While listening to the Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs podcast recently, I came to Natee’s interview with illustrator & paleoartist Greer Stothers. I have enjoyed their paleoart for some time, and I was delighted to learn about their new book, Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life. I knew I had to see it for myself, and Greer was kind enough to hook me up with a review copy!
Published by Quarto Publishing (who also released another book I reviewed, When the Whales Walked), Greer’s Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life takes a detailed look both at what we know and what we can reasonably speculate on with regards to the coloration of prehistoric life. In this way the book very much runs in the vein of the true intent of All Yesterdays, which similarly had a much more grounded approach than its unique visuals implied to some inattentive readers.
“Unique visuals” certainly applies to Kaleidoscope as well. While I have seen some vaguely similar art styles online, I can think of no other majorly published illustrators who have produced paleoart like this. Among books I have personally reviewed, Greer is perhaps matched only by Ray Troll in terms of funky style, though they have a far different look and feel from each other. Their chief similarity lies in artwork that, while still paleonerd-pleasingly-accurate, nevertheless deviate wildly from the strictly “naturalistic” norm that most published paleoart has traditionally strived for.
So I certainly have a lot of praise for the content, but what can readers find within it, precisely? A good portion of the book contains the sort of information one might expect from the more basic version of a book like this (though the artwork and even the formatting do much to elevate it beyond its peers). Most pages deal either with the direct, fossilized evidence for color patterns (such as preserved feather melanosomes, or frozen mummies), or else informed speculation based on similar animals or presumed environmental pressures.
Things take an interesting turn towards the end of the book though, when Greer shows us artwork from prehistoric humans, which gives us insight into the appearance of animals for which we have no direct evidence for their external soft tissue. It feels at once both novel and banal; previously, little attention had been paid to the colors of animal figures in cave & rock art, but when you think about it, why wouldn’t we at least try to glean some useful information from prehistoric eyewitnesses (taken with a grain of salt for artistic liberties, of course)? I hadn’t heard of anyone using this resource until Darren Naish published a pair of articles at Tetrapod Zoology calling attention to consistent color patterns on illustrations of Wooly Rhinoceros and the so-called “Irish Elk“. Greer further explores what info we can glean from prehistoric artwork from around the world. The Columbian illustrations on the “Artisanal Americas” prove how up-to-date their information is, as these were only discovered and published on extremely recently.
Greer Stothers has delivered us an absolute masterpiece with Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life. I still remember reading dinosaur books as a child which mentioned color as one of the things we would probably never know about dinosaurs. It is incredible to think how that one-time truism has been turned on its head, and this book is the most vibrant celebration of that revolution that I have yet had the privilege to read. While the detail of the information is at roughly a grade school level, much of it is not widely known, and I dare say will open up a whole new world to most readers, who will hopefully be inspired to read the more detailed works on how we know what we know. I can’t wait to see more from Greer. I discovered a “Prehistoric Kingdom Puzzle” they worked on that depicts Ice Age megafauna, which I think I might just have to purchase to satisfy my cravings! I think the format of “Kaleidoscope” might also work for a layman’s paleobotany book. As I mentioned in my review of Plants! Explorer, my ideal paleobotany book has yet to be written, and the one page of this book that deals with prehistoric plants feels like a tantalizing glimpse at what a possible version of that might look like. That’s all discussion for another time, however. As it stands, I am immensely impressed with Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life, and I consider it a must-have for paleo-nerds of all ages. It delivers a unique perspective on prehistoric life that more than earns it my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!