reviewer, so to define the layout as chaotic seems rather contradictory. Of course, all of the fossils for each species could have been crammed onto a single page or spread of facing pages, but then this would have reduced the impact of the quality of the images. Most of these fossils have never been figured before or in such detail, so the priority here was to display them to their fullest. Each fossil image is provided with a consistently formatted scale bar. There are several different order-level headings which are consistent throughout the book. These are: 1. Bold Centred Capitals, 2. Bold Centred Lower Case, 3. Bold Centred Small Capitals. This is the first review (and there are plenty) that I have seen which considers the layout user unfriendly. My friend’s seven-year-old daughter has no problems with it and nor do learned academics who have reviewed it, so, as I mentioned at the beginning of this reply, it is surely a matter of personal taste. Everybody is entitled to their personal opinion but such aspects of reviews should not be taken too literally as I hope I have demonstrated here.

  2. “Dinosaurs of the British Isles” is a well thought out and easily comprehensible book.

    The format is familiar and as a bonus is easy for my two young children to read, they can separate the chapters, info-graphics and diagrams aided by very useful fact boxes and captions that are highlighted in a non-confusing yellow.

    Me and my family love this book, its organisation makes it easy as a family of amateur enthusiasts to assimilate the information within it and apply it as practical application.

    Thank you Dean and Nobumici… you have enriched our knowledge about the prehistoric past of our fair isle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *