The Dinosaur Heresies

by Robert Bakker, PhD
reviewed by E.B.Klassen

I'm reading a really interesting book at the moment called The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker, PhD. I gotta tell ya, this is the book I've been waiting for. Bakker takes on all the orthodoxies we automatically accept about dinosaurs (that they are jumped up lizards, cold-blooded, what they ate) and stands them on their head. Many of these "heresies" are becoming more familiar now, but this is the place they started. The book was published in 1986, read by Michael Crichton (who based, yes, Jurassic Park on it), and Bakker became the dino expert on the Spielberg film. (I was listening to him this morning on CBC local programming, and he was talking about the JP raptors. Seems that the largest that had been found were about the size of a large wolf -- say, four feet high. Spielberg wanted something more impressive for on-screen. He said make them twice as big. The artists were going nuts -- they HATE making inaccurate dinosaurs. Bakker tried to make noises about how it would be okay, but they knew he was just blowing smoke. But they did it. Then a colleague faxed him a drawing of a new find. Yes, a raptor claw twice the size of any previously found. BTW, Bakker LIKES the dinos in JP).

The nice thing about The Dinosaur Heresies is that Bakker provides his reasoning for his thoughts on the dinos. In fairly clean, accessible prose, he discusses lizards and their niches and how this might or might not apply to dinos, moas and how their digestive systems may have mirrored that of Brontosaurus. It helps that Bakker is also a decent artist and can (and does) profusely illustrate his ideas. There is, for example, a clean and informative drawing of a crane, a stegosaur, and an African elephant, showing leverage points and bracing that lead him to the conclusion that if an elephant can stand on it's rear legs, then a stegosaur most certainly could; much better ligament bracing down it's spine, and twice the leverage between spine and hip.

Bakker is also smart enough to admit that his theories are not new. Throughout the book he gives credit to papers published in the last century that predate his thinking. This isn't about hogging credit, this is about getting it right.

Anyway, I'm having a great time with this book, and I recommend y'all grab a copy from the library. Most all the new thinking on dinos in one accessibly-written volume. Way cool.

Originally published by Under the Ozone Hole Number Thirteen – March, 1996

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