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- Published on Amazon.com
As much as I admire Dougal Dixon's work, this book is disappointing in many ways although it gets an A for effort.
These days, with the computer-generated lifelike images of dinosaurs that are now familiar from the Dorling-Kindersley books and the WALKING WITH DINOSAURS shows and books, if a book is to rely instead on paintings, then they must reach a certain standard. John Sibbick's work for the David Norman and Peter Wellnhofer books would be an example.
Unfortunately, the artists in this book contribute rather wan, workmanlike pictures. This is especially problematic in a book treating so very many dinosaurs, since inevitably the job requires rendering several very similar related animals. The artists here tend towards rather ordinary side shots, and just rendering occasional genera in fanciful colors does not provide enough variety to avoid a certain monotony in terms of, for example, the stegosaurs or the prosauropods.
Too often, the artists have apparently not even been directed to render distinctive details of the creature in question. One mosasaur is described as having a large head -- but the picture has an ordinary head like all the others. A nodosaurid is described as having a long neck -- but the picture indicates no such thing, and so on.
The illustrations here would be fine in a book written in the early seventies (they recall typical dino illustrations in kids' dinosaur books of that time). But in an ambitious book like this they are disappointing.
There is also a problem with coverage. Dixon claims to cover "all" of the known genera, but that's an overstatement by a long shot. Rather, he covers most of them, while too often just mentioning others parenthetically, even ones just as well known in terms of material as the ones chosen to feature. Properly speaking, Dixon has selected a goodly number of the known genera, perhaps wanting to avoid a certain monotony in including every single one of groups of similar animals. But this still means that this is not, truly, a comprehensive survey in the way that the Glut encyclopedias, Gregory Paul's theropod book, or on-line lists are.
And it is unclear why in so many cases Dixon includes full illustrated entries on dinosaurs he readily acknowledges are known only from fragments, such as sometimes just a jaw or some leg bones, while again leaving out better known genera.
The text is okay, although each entry is divided into three parts, a kind of intro, a description getting down to specific structural features, and then an often extended caption to the picture. But often it is unclear what the real point is of subdividing the text into these three sections, any one of which could practically substitute for the other. It thus becomes distracting to deal with the choppy quality of the entries, which would better be written as a single piece of text.
Ultimately, the standard against which all dinosaur surveys should be measured is David Norman's from the eighties, which is now increasingly out of date but once gave the most solid, comprehensive coverage of the dinosaur subject possible for non-scientists, complete with John Sibbick's marvelous paintings. Short of a revision of that one, Dixon's book now stands as the closest equivalent, and it is clear that massive effort went into putting it together. (For the record, one nice aspect is the boxes on most page spreads addressing some interesting question such as what happened to the grand old genus TRACHODON.)
But as of now, I am still hoping somebody gives Norman and Sibbick a good deal to give us an encore.