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Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  611 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
In 1812, the skeleton of a monster was discovered in Dorset, setting in motion a collision between science and religion. "Terrible Lizard" reveals a strange prehistoric era and the struggle that set the stage for Darwin's shattering theories--and for controversies that still rage today. 39 illustrations.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 1st 2002 by Owl Books (first published 2000)
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Apr 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In Dinosaur Hunters Deborah Cadbury skilfully weaves together the story of the gradual unravelling of the mystery of dinosaur fossils with the story of one of the great scientific rivalries of the 19th century. When the first dinosaur fossils were found nobody knew what they were. Since they belonged to animals that had no exact modern counterparts it was difficult to know exactly how to piece together a whole creature from fragmentary remains. Even deciding which bones belonged to which creatur ...more
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Started reading this with some trepidation, as it was brought on a whim! It rewarded me with a fascinating read - whilst learning some fundamental & essential history, I was also as absorbed as if it was a good novel! Incredible how entrenched & dogmatic the Creationist 'gentlemen' of the establishment were at that crucial time & how hard for those obviously becoming aware of the anomalies in that belief, to deal with it personally & to challenge the views of those 'in charge'. T ...more
Feb 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biology, 2008
I dug this. It's mostly about Gideon Mantell, the guy who first recognized dinosaurs for (more or less) what they are. Its setting lets it include information about dinosaurs themselves as well as the rise of the idea of evolution in the 19th century and the furor it caused. It's an entertaining read on top of that, so it has an awful lot going for it. The "villain," Richard Owen, is like the 19th-century version of David Attenborough except that Attenborough isn't a dick. The book isn't as much ...more
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book is well researched and written, historically informative, and entertaining, it is also skewed to support evolutionary theory. If you read aware of the flawed arguments often used by proponents of the evolution theory, the slant shouldn't do more than annoy and sadden you.

The story of the rivalry between Mantell and Owen is really very sad. I can only imagine what more they could have discovered if Owen had been able to set aside his predatory ambition and work with Mantell to rev
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this book about the discovery of the prehistoric world! Although Cadbury focuses on the scientific rivalry between Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen, she provides a fascinating account of how people in the early 19th century reacted to fossil discoveries and coped with the revelation of an ancient (and apparently violent) prehistoric landscape.
Nimue Brown
A glimpse into the ideas, and alien world view of the 1800s. This book is as interesting for its insights into human history as it is for the dinosaur content. You need to like fossils as much as you like mad scientists of old to really get on with this book. Back when geology was undergroundology and Mary Annings thought she was was finding crocodile remains in Lyme Regis, the Bible was the absolute authority on the history of the world. Working out that the world is a lot older and that now-ex ...more
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Auch wenn das Ganze nicht der wissenschaftlichen Form entsprach (ich hätte mir Quellenangaben zu Zitaten geüwnscht, u.a.) und sich eher wie ein Krimi las, fand ich malte das Buch eine spannende Welt der Entstehung der Paläontologie (damals Geologie genannt). Einiges war mir bereits bekannt, anderes neu. Und der Umstand dass die Erforschung urzeitlicher Funde erst aktiv seit ca 200 Jahren stattfindet, beeindruckt mich wirklich. So lange ist das noch nicht aber umso beeindruckender ist die Leistun ...more
Sean Byrne
'The Dinosaur Hunters' is to date one of the best books I have ever read. Deborah Cadbury's history of the rivalry between the earliest geologists of England (and France) is well researched and superbly written.

Beginning with the earliest discoveries of Mary Anning and spanning the course of some eighty years, 'The Dinosaur Hunters' provides a vivid account of the discoveries and professional tribulations of two of the foremost names in early geological study - Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen -
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really interesting book that reveals a lot about the work of Britain's first paleontologists. Richard Owen doesn't come off well having been revealed as a bully who was not above abusing his position to do his rivals down or helping himself to their work. Which makes his downfall at the hands of Huxley and Darwin all the more sweet.
Nick Turner
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: past
I listened to an audio adaptation read by Emma Fielding. Naturalist Gideon Mantell and anatomist Richard Owen feud over the uncovering of the prehistoric world as Charles Darwin waits to publish the revolutionary The Origin of Species.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of the 19th century scientific rivalry surrounding the discovery and interpretation of dinosaur fossils. Puts the action of "Remarkable Creatures" by Tracy Chevalier in its historical and scientific context.
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mid 5. Cadbury has produced an excellent history of the colourful set of characters who pioneered geological research. At the outset of the nineteenth century many believed that fossils were reliable evidence for those animals which had perished in the Flood. Moreover, the commonly accepted geological age of the planet still adhered to the calculation put forward by the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, who calculated in 1650 that the Earth dated from a mere 4,004 years before the birth of Chr ...more
Pauline M
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting account of Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast of England, the archaeological finds of Mary Anning and others, and the desperate attempts of pre-Darwinian historians to match the finds to the biblical account.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Was good but potted history of geology (pp14-17 in the hardback) is completely erroneous and made it difficult to take the rest of the book at face value. I realise it's not the point of the book, but if you're going to include it, get it right. Perhaps the explanation is the focus which is almost entirely the UK. I also struggled to stay interested in the minutiae of dinosaurs, and the bombastic personalities were not enough which surprised me.
Elspeth G. Perkin
“We know not the millionth part of the wonders of this beautiful world.”

I have a confession: I’ve secretly always wanted to be a Paleontologist but Nursing was the first to accept me, so now I just contently read about portions of “former worlds” that have and are still waiting to be discovered. I’m not afraid to admit, I kept my childhood collection of fossils and unusual stones after all these years. That wonder and interest never seems to diminish in any capacity and if you are like me and ge
I originally picked this book up last year, after visiting Lyme Regis, in the hope of learning more about Mary Anning and her fossil discoveries in Lyme that paved the way for the 'discovery' of the dinosaurs. Sadly, she features very little in this book - it is very much more about the British scientists who first began to examine fossils with a scientific eye, with an attempt to classify them and place them in an historical and geological spectrum.

Obviously fossils had long been scientific cur
Ell Eastwood
A very interesting book that I enjoyed a lot. While it does not talk too much about dinosaurs, it's very interesting back story as to how dinosaurs were discovered. I worked as a guide at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and I actually talk about a lot of the things that were brought up in this book, although in a very simplified manner. But now I'll actually know what I'm talking about!

My main concerns are that it's not entirely factually correct, for example it mentions that the biggest
Todd Martin
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
In Terrible Lizard, Deborah Cadbury examines the first dinosaur hunters in England in the early to mid-1800’s and their attempts to make sense of the fossil remains. These early paleontologists had to overcome powerful cultural and religious attitudes of the time, which espoused a young earth that was formed by way of the account laid out in Genesis.

The book examines both the lives and the science of these early fossil hunters, focusing largely on Gideon Mantell (the protagonist), who named sev
Jack Bates
May 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really fascinating and Richard Owen is a proper villain. Recommended by Jane Treglown as we looked at bones (and a painting of Owen) in the Oxford Natural History Museum.

I've always been interested in paleontology, so that's a good start, and the way that Victorian scientists began to find their notions of the world and Biblical time questioned by their discoveries makes for a really great read. It's difficult to imagine how hard it must have been for them to try and fit their new unders
Elizabeth K.
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-new-reads
Chock full of dinosaurs! And cool 19th century science, when everything was a curiosity.

So it's England and people have just started to realize that you could put fossils together to get giant skeletons. I was thinking about how insane that must have been -- nowadays, if you found a fossilized dinosaur skeleton in your backyard, it would be amazing but at least you'd start from the point of knowing what a dinosaur WAS. Imagine not knowing what dinosaurs were, and then finding the skeleton and r
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really fantastic book about the history of the study of dinosaurs. I admit, I was expecting something more focused on dinosaur biology, rather than dinosaur history, but once I realized what was going on I enjoyed the narrative immensely. Gideon Mantell is really the star of this book, and Cadbury spends more time describing his life and works than anyone else, but other figures also pop from the page, ranging from destitute, self-educated Mary Anning, ambitious and brilliant Richard Owen, and ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did enjoy this history of the discovery of the large dinosaur fossils in England in the early 19th century. The author does a good job recounting the extreme upset this caused with most of society as the clergy tried desperately to reconcile the giant fossil bones with the book of Genesis.
The truth gradually emerges that life and animals have changed over time and the book ends with a discussion of how Charles Darwin discovered the answers to the dilemma.
My only criticism is the author includ
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I really enjoy popular science as I love finding out the human stories behind scientific discoveries. Of course, you have to be a little open minded - this is one interpretation and there may be others. The two main characters in this drama, Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen, are painted as the poor, endlessly unlucky genius and the privileged, intelligent but cruelly ambitious and willing to stoop to plagiarism and intellectual theft to achieve his own ends. This makes for a great conflict, but t ...more
Aug 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
About the early days of paleontology, and the two foremost scientist amidst of it all. The book itself is interesting, but the first half is a bit dry. It gets more interesting after all the names in the preliminary days of the discovery of fossils had been given and started to concentrate on the ambitious Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell. This was happening over two decades before Darwin's "The Origin Of Species", and the idea of evolution and that the earth wasn't 6000 years old had already eme ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Terrible lizard is a very well researched and constructed narrative describing the lives and research of such legendary paleontological, geological, and biological figures as Mary Anning, William Buckland, William Conybeare, Gideon Mantell, Richard Owen, Charles Lyell, Georges Cuvier, William Clift, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley. I learned a lot about them and the early history of paleontology in England in the early-mid 1800's. Though I was bothered by the use of such names as Brontos ...more
Dan Lee
Mar 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Deserves more than 3 stars. 3.5 or so.

The invention of Paleontology and Geology sounded like a fascinating topic, and it is. This is an excellent history thereof.

I struggled a bit with the minutiae of dinosaur biology - not that I couldn't follow what the author was saying, but that I'm much less interested in the fossils themselves than I am with the story of the people involved. Sometimes I struggled to maintain interest when the author moved into specific features of specific bones of specifi
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Brilliant read for anyone interested in fossils and dinosaurs. The author outlines the complex and many sided history of interpreting the fossil records but does not neglect the personal, social and economic factors in play. This makes it fascinating to read and ensures the period characters come alive. It also reveals the fascinating (and slightly scary) rivalries of science. Also really great to read a history book where the contribution of women are not ignored but included. Now I want to lea ...more
Catherine Drake
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't put this book down. Cadbury clearly explains the discoveries and changing ideas & understandings about natural history though the discovery of fossils. And at the same time, she skilfully weaves the story of bitter in fighting and rivalry between Creationists and Evolutionists, focussing on the lives and rivalry between Richard Owen and Gideon Mantell.

There is so much heartache, treachery and comedy in this non-fiction book, it could easily be adapted into a compelling drama on T
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a pretty good history of science around the dawning of understanding of educated Western Europeans in the period from 1800-1870 that there was something fishy about the book of Genesis.
It begins with Englishmen studying the rock formations of Britain and collecting fossils and ends with the wide acceptance by 1870 of the Theory of Natural Selection proposed by Charles Darwin in his masterpiece "The Origin of Species."
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Deborah Cadbury is an award-winning British author and BBC television producer specialising in fundamental issues of science and history, and their effects on modern society.
After graduating from Sussex University in Psychology and Linacre College, Oxford she joined the BBC as a documentary maker and has received numerous international awards, including an Emmy, for her work on the BBC's Horizon s
More about Deborah Cadbury...

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