During my visit to the Heard Museum, I wanted to give a little extra support to the museum, and so made sure to visit their gift shop afterwords. I happened to buy 199 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals there, which I’d had my eye on for a while. The book’s illustrations by Fabiano Fiorin are its main draw. It credits Hannah Watson as the author, though there’s hardly any writing in the book to speak of. Darren Naish of Tetrapod Zoology contributes as the book’s expert advisor, however, so I figured it worth checking out. (Naish also advised on Ultimate Dinopedia and 199 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals.)
199 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals delivers pretty much exactly on its title, neither more nor less. It features a wide array of prehistoric animals, very loosely organized by vague similarities to each other, such as creatures that live “In a Swamp” or “In the Air”. I appreciate the wide range in different creatures that appear in the book, many of them quite unique for a children’s book.
I rather liked the artwork in this book, though it’s obvious to a moderately trained eye that Naish got involved only partway into the project, as the illustrations make a noticeable jump in quality after a couple pages. As so often seems to be the case, the theropods and sauropods in the beginning of the book look a little misshapen, but most of the rest look great. When working with Naish’s expertise, Fiorin strikes a perfect balance between caricature and accurate representation of his subjects.
While the diverse selection and enjoyable artwork may or may not be worth the purchase, depending on your tastes, that’s about where my praise ends. As mentioned before, there’s hardly any text in the book, pretty much exclusively consisting of page titles and animal names. No introductions to or descriptions of any of the creatures, just a picture and a name. It’s so bare bones I have to wonder if maybe I’m just missing the point of the book, but even if nothing else was added, I think it could still perhaps be improved.
While organizing the creatures by vague ecological similarities is an interesting idea, without any further explanation, the use of these comparisons is limited. There’s a big difference between, say, what a Pakicetus and an Opabinia are doing in the water, to say nothing of their separation in time. Organizing the creatures by a tighter definition of their ecological similarities (or even just grouping them either by time periods or their true family relationships) I feel might have increased this book’s usefulness, even without adding any extra explanatory text.
Ultimately I’m more or less satisfied with the book for the interesting depictions of some of its subjects, and kids with a desire to learn as many names of prehistoric animals as possible may really like this book. My own boys do enjoy reading the book, as I think they have a bit of a Pokemon-like collector’s mentality towards books like this. Personally though, I ultimately would not recommend this book to anyone seeking to actually learn much of anything about the prehistoric world, and point them to something a little more detailed instead.