The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: All you ever wanted to know about tyrannosaurs (plus maybe a little more)

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The Tyrannosaur Chronicles by David HoneThe Tyrannosaur Chronicles by David Hone

I’ve been on a bit of a dinosaur run lately. Not because I suddenly grew interested in the great creatures; that interest began at around age two or three and hasn’t waned a bit. No, it’s just simply that for whatever reason, a good number of new books have been released recently, including this review’s subject, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles (2016) by David Hone

As the title implies, Hone is working within a tightly constrained focus here rather than dealing with dinosaurs in general. His focus on tyrannosaurs (the group, not simply the singular Tyrannosaurus Rex) is laser sharp, allowing him to delve into what we think we know about the creature in great and all-encompassing detail. Some, particularly casual fans of dinosaurs, may very well find the book too detailed — it really does drill down into the nitty gritty — but if the granular details on bones, for instance, gets a little much for you, it’s easy enough to skim through to the next paragraph that zooms back out to a more accommodating level.

I confess there were a few such moments for me in the biology section, but they were few and far between and mostly I found it all fascinating, both in the details of the creatures themselves and in our ability to determine said details. Or at least to our best level of confidence; Hone is always careful to remind us that we are working with very little data here most times, as well as reminding us of the difficulty of peering back in time 65-100 million years ago.

Structurally, Hone organizes The Tyrannosaur Chronicles into the following sections:

  • Introduction: a broad look at the Tyrannosaur group, its evolution, and its context in time
  • Morphology: a very specific and methodical look at what we know or speculate about its biology
  • Ecology: a look at how the creature lived and reproduced in its particular world/environment
  • The Future: what may be coming down the pipeline as we dig more and employ more technological tools, both hardware and software

The introduction offers up a basic overview of how biologists classify living beings (those who recall the old kingdom, phylum, family, etc. days may be surprised to learn scientists have moved on from that method) and then delves into the grouping and relationships involving tyrannosaurs. It all serves well to give a sense of the fullness of the group — Hone argues for 29 species of tyrannosaurs — and its evolution through the time of the dinosaurs, especially for those who think there is only one kind, the beloved T-Rex, star of film and literature and the dreams (or perhaps nightmares) of young children. The biology section is incredibly complete and as mentioned, if anyone feels just a little overwhelmed by detail it will probably occur here as Hone works his way inch by inch through the body, literally from head to toe and seemingly not skipping any part, whether inside or outside the body.

The segment on ecology is equally methodical and complete, with a creature by creature look, for instance, at just which contemporaneous creatures might serve as prey for tyrannosaurs (both adult and juvenile) and why. Here, he sadly punctures (pun perhaps intended) the favorite set movie scene of T-Rex taking on a triceratops, explaining quite logically that taking on a multi-ton opponent with horns that can impale you was probably not the most evolutionarily intelligent choice in terms of survival of the individual or the species.

All of the information in The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is as up to date as one could hope for, and Hone even notes in several places how he has had to rewrite that particularly section based on new finds that occurred in the process of writing or publishing the book. Everything is clearly and logically and (I’ll use this word again because it is so apt for this work) methodically presented. If details may get to be a bit much in spots, it’s not because of any confusion or vagueness or flaw in the writing; it’s just that most of us are fine with a certain level of knowledge and are equally OK without knowing the finer points of the tibiae or metatarsals. Though, that said, how these changed to allow for greater speed is actually quite interesting.

In fact, a list of what I found “quite interesting” or fascinating would go on for some time. A few such points would be the difficulty in determining the sex of a dinosaur (hint — don’t buy those names some specimens, such as “Sue,” are given) or whether a particular fossil is a new species or simply a juvenile or even just an outlier individual, the method of reproduction, the role and prominence of feathers, the debate over warm blooded versus cold blooded (especially the very clear way Hone explains the antiquated nature of those terms and how they have been replaced by more accurate and nuanced descriptors), the be-wary-of-those-size-estimates explanation, the image of dinosaurs frolicking in snow, debates over predation versus scavenging and parenting, and, well, as I said, the list would go on for some time.

In short, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is a thorough, detailed, highly up to date and readable master class in all things tyrannosaur, while also offering more than its share of information on dinosaurs in general, though not in the same degree of detail. Always careful in his claims and precise in his language, Hone does an excellent job introducing us to new knowledge and correcting what has become outdated or simply accepted as true thanks to pop culture. Highly recommended.

Publication date: April 21, 2016. In the mid-nineteenth century, many dinosaur fossils were found in the United States, especially during the 1870s and 1880s “Bone Wars.” Paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh discovered dozens of skeletons, but in 1905, fossil hunter Barnum Brown named the first tyrannosaur known to science–Tyrannosaurus rexTyrannosaurus was an impressive beast; it topped five tons, was more than thirty-five feet (twelve meters) long, and had the largest head and most powerful bite of any land animal, ever. Tyrannosaurs started small, just a couple of yards long, and over the course of 100 million years, evolved into giant meat-slicing bone crushers. As of 2015, there were nearly 30 described species of tyrannosaur, but during the last decade at least one new species has been identified and named every year, greatly improving what we know about how they lived, fed, bred, and died. THE TYRANNOSAUR CHRONICLES tracks the rise of these dinosaurs, and presents the latest research into their biology, showing off more than just their impressive statistics–tyrannosaurs had feathers, and fought and even ate one another. Indeed, David Hone tells the evolutionary story of the group through their anatomy, ecology, and behavior, exploring how they came to be the dominant terrestrial predators of the Mesozoic–and more recently, one of the great icons of biology.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who’s been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the “Notable Essays” section of Best American Essays. His children’s work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he’s not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. Does he speculate on whether they cheeped rather than roared? :)

    This sounds like a great book, and while I probably wouldn’t read it cover to cover all at once, I’d love to have it on my reference shelf.

  2. It sounds like what could have been a very dry book is, instead, compelling and fascinating. Added to my TBR!

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