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The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,278 ratings  ·  234 reviews
In 2012, a New York auction catalogue boasted an unusual offering: "a superb Tyrannosaurus skeleton." In fact, Lot 49135 consisted of a nearly complete T. bataar, a close cousin to the most famous animal that ever lived. The fossils now on display in a Manhattan event space had been unearthed in Mongolia, more than 6,000 miles away. At eight-feet high and 24 feet long, the ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Hachette Books
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Greg Richardson
Sep 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book is a true tragedy. There's an awesome story to be told and, eventually, that story is told. There's just way too much extraneous information included in this book to make it worth recommending.
To say that it moves slowly is to say that dinosaurs lived a long time ago.
Just when you think you're getting somewhere and that you have the necessary background to appreciate the complexities of the story, you get taken back on yet another detour.
I wondered if I was the only one who felt this
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, dinosaurs
The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy wasn't quite the book I expected, but Paige Williams weaves an interesting exposé of the legal quagmire that is fossil collecting.

As a dinosaur fanatic and amateur fossil hunter, I was fascinated - not to mention, a little bit terrified - by the consequences of collecting, transporting, and trafficking in fossils. It's so easy to pick up a brachiopod, a piece of horn coral, or even a trilobite, and think nothing
Matthew Budman
Jun 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Williams is a marvelous writer of paragraphs, and even of chapters: She beautifully captures scenes and characters and issues and history, and her prose sparkles. Nearly any reader will be fascinated by the issues that The Dinosaur Artist raises. And yet the book doesn't quite hold together.

Beginning with the title, the author seems to take New Yorker colleague Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief as a model, and a writer could do far worse. But Williams' central character and his storyas a fossil
4.5 Stars for The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, betrayal, and the Quest for Earths Ultimate Trophy (audiobook) by Page Williams read by Ellen Archer. This is a really detailed account of the Mongolian dinosaur bones being dug up and sold. And all the consequences to Mongolia and to the sellers. Its an interesting account but it does get a little bogged down by all the details. ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of science journalism
As the aunt of 6 year old future paleontologist, I have learned a good deal about dinosaurs and fossils in the last couple years. I have been looking forward all summer to reading The Dinosaur Artist, a well-researched narrative journalistic book about the controversy surrounding a Florida man who prepared and auctioned a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton from fossils unearthed in Mongolia. The book did not disappoint. While I learned a considerable amount about everything from fossil hunting to the ...more
At times, the history of both fossil trade and Mongolia get a little overwhelming to the otherwise immersive narrative, but a really fascinating book about commercial fossil hunting and selling. Like THE FEATHER THIEF, but with dinosaur fossils. It's a bloodless crime, and it's a really fascinating crime in that I'm not entirely sure what Prokopi was really imprisoned for (it's a lot of legal hopscotching, given that it's an issue of international law, of laws not entirely codified, and of an ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
First of all, The Dinosaur Artist is clearly thoroughly researched. Unfortunately, Paige Williams simply wasn't able to take all that research and make a cohesive storyline out of it. She tries to pull in too many unrelated stories, which ends up cluttering the plot.

This is a story about smuggling giant dinosaur fossils out of Mongolia. I was hoping for some adventure and excitement. Instead, I was bored.

If you're really into fossils, then you might like this book. If not, just skip it.
Scribe Publications
The Dinosaur Artist is a tale that has everything: passion, science, politics, intrigue, and, of course, dinosaurs. Paige Williams is a wonderful storyteller.
Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Author of The Sixth Extinction

What a terrific book. A fascinating story of adventure and obsession, and a captivating journey into the world of fossils and fossil peddlers, scientists, museums, international politics, the history of life, and the nature of human nature. Williams writes
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Dinosaur Hunter starts with controversy then maps the geography of the fossil landscape, from hunters to politics to jealousies and poachers. Williams covers the history of paleontology as well that of natural history museums. Theres even some celebrity sighting: a Cage/ DiCaprio fight over a 67-million-year-old skull of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar. The Dinosaur Artist is a memorable read with great tension over the timeless themes of the hunt, money, and greed.

Full review can be found here:
Lizz DiCesare
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I love dinosaurs, so when I received a copy of The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy, by Paige Williams, I was ecstatic. This book contained so many things that I like: dinosaurs, journalism, natural and political history; how could I not read it?

This book evolved from an article that Paige wrote for The New Yorker, titled "Bones of Contention," which was published in 2013. It told the story of
Peter Tillman
Closing out as DNF, as my library copy is coming due. I enjoyed her 2014 New Yorker article, which was the start of the book:, but the emboideries on that didn't add that much for me. I did enjoy her story of amateur fossil-digger Frank Garcia's big find in a Florida shell quarry, and her comments on the hostility of most academic paleontologists to amateurs (mostly unwarranted, imo). And her subject clearly evaded Mongolian law -- but he had an expensive ...more
Erin (roostercalls)
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Did you have a dinosaur phase? If youve ever stared at a giant dino skeleton in a museum (or uh, watched Jurassic Park) and had your imagination piqued, think about cracking open THE DINOSAUR ARTIST by Paige Williams, out today from Hachette Books.

In telling the story of a single fossil skeleton sale which turns wildly contentious, Williams gives sympathetic voice to all the stakeholders in the fossil hunting game: museums, academics, passionate fossil aficionados, natural history buffs,
I really loved this and was engrossed the whole way through. The backbone of the book is one Tarbosaurus skeleton of dubious origins, put up for auction and then seized by the United States government through civil forfeiture until its origins could be verified. Along the way we get to dive into the history of fossil hunting, Eric Prokopi's (the titular dinosaur artist) backstory, and a crash course on the state of the Mongolian government and their scientists. I thought those detours added to ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
You will never look at your local natural history museum the same again. The true story of a dinosaur heist. Science mixes with politics in this great adventure. Loved it!
A thoroughly researched book that unearths (minutely) the story behind the 2012 case that saw a fossil Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton land in the middle of an international dispute between Mongolia and the American "commercial paleontology" community. Williams does an incredible job of documenting Eric Prokopi's path from child fossil enthusiast to international fossil thief, and an equally excellent job of looking into the contributions that fossil hunters have made to the academic field of ...more
Feb 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
I can't recall the last time I disliked a non-fiction book so much. This book took an only mildly interesting incident and tried to stretch it into a book. The content of this book has many echoes of the perhaps more popular Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T-Rex Ever Found, and I think this must have inspired the author to try to make a book out of this incident. Because there isn't enough to really support a book, the author sets out to try to pad the ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. I have always been fascinated with dinosaurs. This is a story of Eric Prokopi who was a fossil hunter and dealer. He started looking for fossils when he was just a kid, As he got older, he found there was big money to be made selling all manner of fossils.whether he found them or bought them from others. In the meantime,  paleontologists and scientists heard that Eric would be auctioning off a complete skeleton he had found in Mongolia. The ...more
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Theres a good story here and Williams did a lot of working telling it. But the end result had too much. Every time even a minor character is introduced we get a detailed digression into that persons back story. With all the side tales and stories within stories, it makes the book feel more bloated and less cohesive than it needs to be. Still, in the midst of it all is a good story, with pretty compelling characters. So I did like it. I just was left with the feeling that it could have been ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a great book. I took off one star because there are no visuals, and dinosaurs are meant to be seen. I highly recommend the Dinosaur Artist, especially if you need a crash course in paleontology. Paige Williams has thrown in everything including the kitchen sink with Floridian Eric Prokopy as her central character. The story is about tomb raiding gone wrong; Eric made off with one of Mongolia's prize T Bataar (T Rex's less-popular cousin) skeletons and got caught in the middle when Mongolia ...more
John Devlin
Feb 15, 2019 rated it liked it
So this is a monograph like quite a few others.
A long form article becomes a book. To pad the work they add background,a lot of background. Background on the players, background on dinosaurs, fossils and natural history.

But thats okay with me.

This tale is sad. The poor guy who loved fossils bent some rules that had never been enforced and were murky at best. A confluence of politics in Mongolia and the US and one guy gets his life blown apart.

The whole question of countries land ownerships,
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
The best parts of this book were the histories of paleontology and it's big players, and Mongolia and America's roles in that story. I would say that what kept this book from being wonderful were the unreasonably long swaths that were dedicated to the personal history of a man who did jail time for a crime that he willingly and knowingly committed. Is it fair that many black market dealers of natural history remain unpunished while Eric Prokopi lost his livelihood? Probably not, but that ...more
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Eric Prokopis is no doubt obsessed as much as any old prospector in the desert with his mule looking for the Lost Dutchman mine or other rich vein of gold. Now just in his mid-40s with two young children, Eric started his wealth in fossils in his home state of Florida, with rich deposits of fossil shark teeth that he could clean and sell. He moved on to bigger things and river diving which included retrieving long-sunken but highly valuable enormous logs. He discovered the world of fossil ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Admittedly, Williams pads her expose on the legal case of Eric Prokopi - intrepid dinosaur importer - with long sections detailing Mongolian history, descriptions of the Gobi, and chapters on other amateur dinosaur fossil hunters.

At its core, Prokopi cuts a strange character. He is both naive and deviously competent. He is much too trusting. He floats through the story much like a ghost, barely, articulate about vague motives. His passion for money, bones, and a lifestyle that his wife enjoyed
Eloise Newman
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book on #paleodrama of T. Bataar and Mongolian dinosaurs. This book manages to tell a gripping real story as well as provide a solid laymans history to the paleontologists behind it.

Having just come back from a trip to Mongolia and UB I visited the Dinosaur Museum there. This book provided really honest flesh to the specimens there. The museum itself didnt seem fit to house the fossils, the translations few and pitiful. I have been searching for books on Mongolian
May 15, 2019 added it
The author uncovers the world of commercial dinosaur fossil trading. It has existed for years on a half legal half illegal basis. Specifically Williams focuses on the case of a Mongolian dinosaur bought by Erik Prokopi who prepared and mounted it and resold it for a profit. This transaction led to Prokopi's arrest and a major court case in 2012 from which Prokopi went to prison and started the repatriation of dinosaurs to Mongolia. Williams handles the material well but is prone to wandering off ...more
Juan Carlos
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you were a kid once you probably loved dinosaurs as I did, giant monsters that lived millions of years ago. This book narrates several characters that seem straight out of an Indiana Jones movies, a war between paleontologists and amateur hunters looking for fossils to reveal the history of earth, they seem to despise each other but they also depend on each over. Smuggling, travels around the world, ancient digging sites, dinosaurs and a legal war for a giant Tyrannosaurus straight out of ...more
Nick Cincotta
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely riveting.... as I read it I became more fascinated with the personalities of the paleontologist Williams profiles. There are parts that made my jaw drop such as reading about Mark Norrells desk, it belonged to Barnum Brown, now that is just awesome. I couldnt put it down I wanted to find out each aspect of the paleontologist/fossil hunters she was profiling. She did an excellent job of bringing the science to life and telling the layperson what paleontology is all about. Dinosaurs are ...more
The story could have been more concise. I was long ready for this book to end by the time I did finish it. Part of the issue was the mispronunciations of the narrator. I have never heard Genghis said Jeng-us (and the book used this word A LOT). But the kiss of death came when the narrator relayed the information about a meeting held at an island in northern Michigan and she pronounced it MACK IN ACK!
This the story of a man who was obsessed with dinosaurs and fossils and his obsession, while
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Dinosaur Artist is a nice work about, broadly, paleontology, dinosaur paleontology more specifically. It concentrates on the story of Eric Prokopi and the illicit trade in Mongolian dinosaur fossils.
For me, the best part of the narrative was the section on Molly (Mary) Anning and her incredible contributions to science. She, untrained and minimally educated, discovered more fossil species along the southern coast of England than perhaps anyone, ever has, anywhere on earth.
Paige Williams
David Lubin
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Paleontology is an interesting science about which I knew very little. By the conclusion of this book, I know quite a bit. The story of Eric Prokopi is a sad tale. Fossils have such little value until they are found, touched up, and then placed on frames to display them. Prokopi was good at that part. He could have done everything legally if he had tried but the laws were so difficult to follow in Mongolia that he decided to take shortcuts. It was a mistake and the details of that error are what ...more
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Paige Williams is a staff writer at The New Yorker. At the magazine, her subjects have included suburban politics in Detroit, the death penalty in Alabama, paleoanthropology in South Africa, the misappropriated cultural patrimony of the Tlingit peoples of Alaska, and the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She won the National Magazine Award for feature writing, in 2008, and was a ...more

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