Dinosaur Books

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

The following questions were answered by dinosaur expert Don Lessem, paleontologist Tim Rowe, and paleontologist Bill Hammer.

Q: Are the dinosaurs portrayed in the books Jurassic Park and The Lost World accurate with your findings and beliefs? I would especially like to know about the velociraptor.
A: The accuracy of Michael Crichton's rendering of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park varies (I have not read The Lost World). He certainly goes overboard on velociraptor in terms of intelligence, and in the film its size was about three times the size of actual specimens. Velociraptor is a close relative of modern-day birds, but it has a somewhat smaller brain and thus its behavior patterns were no more complex than what one would find in a bird today. You might keep in mind that Crichton's books are science fiction, and that he is not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story. (Tim Rowe) Yes, I thought by and large the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park were the best ever done. The triceratops and T. rex in particular looked very much like what scientists think they might have, except that T. rex's teeth might well have closed in its mouth (not hung out) and the arms were also a little long. But there were still many inaccuracies, and interesting ones. The dinosaurs were bigger, faster and smarter overall than we think they were — sort of like dinosaurs on steroids. The gamekeeper says velociraptor was "as smart as a chimp, as fast as a cheetah, and they can remember." I don't know about remembering but it's more likely they were dumber than ostriches and slower than us. They were only as big as standard poodles! The spitter is dilophosaurus, a dinosaur that was really the first big meat-eater, 20 feet long and as far as we know it didn't spit poison or have a neck frill that fanned out. Most of the dinosaurs in the movie are Cretaceous not Jurassic animals. (Don Lessem)

Q: In the book The Biggest Dinosaurs by Michael Berenstain, it says that the seismosaurus, found in Mexico, might be larger than the ultrasaurus. Do you know if this is true?
A: Ultrasaurus was the biggest we know, but we only know it from a few bones. It appears to be a brachiosaur, which was giraffelike and heavily built. Seismosaurus was indeed longer, the longest we know, and we know it from a whole back end. It was a diplodocus relative, a longer-bodied animal with a whip tail but not so heavily built. It comes from New Mexico. (Don Lessem)

Q: What do you think of Bakker's Dinosaur Heresies?
A: I'm not all that keen on Bakker's Dinosaur Heresies as a work of science, though it is very entertaining. Many scientists call it Dinosaur Hearsay, since he substitutes his own creative opinions for hypotheses based on hard data. For instance he opines that some four-legged dinosaurs gave birth to live young and does some sloppy work with predator-prey ratios (Jim Farlow has done much better) to justify his hot-blooded dinosaur hyperbole. (Don Lessem)

Q: What are some good dinosaur books for eighth graders?
A: I like books written by scientists themselves, such as the works of Dr. Farlow, Weishampel, Dodson, Benton, Horner, Bakker, or Norman. Look out for their names on books for older kids and grown-ups. (Don Lessem)

Q: What is a good book about dinosaurs in general?
A: In Dinosaurs Rediscovered (Simon & Schuster), I deal with the quality of Bakker's science, and the issues of extinction, warmbloodedness, and much of current dinosaur research. (Don Lessem)

Q: What is a good book about T. rex?
A: Dr. Jack Horner and I wrote a book for adults all about T. rex, called The Complete T. rex (Simon & Schuster). (Don Lessem)

Q: What is a good book about caveman bones?
A: I did write a book, The Iceman, about a 5,000-year-old mummy recently found in ice in Europe. The mummy still had all his stuff, including a copper ax, fannypack and knife. It was a cool discovery. (Don Lessem)

Q: Will you continue to publish and write books on dinosaurs?
Do you have any new works coming out?
A: I'm writing a bunch of new books. I have one that just came out on the rainforest called The Amazing Amazon, with neat foldout paintings of weird animals. In the spring I have eight books coming out, four on individual dinosaurs: Seismosaurus, the longest; Utahraptor, the meanest; ornithomimus, the fastest; and troodon, the smartest (published by Carolrhoda). And I have four books in a series called Dinosaur Worlds, which shows a lot of the animals that lived with dinosaurs as well as the dinosaurs from different times (published by Boyds Mills). Next fall I have a book on raptor dinosaurs (Little, Brown) and one on giganotosaurus (Crown) coming out. (Don Lessem)

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  • Subjects:
    Archaeology, Dinosaurs, Paleontology and Fossils, Scientists and Human Endeavor