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The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury

The Dinosaur Hunters (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Deborah Cadbury

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501841,518 (4.01)28
In "The Dinosaur Hunters" Deborah Cadbury recreates the remarkable story of the bitter rivalry between two men: Gideon Mantell uncovered giant bones in a Sussex quarry, became obsessed with the lost world of the reptiles and was driven to despair. Richard Owen, a brilliant anatomist, gave the extinct creatures their name and secured for himself unrivalled international acclaim.… (more)
Title:The Dinosaur Hunters
Authors:Deborah Cadbury
Info:Fourth Estate (2001), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World by Deborah Cadbury (2000)

  1. 00
    Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Remarkable Creatures is a fictional account of Mary Anning and her fossils. The Dinosaur Hunters is a very readable factual account of the people hunting for fossils in the early 19th century which included Mary Anning.

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This is an account of the early discoveries of fossils of dinosaurs and other early creatures, and the evolution (pardonable pun) of knowledge of and thought about the early history of life on earth, throughout the first half of the 19th century. Two key early discoveries are those of the icthyosaur by Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, and the iguanadon by Gideon Mantell in Lewes in Sussex. These two come across as appealing and very ordinary human individuals, often taken advantage of by others. This is especially so for Anning, discovering fossils very early on as a girl and young woman in the 1810s and 20s; but also in a different way for Mantell, who, lacking the advantages of inherited wealth and free time of other early pioneers in the field, had to make his mark as a country doctor, helping and sometimes saving the lives of his poor patients, while trying in his spare time to pursue his passion for geology, a passion that strained his happy marriage to eventual breaking point.

One of the key themes as the book goes on is the bitter rivalry between Mantell and anatomist Richard Owen, coiner of the word "dinosaur" and later the founder and first director of the Natural History Museum in London. Owen, while a brilliant man in his own right, was also unscrupulous in claiming credit for discoveries made by Mantell and others, and diminishing their achievements for the sake of his own self-aggrandisement; this worked for him, and he became tutor to Queen Victoria's children, and played a pivotal role in the organisation of the Great Exhibition in 1851. Even after Mantell's tragic death in 1852, wracked by pain caused by being thrown from a carriage a decade earlier and injuring his back, and only able to function by managing the pain with opiates, Owen rubbished Mantell's work and character in an ostensibly anonymous obituary. In a bizarre and rather unsavoury twist of fate, Mantell's twisted spine ended up as an exhibit in Owen's collection. (as an aside, the spine remained in the Royal College of Surgeons until the mid-20th century; Cadbury says it was bombed in the Blitz, though other sources say it was voluntarily destroyed in 1969 due to lack of space).

Another key theme in the book is the battle between science and religion, but it is not cast in the simple Darwinism vs. creationism paradigm; rather it was a gradual movement of the centre of gravity of mainstream scientific opinion along a spectrum of thought where, for much of the three or four decades before Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859, the growing evidence for the development of forms of life and the relations between them was accepted (in the teeth of opposition from creationists), but along with an assumption that God provided the original spark for life in the first place and that he wrote the rules by which life forms developed (in modern parlance, "intelligent design"). Owen was an epitome of this view. Darwin and Huxley of course changed the paradigm in the 1860s and later, such that Owen's reputation was ironically itself trashed somewhat unfairly after his death in 1892, and his life's work dismissed due to his opposition to Darwinism.

This was a fascinating read. Unfortunately this Kindle version lacked the illustrations in the print version (which I used to have, but which has annoyingly disappeared from my shelves!). ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 27, 2019 |
Deeply enjoyable book about the early fossil hunters. Buckland, a decent Christian and pioneer geologist always struggling to reconcile his faith with the findings as they come in, Owen the wicked schemer, brilliant but really only interested in building his own empire, Huxley the steelily efficient destroyer of anyone who got in the way of science and her hero, Mantell, who struggled on against heartbreaking difficulties. He could only work in his spare time, and had limited money and no academic backup. He couldn't tear himself away from the hunt despite it destroying his marriage and livelihood, but he at least treated others with consideration.
Poignant incidental information about the death of Mantell's daughter and a sympathetic coverage of Mary Anning the unsung working class woman behind some of the finds. ( )
  oataker | Jul 6, 2018 |
Story of class & competition for glory over early dinosaur fossil finds. Very readable while comprehensively researched. Richard Owens comes out badly.
Read Oct 2005 ( )
  mbmackay | Dec 5, 2015 |
A very good read....I've wanted to get into the beginnings of geology through its start in England for some time and my recent trip to Lyme Regis ignited that fire. I'm starting off a bit slow, but this book along with a few others planned for down the road hopefully will be the way to go. Owen comes off as a creep, Mantell's wife is a loser, Cuvier, Darwin, Huxley, Lyell, etc. seem to be more balanced and fair. Nicely done. ( )
  untraveller | Sep 26, 2015 |
Truly fabulous popular account of the scientific discoveries of dinosaurs, bringing in to great effect the undernoticed Mary Anning and Gideon Mantell instead of just the overbearing Richard Owen (who got his, in the end, but still). Excellently done and highly recommended. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Jan 6, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Deborah Cadburyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jaramillo, RaquelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my mother and Martin,
the first readers,
with love
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On the south coast of England at Lyme Regis in Dorset, the cliffs tower over the surrounding landscape.
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In "The Dinosaur Hunters" Deborah Cadbury recreates the remarkable story of the bitter rivalry between two men: Gideon Mantell uncovered giant bones in a Sussex quarry, became obsessed with the lost world of the reptiles and was driven to despair. Richard Owen, a brilliant anatomist, gave the extinct creatures their name and secured for himself unrivalled international acclaim.

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