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

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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 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 specimen was spectacular, and when the gavel sounded the winning bid was over $1 million. Eric Prokopi, a thirty-eight-year-old Floridian, was the man who had brought this extraordinary skeleton to market. A onetime swimmer who spent his teenage years diving for shark teeth, Prokopi's singular obsession with fossils fueled a thriving business hunting, preparing, and selling specimens, to clients ranging from natural history museums to avid private collectors like actor Leonardo DiCaprio. But there was a problem. This time, facing financial strain, had Prokopi gone too far? As the T. bataar went to auction, a network of paleontologists alerted the government of Mongolia to the eye-catching lot. As an international custody battle ensued, Prokopi watched as his own world unraveled.


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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 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 specimen was spectacular, and when the gavel sounded the winning bid was over $1 million. Eric Prokopi, a thirty-eight-year-old Floridian, was the man who had brought this extraordinary skeleton to market. A onetime swimmer who spent his teenage years diving for shark teeth, Prokopi's singular obsession with fossils fueled a thriving business hunting, preparing, and selling specimens, to clients ranging from natural history museums to avid private collectors like actor Leonardo DiCaprio. But there was a problem. This time, facing financial strain, had Prokopi gone too far? As the T. bataar went to auction, a network of paleontologists alerted the government of Mongolia to the eye-catching lot. As an international custody battle ensued, Prokopi watched as his own world unraveled.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bob Milne

    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 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 of the impact of that find, the potential loss of scientific value that comes in removing it from its context and setting. At the same time, it's just as easy to understand the counter-argument that, by collecting fossils, amateurs save them from erosion or destruction, and provide the world with a chance to appreciate them. Of course, when you look at all of that on a much larger scale - such as that of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar - it becomes a bit easier to understand why there has been so much drama around the auction and seizure of Eric Prokopi's 8-foot high, 24-foot long, million-dollar specimen. While that is the heart of the story, it drives the overall narrative than dominating it, which was both a surprise and a relief. As a human-interest figure, Prokopi is just not that compelling, and it's hard to become emotionally involved in his struggles. We can appreciate the situation, and understand the impact to his family, but I didn't find his story evoked the kind of sympathy that would have transformed him into a tragic figure. Where the human element comes through the strongest is in the backstories of surrounding the case, both historical and contemporary. I had no idea the fossil trade was such a massive community, full of such colorful (and, yes, criminal) characters. The history of the trade, with the establishment of Natural History collections across the world, was perhaps the most interesting part of the book, especially in the chapter devoted to Mary Anning. Her story is one that's always fascinated me, and Williams does a superb job of . . . well, presenting her in context and setting, much like a proper fossil discovery. Fast forward to contemporary times, as much as I might identify with Prokopi's passion for fossils, I found I sympathized more with the passion and patriotism of Bolor and Oyuna, with surprised me. Where that human element is somewhat buried, almost lost in the details, is with the criminal case itself. I was expecting that to be the focus of the book, to read about arguments and counterarguments . . . the testimony, the charges, and the deals . . . the scandal and spectacle, if you will. Instead, it's presented as a shockingly dull, matter-of-fact sequence of events, more akin to fighting a parking ticket than arguing such a landmark case. I'm glad Williams didn't attempt to artificially sensationalize it, but I'm also a bit saddened that it wasn't more of a spectacle in real life. The interplay of discovery, science, ethics, passion, and international law is something that deserves to be discussed on a much broader scale. The Dinosaur Artist is compellingly readable, as accessible to those with a curiosity as it is satisfying to those with a passion, and does a fair job of raising questions and highlighting issues, without trying force a conclusion upon the reader. Definitely recommended. http://beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.com/2...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Budman

    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 story—as a fossil c 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 story—as a fossil collector and salesman who gets caught—simply isn't compelling enough to carry a book-length tale, and as a narrator she makes the decision to stay invisible, forgoing the option of actively guiding us from one scenario to the next. She makes Eric Prokopi a very real and sympathetic figure, but he and his case are too small to serve as scaffolding for a story on such a grand scale of geography and time. What's here—and much of it is great—is fantastic color and background, rich and detailed to the extent that they sometimes take us way off track. To cite just one example: To flesh out the reasons for decisions by the Mongolian government re: fossils, Williams presents basically the entire modern history of Mongolia, emphasizing post-Soviet political drama, and several colorful personalities. It's all compelling, and I knew none of it before, but it takes us far, far afield from the story of fossil recovery, much less issues of commercial fossil-hunting. It's almost a surprise when Prokopi—the dinosaur artist—re-enters the story. Hey, it's that guy again! So: Beautiful writing and diligent research that could have used a firmer hand in shaping.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Greg Richardson

    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 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 way, so I poked around a few places online and found this NPR review that says it more clearly than I ever could: "The book does have some flaws. It's as if Williams felt compelled to include every last thing she learned through her research, even beyond the 90 dense pages of footnotes. We don't need to know that Prokopi's mother-in law decorated her home at the holidays with "dense arrangements of aromatic greenery and gilded candlesticks." Even less relevant are weight-related comments: Mongolian activist Oyuna Tsedevdamba is "youthful and slim," and auction broker David Herskowitz walks with "his belly leading." "More disconcertingly, whenever the Tarbosaurus narrative gathers speed, Williams dumps in a sticky web of new names and facts to keep straight. At one point of real momentum, suddenly we're sent back to 1793 and the life of an English cabinetmaker named Richard Anning. His daughter Mary Anning, a highly skilled collector of invertebrate fossils around Lyme, England, is a compelling figure from the annals of women in science — but overall there are just too many of these jarring time jumps. The full review is here: https://www.npr.org/2018/09/13/647117.... Proceed at your own risk!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    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 t 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 history of Mongolia, I didn’t however come away with a clear-cut opinion about who ultimately owns the past as unearthed in fossils. It’s complicated. Amateur fossil hunters have much to contribute to our knowledge base but the scientific process and human history must also be taken in to consideration. I would have given this 5 stars but felt it got bogged down a little in the details of true crime style biography of rogue fossil artist Eric Prokopi. Thanks to NetGalley, Hatchette Books, and author Paige Williams for the advanced reader’s copy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    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 ar 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 area of legal weakness, not to mention that some of the things he did were because of someone else who suddenly died in the middle of everything which is rather inconvenient). The book looks deceptively longer than it is. Over half of the book is research notes. Williams did her work here, and I loved it deeply. Nonviolent true crime within niche industries is a thing I am finding myself loving more and more.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    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. It' 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. It's not worth the read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    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 beautiful 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 beautifully about it all. If you love dinosaurs, paleontology, or just a rollicking good tale, you will love this book. I couldn't put it down. Jennifer Ackerman, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Genius of Birds A cracking combination of true crime, dinosaurs, and top-notch investigative journalism. Paige Williams’ riveting tale exposes the dodgy dealings of the black market trade in dinosaurs, an international underworld that that few people have probably heard of, and which breaks my heart as a paleontologist. Steve Brusatte, Bestselling Author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs Paige Williams is that rare reporter who burrows into a subject until all of its dimensions, all of its darkened corners and secret chambers, are illuminated. With The Dinosaur Artist, she has done more than reveal a gripping true crime story; she has cast light on everything from obsessive fossil hunters to how the earth evolved. This is a tremendous book. David Grann, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Killers of the Flower Moon The Dinosaur Artist is a breathtaking feat of writing and reporting: a strange, irresistible, and beautifully written story steeped in natural history, human nature, commerce, crime, science, and politics. It’s at once laugh-out-loud funny and deeply sobering. I was blown away by the depth of its characters, its vivid details, and Paige Williams’ incredible command of the facts. Bottom line: this is an extraordinary debut by one of the best nonfiction writers we’ve got. Rebecca Skloot, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks The Dinosaur Artist is a triumph. With peerless prose and sharp-eyed reporting, Paige Williams weaves a story that, even as it spans continents and transcends geological epochs, is deeply anchored in the passion and hubris of a rich cast of characters. Captivating, funny, and profound, it is easily one of the strongest works of non-fiction in years. Ed Yong, Staff Writer, The Atlantic; New York Times Bestselling Author of I Contain Multitudes Paige Williams is as deft as the fossil hunters and skeleton builders she writes about. As they exhume treasures secreted in earthen repositories and assemble brilliant mounts from a scattering of dinosaur bones, she mines exquisite details from a quarry of source materials and pieces together a compelling story out of a spillage of human experience. The result is a work of art. Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Author of The Gulf I am in awe of Paige Williams. Every line of The Dinosaur Artist — from her deeply informed discussions of paleontology and the law to her often withering and hilarious descriptions — was a pleasure to read. Few nonfiction writers are capable of mining their characters with such a winning blend of sympathy, wonder, and rigour. Liza Mundy, New York Times Bestselling Author of Michelleand Code Girls Williams’ illuminating chronicle questions who has a right to nature. Booklist Prokopi’s case is a fascinating example of the pull of prehistoric fossils and the power of law. Nature enthusiasts, scientists, and politics buffs will sink their teeth into this intriguing account. Jeffrey Meyer, Library Journal New Yorker staff writer Williams uses the story of fossil enthusiast Eric Prokopi to illuminate the murky world of modern fossil hunting in this fascinating account ... a triumphant book that will appeal to a wide audience. Publishers Weekly A palaeontological page-turner … Williams has written a masterful book of suspense and true-crime that is as fair in the portrayal of its protagonists, as it is thorough in the context in which the story is situated. The Inquisitive Biologist Ms. Williams’s writing is often concise and evocative … gripping and cinematic. Richard Conniff, The Wall Street Journal An intriguing story of dinosaur smuggling … Good fun for fossil freaks. Kirkus Williams’s painstakingly detailed reporting reminds us that events like these are far more complicated than they might seem, and if we want the commercial fossil trade to be anything other than what it currently is, we must understand the intricate pushes and pulls of the industry ... this is where The Dinosaur Artist excels ... details and characters bring home the fact that the challenge of combating fossil smuggling and reforming the trade is truly daunting. Lydia Pyne, The Los Angeles Review of Books The strange underground world Prokopi inhabits inevitably brings us in contact with some serious oddballs, each of whom is introduced by Williams with the economy and evocative precision of a haiku. In affectless, purposeful prose we get a stream of increasingly strange and piquant factoids about these people, who seem to emerge straight out of a Coen brothers movie. Peter Brannen, The New York Times Book Review An ambitious and worthy addition to the natural history and science-writing canon, and also to national cultural heritage literature. Julia Jackson, Readings Williams uses the story of Prokopi to dig into the muddy world of fossil collectors, dealers and sellers. It’s a world where underfunded museums compete with wealthy film stars to buy the most valuable skeletons, and only expert palaeontologists can identify bones that can be easily smuggled from a country where they are protected to a country where they can be sold freely. It’s a fascinating journey to the centre of the modern Jurassic world. Herald Sun New Yorker writer Paige Williams assembles the story as meticulously as a palaeontologist and the result is fascinating, taking in the tales of the protagonists, the tussles between science and commercial fossil hunters and the history of the science itself … A superior piece of investigative writing. Sydney Morning Herald A timely caution on the perils of buried treasure. Robyn Douglas, Adelaide Advertiser

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    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. There’s 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: htt 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. There’s 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: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/08/11/th... All my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lizz DiCesare

    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 Eric Pro 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 Eric Prokopi, and his Tarbosaurus (T. bataar) skeleton that swept the media by storm. Why? Because he tried to sell it at an auction in the USA, only to have the Mongolian government demand it back. The Dinosaur Artist tells an incredibly compelling story about a niche black market: fossils. Paige did a deep-dive into this case, tore it apart, and put it back together again. Her narrative explains how Eric got into fossil hunting, and how he was able to make a living from it. She also explores the history of palaeontology, and the fine line between professional scientists and amateur fossil hunters (the latter making a sizeable number of discoveries, and helping museums and researchers push forward in their respective fields). One of the main questions posed throughout this book is "who owns natural history?" This question may seem tricky; as I mentioned, if you find a fossil on the ground, what's stopping you from keeping it? Well, a lot of laws are. Eric didn't know this when he was in Mongolia, but the Mongolian government considers everything on or under the ground to belong to the country. So finding fossils and bringing them back to the USA is illegal. However, at the time, there were very few regulations in place to police this. As a result, numerous Mongolian fossils were brought out of the country and sold. This stopped, though, after Eric's case. As a result of the case "law enforcement now had more insight into the illicit fossil trade." In fact, when Mongolia began repatriating fossils, private collectors (including Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio) had to give up pieces of their collections. For real, I looked it up after finishing the book. The Dinosaur Artist is more than awesome dinosaur stories and facts; it's about scientific discoveries, international law, history, and that sense of curiosity that lives inside us all. When I first saw this book, I knew I had to read it, and I absolutely loved it. Thank you to the publisher for an electronic ARC of this book via NetGalley.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Did you have a dinosaur phase? If you’ve 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, commer Did you have a dinosaur phase? If you’ve 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, commercial traders, and all the affected sovereign governments around the world. You’re probably aware that fossil hunting exists, but have you ever considered who these long-dead creatures actually *belong* to? Who has rights to something that is, for all intents and purposes, a piece of the earth? Are they natural resources (fairly well-regulated)? Or cultural resources (less well-regulated)? Can falling inside a man-made border constrain an object that is from a time before humans even existed? I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs for most of my life, but I’d never considered the complex social web that their remains exist in, and how all the threads in that web affect what we the public see, know, and learn about them. Williams does an excellent job of drawing out each of those threads for clarity, then weaving them back together in a compelling narrative that ensures you’ll never react the same way to an image of a T. Rex. While this book was *pretty specifically* up my alley, it’s also a broadly fascinating read. If you’re looking for some non-fiction that goes down easy and contains shades of Hollywood, crime, international intrigue, investigative reporting, and a cast of colorful real-life characters, check this sucker out. Thanks to @netgalley and @hachettebooks for the dARC!

  11. 5 out of 5

    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: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals..., 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 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: https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals..., 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 house to pay for, and a family to feed..... Anyway, there were enough clunkers for this geologist-reader --"Cretaceous-bearing strata" comes to mind -- to put me off, so I'll probably call it good, and my rating is based on reading about a third of the book. But do read her New Yorker article, which was offline for awhile (I think), so now is a good time. And my wife thoroughly enjoyed the book, so YMMV! For more paleontology-savvy readers, I highly recommend Peter Larson's "Rex Appeal": https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... Amazing memoir by a great field paleontologist and T. rex hunter, who ended up in jail for politically-motivated, trumped-up federal charges of paperwork violations....

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    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 Presiden 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 President of Mongolia was advised that the skeleton was being sold and that he needed to claim it for Mongolia. An attorney was hired to get the auction stopped until the ownership could be resolved.  Who owns the fossils, can they be sold to private citizens, should they stay in the country of origin? Endlessly fascinating. This book was extremely well researched and written. I received this book from Net Galley. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy . All thoughts and opinions are my own.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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 paleon 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 paleontology. While some people may be distracted by the many narrative side-paths that Williams treads, ultimately she does a good job of weaving them all together. What she doesn't do justice to, or at least not as thoroughly, is the Mongolian side of the story. While we get endless descriptions of the material ambitions of the Prokopis (and to be fair, these make them, at least to this reader, even more venal and unsympathetic) and their home and all the nice things that the own and want to own, down to their bank balances on various key days in the story, all we see of Mongolian home life is a vague sketch of a few men with drinking problems, and a couple of politicians who come across as only being interested in the return of the fossils for the sake of their own political gain. This imbalance in presentation makes the Americans inherently more understandable, and to some readers, no doubt, more sympathetic. This, in turn, seems to weigh the story in favor of the thieves. It is also troubling that Williams presents the events as somewhat legally ambiguous. In trying to adhere to the both-sides-of-the-story ethic of American journalism, and highlighting the claims of American fossil collectors that the Mongolian laws are "confusing" or "unclear," she misses the fact that these things have never been confusing or unclear on the Mongolian legal side. I know this, personally, because I arrived in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2000, and was told during my training that the patrimony laws of Mongolia forbade the export of fossils (and antiques, defined as anything greater than 40 years old). We were told not to buy these items, regardless of whether someone offered us something really cool or not. Like any self-respecting American who has been a six-year-old, I liked dinosaurs and had memorized all their names and even had a stuffed T. rex that was a favorite toy when I was little. But I was hardly a paleontologist or even an avid fossil fan. And yet I was fully aware of Roy Chapman Andrews and the way his expeditions had precipitated Mongolian laws against export of fossils. I find it close to incredible that people as immersed in fossils as Prokopi, Moore, and the rest of the "commercial paleontologists" in this story would be ignorant of the fact that what they were doing was illegal. Their actions certainly suggested that they were aware of it. The straight fact is, they didn't care that they were robbing an impoverished nation of its patrimony, because they wanted to make money. This is the story of the entire history of Western imperialism, and in sidestepping this perspective, Williams misses the opportunity to get at a much deeper set of issues in addition to presenting documentation of the fossil trade and a single legal case. Mongolia is a difficult place to work - I've remained involved in research projects there for 18 years now, and the challenges are numerous. I speak the language fluently, but if you don't, it can be very difficult to access local perspectives, and even harder to understand the culture and the dynamics that one is exposed to. No doubt Williams ran into these challenges during her time in Mongolia, and clearly the Prokopis gave her an astonishing degree of access to their lives, so the pictures that she paints of these two sets of actors are bound to be different. But there are consequences to that imbalance, and hyping the American sense of entitlement while suggesting that the Mongolians only wanted their fossil back for political reasons does everyone a disservice. Nevertheless, this book is worth the read. It's well written and compelling, with a cast of characters who are intriguing. I just hope that American readers will keep in mind that there is another set of characters whose stories are glossed over - perhaps unavoidably, but in a way that does skew the narrative.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cedricsmom

    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 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 decided to prosecute to get it back. Prokopy is a sympathetic character because of his humility, boyishness, and true love for fossils, but the book does not stop there. We get a 360-degree tour of the fossil biz from science, politics, law, archaeology, history, with a few celebrities thrown into the mix. Turns out fossil selling is a very lucrative business. If you think museums of natural history are the only places where you can find dinosaur skeletons, think again. Rich celebrities and wealthy business people like to buy fossils on the open and black markets. Who knew. Because the book lacked illustrations, save for one table on Deep Time at the end, I read this with a few dino reference books at my side, namely Prehistoric History by DK Books (a huge, splashy door stop from a few years back), Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, and another title written by a sure model for Indiana Jones. Every fact and photo check that I did came up true. I wasn't checking her work, but like I said, the book's lack of photos and illustrations is a defect considering the subject matter. Sometimes the kitchen sink gets in the way of the story. While I'm sure that many will appreciate the detail, I found it a bit much with all the lists and backgrounds. Many serve as context for the characters and that helps, but I could've done without some of the lists, histories, and itineraries. The Notes section is almost 100 pages and reads like an additional book. The Epilogue gives the book closure, telling us what happened to the wide cast of characters throughout the story. There's an index, bibliography, and a very lengthy Acknowledgments. Highly recommended for adventure lovers, fossil hunters, anyone new to the fields of paleontology and archaeology, and armchair tomb raiders. Rumor has it the upcoming paperback will have illustrations.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Devlin

    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 that’s 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, am 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 that’s 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, amateur and professional scientists, rock hounds and mercenaries is quite tangled. But if you pull back to 35,000 feet, who the fuck really cares. Oh I could make some pretty scholastic arguments about the importance of science and a deeper understanding of the Mesozoic, but really who fucking cares. I mean I liked the book, I think the topics neat but really? Put simply has anything paleontologist discovered in the last quarter century mattered to anyone outside that tiny community? Please enlighten me. And don’t bring in Ross from Friends. What this book actually reveals is the power of capitalism. Only capitalism could throw off so much luxury that huge digs could be funded, million dollar auctions bidded , and natural museums supported. Btw author cites Eugenics as something Hitler picks up and the Right gloms on to. False. The progressive left is the father of Eugenics and Hitler did pick up that, oh and Hitler is a socialist, so that’s all the Left

  16. 4 out of 5

    John

    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 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 all seem secondary to a silent golem, sleepwalking through everything he does. His dispassion and lack of enthusiastic curiosity is contrasted by the high intensity of Roy Chapman Andrews or the quiet English enthusiasm of Mary Anning - acting as a subtle dig at the Prokopis "lavish" lifestyle. Overall, Williams writes a big, epic tale around a small court case that changed the nature of Dinosaur auctions and returned some national treasures to the developing Mongolia. In structuring the book this way, Williams indicts everyone involved - very often with some real purple prose.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    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 trader 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 traders at the sprawling Tucson Show and widened his contacts until he was making trips to Mongolia and working on handshake trust with intermediaries there and in England. Private buyers, including movie stars, were willing to pay millions for skeletons or just skulls of enormous T-Rex relatives from the Gobi. An extremely talented preparator in the painstaking work of cleaning and mounting fossil skeletons, Eric is an artist with the knack for making the structures holding these heavy objects not only stable, but the whole thing lifelike and beautiful. A major upscale auction with his most recent import and reconstruction was ready to go, when the legal gears jammed. Mongolia prohibits the corruption of private export of its fossil heritage, and the U.S. was ready to enforce the law. A very engaging look at a character, the characters around him, some of the historic greats in the field of paleontology and the tension between academic and commercial collection.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Eloise Newman

    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 layman’s 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 didn’t seem fit to house the fossils, the translations few and pitiful. I have been searching for books on Mongolian fo 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 layman’s 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 didn’t seem fit to house the fossils, the translations few and pitiful. I have been searching for books on Mongolian fossils and so glad to come across this gem. My greatest sadness with this book is the fact there is a lack of pictures to illustrate Williams’ point. If you like a good mystery, liked “The Orchid Thief”, give this a read!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Juan Carlos

    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 Mon 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 Mongolia, the best of it, it is areal story!! No names were changed so everything is told exactly as it happened!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    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 te 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 tells a fascinating tale, with humor and empathy.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nick Cincotta

    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 Norrell’s desk, it belonged to Barnum Brown, now that is just awesome. I couldn’t 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 a 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 Norrell’s desk, it belonged to Barnum Brown, now that is just awesome. I couldn’t 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 the gateway to science

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    An enjoyable audiobook. I'll admit I fell asleep a few times, but I found the story interesting.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Toni Olson

    What a fantastic and intriguing book! One of the best reads for fall 2018!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barryblumberg

    Interesting story, well drawn characters with a lots of geopolitics.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    There’s 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 person’s 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 bet There’s 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 person’s 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 better with a little less.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brynn

    Lags sliiightly when it goes in-depth into the history of Mongolian politics but overall a fascinating and wildly entertaining read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    M.

    What an interesting story!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erin Duerr

    Great read for anyone interested in the science of paleontology, the business of fossils or is just looking for an entertaining narrative true story with a bit of intrigue.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Fantastic!! Super dense, took me more than 6 weeks to chew my way through. I’ve now requested a few other Dinosaur books to read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    D

    I wanted to like this book. I loved reading about Mary Anning. I hate-loved reading about the remorseless Prokopis and their victim mentality--"Eric stole dinosaurs from Mongolia knowing it was illegal only because he was trying to support our family (lifestyle of multiple houses and cars)!" The effect the prosecution of Eric Prokopi in the US had on the politics of Mongolia was both interesting and disheartening. It seems like Williams did a lot of research and wanted to include everything she l I wanted to like this book. I loved reading about Mary Anning. I hate-loved reading about the remorseless Prokopis and their victim mentality--"Eric stole dinosaurs from Mongolia knowing it was illegal only because he was trying to support our family (lifestyle of multiple houses and cars)!" The effect the prosecution of Eric Prokopi in the US had on the politics of Mongolia was both interesting and disheartening. It seems like Williams did a lot of research and wanted to include everything she learned, which made the book hard to get through most of the time. Half the book could have been edited out or if she wanted to include everything, then split into a couple books. She would reference someone from an earlier chapter but I wouldn't remember who they were because during those 50 pages in between, I read about seven other people and their entire life stories, including a description of every single picture they took on a certain trip and how their parents met and a breakdown of every single thing they did one day they went out to the desert.

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