Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dave Hone's The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: at last, a review

A mere several weeks behind everyone else's, here it is - my review of The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, a book dedicated to the lives and times of the tyrannosauroids, as written by Dave Hone (for it is he). As a rare addition to the canon of popular books on dinosaur palaeobiology aimed at an adult audience, it's already quite an exciting prospect for us mere enthusiasts - but can Dr Dave do Sexy Rexy and friends justice? Of course he can.



Naturally, Dave's opus aims further than those of us who have a ready supply of tyrannosaur toys to pose alongside our books. As such, TTC opens with primers on anatomy, scientific nomenclature and cladistics, much of which will be very familiar to your typical LITC reader, but will prove immensely informative to those with a more passing interest in Mesozoic megafauna. While you can probably skip these sections if you know your temporal fenestra from your occipital condyle, you may find them a useful memory-jogger in places all the same, and they occupy but a tiny portion of the book as a whole. There's also an introduction to the clade Dinosauria which, while again likely to be very familiar stuff to readers of this blog, is still neatly explained, concise and enjoyable to read, in addition to providing a handy introduction for the less saurian-inclined. Dave also debunks a few long-standing myths about dinosaurs, and firmly pushes the birds-are-dinosaurs message, all of which is quite laudable.

Further photos courtesy of Bloomsbury
With the essential background out of the way, the book is free to focus in on the tyrannosaurs. I think it's fair to say that The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is by far the most comprehensive popular book written on these animals, and while the chapters ostensibly focus on physical anatomy, then evolution, then palaeoecology and so on, the book is always tying each element into the bigger evolutionary picture. It's one thing to point out how tyrannosaurs' heads grew larger and arms grew smaller over time, but TTC ties this in to a wider evolutionary and ecological context. In this way, we read about how the animals evolved along with shifting ecosystems, ever-changing and adapting prey and competitors, and learn of the hard evidence for everything from their metabolism, hunting habits, appearance, probable breeding behaviours and more.


While much of the evidence will be familiar, there are sure to be wonderful surprises in store for many readers, and the book is canny in taking an approach that heartily encompasses comparisons with living animals where appropriate, pointing out where tyrannosaurs were similar to, and differed substantially from, their extant relatives and analogues. This is no book of hoary clich├ęs about unstoppable tank-o-sauruses viciously crunching their way through anything stupid enough to get in their way, but a considered look at a group of animals' survival through the years. Much is made of how tyrannosaurs would mostly have hunted younger, vulnerable animals, rather than engaged in thrilling Carnivora Forum duels with dangerous, multi-tonne opponents; how they would have spent much of the day resting; how they changed as they grew, and how this compares to modern animals like crocodiles; how much variation there can be within a species, and how we shouldn't make assumptions based on very limited data; and so on and so on.


Perhaps the best thing about The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is how almost every reader will come away having learned something new not just about the tyrannosaurs, but about animals in general. This is the best kind of dinosaur book, in which fossil evidence meets a thorough understanding of animal behaviour and biology to give us a very immediate and exciting image of the distant past. Hopefully, reading TTC will encourage many readers to look beyond the movie myths and hyperbole and reconsider not just the tyrant reptiles of the distant past, but also the relationships between predators and prey in the world today. This might not surprise those who've followed Dave's work over the years, but it's very heartening to see his writing out there in popular book form. Even if you think you know all there is to know about tyrannosauroids, this book is well worth a buy. Of course, you could always just draw something and get it for free (and signed).

Oh, and one more thing - kudos to Scott Hartman for the sterling work, as always!

Dave enjoys a pyjama party with T. rex. Maybe.

7 comments:

  1. Sorry this off topic (originally tried to spot this to Niroot via Deviant Art but his account seems dead)--pretty hard to contact you actually. But I just saw some Slavic folk art style illustrations of dinosaurs (really several ecological scenes from the Cambrian through the eocene) from the Soviet Union in the 1960s that I though would really interest you:

    http://kavery.livejournal.com/2842437.html

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    2. Anebo, thank you so much! What a fantastic find, wow! This is precisely what we want to see and what the Palaeo art world needs more of; and it's an especial delight to me for obvious reasons!

      Yes, I'm afraid I'm not on dA anymore and have hidden all of my work there. My FB page is good, though, if you ever wanted to prod me there, as well as Twitter.

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  2. glad you like them. I don't have a face-book or twitter account; makes me a dinosaur, I guess.

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  3. Late as usual. Sorry about that. Anyway, something I was wondering: A while ago, I asked Dave, "Does that mean that this book is more for “Casual Readers” than “the Enthusiast” ( http://whenpigsfly-returns.blogspot.com/2008/04/paleo-reading-list.html )?" He said, "I tried to write a book for everyone. Whether or not I did is another matter." My question for you guys is, do you think Dave succeeded in writing this book for everyone? I ask b/c while I usually take the author's word on this kind of thing, 1 Bloomsbury reviewer said, "I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not sure how the general public will view it, which is why I put an “enthusiast” label on it for our web audience." In other words, I'm hoping to get more opinions on the matter. Many thanks in advance.

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    1. If you want to read about dinosaurs, you can enjoy it. Dave gives all the background necessary and gets minimally technical.

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    2. If you want to read about dinosaurs, you can enjoy it. Dave gives all the background necessary and gets minimally technical.

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