Home > book reviews > Book Review – The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs

Book Review – The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs

Hone bookTyrannosaurus rex looms large in our imagination, reigning (according to paleontologist Robert T. Bakker) as possibly “the most popular dinosaur among people of all ages, all cultures, and all nationalities.”

The Cretaceous period monster, popularized in print, on the big screen, and on television for a hundred years, got its name when its discoverer decided it likely resembled a giant lizard-like creature.  Over time commentators and popularizers have helped to grow a perception that these animals were perhaps the most fearsome predators ever to walk the planet.

Paleontologist David Hone has spent much of his professional life working to understand T. rex and its close relatives. From his research home at Queen Mary University of London, Hone has focused heavily on both the dinosaurs (generally predatory) called theropods and the flying reptiles called pterosaurs that were also common during the Mesozoic era.

His recent book, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs, is not only a worthy guide to the history of our fascination with the beast. Hone also brilliantly and insightfully explains what we really know about the family of theropod dinosaurs popularly known as tyrannosaurs.

640px-Sues_skeleton

“Sue,” the largest-known fossil specimen of a Tyrannosaurus rex, is in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Image courtesy Connie Ma/Wikimedia Commons.

The book begins with a look at some basics of anatomy. This is useful because, to anyone seeking to understand how dinosaur species related to each other, how their skeletal structures likely worked, and even how they may have behaved, insight begins with the bones.

Hone then summarizes the history of dinosaur discovery.  He pays particular attention to the 19th century work of Joseph Leidy, Colorado educator Arthur Lakes, and the famed fossil hunters Edward Cope, Joseph Tyrrell, and Barnum Brown. Each of these early paleontologists contributed significantly to the eventual identification of the “tyrant lizard king” (as the name Tyrannosaurus rex means).

One of the most helpful parts of these sections of the book, aside from the valuable background they provide, is Hone’s skillful recounting of their context. Describing, for example, one of the key conclusions of the current “dinosaur renaissance” – namely, that modern-day birds are descendants of the dinosaurs – Hone helps the reader understand clearly why scientists believe this deduction makes sense:

“If dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds, and non-avian dinosaurs had a number of bird features, then some of the characteristics we traditionally ascribe to birds could, even should, be present in the Mesozoic. Dinosaurs didn’t have to be just reptile-like; they could have been bird-like in some, indeed many, regards.”

Hone goes on to help the reader, whom he wisely seems to assume is generally unfamilar with the particulars of zoology, understand where dinosaurs sit in the category of animals called reptiles. Hone also takes care to explain how tyrannosaurs fit into that widely beloved group of dominant creatures that ruled Earth for so long.

Yutyrannus

This artist’s conception of Yutyrannus huali, discovered in China in 2012, is by Brian Choo. Courtesy Nature Publishing Group.

From there, Hone provides a brief look at the 29 known species of tyrannosaurs. Beyond T. rex, these include some fascinating animals. One species in the family, called Yutyrannus hauli, was probably completely feathered. Another, known as Daspletosaurus hornei, may have had an extremely sensitive, scale-covered face that could possibly have helped it to detect the temperature of eggs in a nest. There’s even a glance here at the controversy involving the small tyrannosaur thought by some scientists to be an entirely different species from T. rex called Nanotyrannus and by others to be simply a juvenile T. rex.

Hone displayes a careful and picturesque command of words when he describes the internal anatomy of a tyrannosaur. He is also funny at times. For example, when explaining how a male tyrannosaur may have mated with its female counterpart with a structure called an intromittent organ, the author refers the reader to ducks. Yes, ducks.

Naturally, Hone explores tyrannosaur jaws, stomachs, digestion, locomotion, and limbs, too, among other treats of dino biology. Nor does he overlook the recent evidence that these animals, or at least some of them, were feathered.

 “Feathers are rarely preserved as the conditions for their preservation have to be near perfect, and we have to be lukcy enough to find fossils of feathered specimens. Thus even though only two tyrannosaurs are directly known to have had feathers, it is reasonable to infer that all of them did.”

The writer also discusses the question whether tyrannosaurs were warm-blooded. It would not be sporting to give away the destination to which the reader is led by the rather beautiful narrative Hone provides. Instead, it might be best to simply say that he introduces readers to a concept that might cause them to raise their eyebrows in surprise and even excitement about the way the huge predators, and maybe other dinosaurs, could have regulated their body temperature.

The second half of the book scrutinizes a number of other captivating questions about tyrannosaurs, including how they found their food (was the mighty T. rex a mere scavenger?), what they probably ate, and whether they may have been social animals.

Among the only flaws in the book are these: first, although the illustrations by Scott Hartman are illuminating, there are too few of them. Second, Hone displays a notable fondness for the word “rather.” It appears enough times in the text that the reader loses count. These minor glitches do not detract from the book’s excellence.

There are other excellent books about dinosaurs – too many, in fact, to list here – and Hone’s seems destined to take its place among them. For all who love the prehistoric leviathans (and smaller dinos, too), this spectacular survey of T. rex and its cousins should be high on the reading list.

Hone, David. The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs. New York: Bloomsbury-Sigma. Reprint edition, 2017. ISBN 1472911288.

640px-DPAG_2008_Tyrannosaurus

This 2008 German postage stamp, though not totally accurate in its depiction of Tyrannosaurus rex anatomy, shows the dinosaur in a manner that is likely familiar to many. Image courtesy Deutsche Post AG/Wikimedia Commons.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Lisa Rayner's Food & Garden Blog

I am a do-it-yourselfer. I have written how-to books on sustainable permaculture gardening, natural home canning, baking sourdough bread and solar cooking.

Capturing Grace

Trust, Faith and Change

Lewis Editorial

Bringing stories to life

THE WILD LIFE

Animals, Nature and Wildlife - Travel Blog of World Nomads

The 70 at 70 Challenge

And so, I turned 70, and a new decade beckons....

The Last Ocean

Protecting the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

eoearthlive

Encyclopedia of Earth on WordPress

National Geographic Education Blog

Bring the spirit of exploration to your classroom

Evolutionary Biology

No foresight, no way back

Empirical SCOTUS

Viewing the Supreme Court in an entirely new light

%d bloggers like this: