The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams is an in-depth exploration of dinosaur bones; where they are typically found, how they’re formed, the best way to mount them, etc. Thankfully though, the book focuses more on the people behind the bones (or more accurately, fossils) rather than the dinosaurs themselves.

The ‘flaming cliffs’ of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, where many dinosaur fossils are found

Eric Prokopi is at the center of this ‘scandal’ that eventually lands him in prison. He is found guilty of selling fossils illegally, because they are sourced from Mongolia, where it is illegal to sell any bones from. Unfortunately for Prokopi, and many other commercial fossil collectors, the laws around collecting bones from various countries are extremely difficult to understand, or even find, so one can sympathize with Prokopi’s mistake. And sympathize I did, because Williams paints a wonderfully evocative picture of  Eric and his family. His love of fossil hunting is infectious, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy when he gets caught up in the murky world of natural history auctions. We also learn that his mother was an active nudist, and although that is a random fact, it did (strangely) endear me to him even more.

Author Paige Williams. photo credit: Tracey Goggans

Prepare yourself for gaining some extensive background knowledge in order to properly understand the circumstances that lead up to Propoki’s story. We learn about the history of Mongolia, the history of fossil-finding in America and some general information on the different periods that lead to the various layers of fossils in the earth, among other things. The parts that referenced Propoki directly were by far my favourite, mainly because they were the easiest pages to understand. The back stories of many of the characters are really well done, and the people engaged in this international saga is what kept me reading. I did find myself getting bogged down in the various political histories that were detailed in many parts of this book; the details were just too tedious to really concentrate on what I was learning. I was tempted to skim a few pages, but in the end I didn’t because I hoped I would absorb some interesting facts I could later impress my friends and family with. I don’t think I did, but I’ll still hold out hope.

Eric Prokopi

So you can tell I’m conflicted about this book. History buffs may find the opposite to what I did-they would probably enjoy the contextual information offered up by Williams saying it’s just a small slice of what’s really required to fully understand the environment, but as an armchair historian I found it a little overwhelming. Still, the human stories behind the dinosaur digs are fascinating, especially because the people typically involved in this business tend to have colourful personalities. I can already think of a few people in my immediate circle who would jump at the chance to read this, so I think it’s all about matching the right reader with this book.

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