While the title is perhaps a mite bit misleading in regard to the role that dinosaurs played to these early fossilists, this ought not to detract fromWhile the title is perhaps a mite bit misleading in regard to the role that dinosaurs played to these early fossilists, this ought not to detract from the narrative. Indeed, the true stars of this tale are the often overlooked icthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and the intrepid individuals who realized the relevance of the assorted remains they were plucking out of mountains and beaches. While the dinosaurs that they discovered opened the floodgates for the thousands of known species that followed, it is important to not forget the other denizens of prehistoric times.
McGowan did a top-notch job in presenting a relatively obscure subject. Much can be found on ichthyosaurs as an extinct reptile, but the likes of Mary Anning, William Buckland, Thomas Hawkins, Robert Owen, and their contemporaries are often overlooked. We know Buckland and Owen as names attached to a handful of different species, but their actual lives often go overlooked. McGowan's study serves not only as a history of early paleontology but also as a series of biographical sketches. The interconnectedness of the lives of these individuals allows their stories to flow into and out of one another's worlds. The narrative is allowed to pass from one person to the next, each fossil hunter handing off a baton to the next and, more often than not, having it passed back to them. These were people who not only shared a similar passion but also knew and worked with each other ... or, at the very least, had a few choice things to say about their contemporaries.
"The Dragon Seekers" was an interesting and fairly breezy read, chock full of information about an infrequently-told subject. McGowan does a nice job in presenting the world these persons inhabited and the ideas they held to heart. It may come as a surprise how many of these early fossilists had little good to say about Darwin's new theories. Buckland, for instance, despite having the honor of discovering the first named dinosaur, stood by his belief that these giant reptiles must have been killed off during the great flood. Owen, despite coining the name "dinosaur," was eventually cast off by the scientific community over his disavowal of Darwin. These are pre-Darwin fossil hunters, with no scientific background, who opened the doors for the great scientific discoveries that followed in their wake.
In any regard, you'll learn more about ichthyosaurs than you ever thought you'd need to know. This is not a bad thing. Everybody should know a thing or two about those magnificent animals. ...more