Dinosaur Train spacer Bambiraptor and Albertosaurus spacer fossil

In The News

Below is a listing of reviews and news coverage relating to Scott Sampson’s book, Dinosaur Odyssey, and to the PBS series Dinosaur Train, for which Scott serves as the science advisor and on-air host.

Dinosaur Odyssey: In The News

SVT, Sweden, April 20, 2010

Dinosaur Odyssey: Book Reviews

Truthdig (Richard Ellis)

Dinosaurs? DINOSAURS? The very word bespeaks obsolescence, inefficiency, failure to adapt to changing conditions. Isn’t Truthdig supposed to be about current events? What are dinosaurs doing in a Truthdig book review? First, “Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life” is a wonderful book, crammed with information that will surprise you, especially if you thought you knew something about the thunder lizards. Because dinosaurs ruled the Earth for more than a hundred million years, compared with the measly 10,000 that Mr. Homo sapiens has been mucking up the planet, they represent one of the great success stories in evolutionary history, the diametrical opposite of obsolescence, inefficiency and failure to adapt. Moreover, unlike Mr. sapiens and his cohorts, dinosaurs left the planet pretty much as they found it; the Cretaceous asteroid impact wasn’t their doing.

Surprise No. 2: Dinosaurs never really left. They’re still here. Perhaps the most startling news item in Scott D. Sampson’s brilliant book is this: “Today, most experts agree that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs and thus are, in a very real sense, dinosaurs themselves.” Oh no, you say, birds have feathers. Of course they do. And so did dinosaurs. Remember Archaeopteryx, the 150-million-year-old German fossil that was long considered the first bird? It’s now been shown that the raven-sized Archaeopteryx wasn’t a bird at all, but a dinosaur. Birds have porous, light, fast-growing bones, but when researchers examined tiny chips of Archaeopteryx fossils they found dense, slow-growing bones, typical of dinosaurs. (In addition to changing Archaeopteryx into a dinosaur, they opined that it probably couldn’t fly very well either.)

OK, an anomaly: an early dinosaur with feathers. Big deal. Ready for another shocker? Many dinosaurs had feathers. As Sampson put it: “To date, more than a dozen different kinds of feathered nonavian dinosaurs have been found in China, and that number increases with every passing year. One of the most exciting examples is Microraptor gui, a diminutive dromaeosaur therapod bearing feathers not only on its forelimbs but on its hindlimbs as well.” In “Unearthing Dragons,” Mark Norell, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, wrote, “The feathered animals from Liaoning are some of the most unusual that anyone could ever imagine. Caudipteryx has a long, striped tail plume, a tiny head, and four small teeth at the end of its beak. Beipiaosaurus has goofy enormous forelimbs, nasty claws and strange ‘feathers’ sprouting from the backs of its arms.” <em>Tyrannosaurus rex</em> is scary enough (think “Jurassic Park”) without imagining a flying version, but juveniles might have had a coat of down-like proto-feathers that served as insulation. The feathered remains of an early tyrannosaurid, which lived some 130 million years ago, were unearthed in Liaoning, a region rich in fossils and the only place in the world that has yielded dinosaur fossils with feathers.

Everybody knows about the giant asteroid that slammed into the Earth 65 million years ago in the vicinity of what is now the Yucatan Peninsula and created such havoc—explosions, tsunamis, worldwide fires, acid rain, darkened skies, a halt in photosynthesis—that the dinosaurs were wiped out. Right? Well, not exactly. The evidence for the Chicxulub event is not in dispute, but the elimination of “the dinosaurs” didn’t quite happen that way. Over their 170-million-year tenure, many dinosaur species—in fact, most dinosaur species—had gone extinct long before the Cretaceous asteroid impact (the “K-T Event”), but as we can see by looking at our bird feeders, birds (which are really dinosaurs) made it through. As Sampson wrote, “With on the order of ten thousand living representative species [of birds] you could even make the argument that dinosaurs remain a thriving success story to the present day.” So dinosaurs still roam the Earth. So what?

Sampson asks that very question in his epilogue, which he calls “Whispers from the Grave,” and answers (in italics, no less): “Dinosaurs may well be crucial to the continued existence of humanity and much of the planet’s biodiversity.” THE CONTINUED EXISTENCE OF HUMANITY? Holy velociraptor! If indeed it was an asteroid that caused all that damage to the planet 65 million years ago, maybe we ought to be thinking about what could happen to the human race in the event of a nuclear war:

“The study of the K-T ‘impact winter’ scenario—that is, the global fallout resulting from a major asteroid strike—helped define the ‘nuclear winter’ scenario—the global catastrophe that could follow an all-out exchange of thermonuclear weapons. The latter idea, presented to the U.S. Congress by such well-known scientists as Carl Sagan, has been a profound deterrent for those who might contemplate such military madness.”

Nuclear deterrence is a pretty strong justification for the study of dinosaurs, but there is, suggests Sampson, an even more persuasive reason: science. Paleontology is the science of fossil forms; creatures (and plants) that lived on Earth thousands or millions of years ago, but are now extinct. These fossils are the undisputable evidence of evolution.

Nowadays, there are those who do not believe Darwin, do not believe in fossils, do not believe in evolution. In the hill country of Kentucky (near the Cincinnati airport), you can visit the Creation Museum, whose web site advertises “a state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum [that] brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers. The serpent coils cunningly in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Majestic murals, great masterpieces brimming with pulsating colors and details, provide a backdrop for many of the settings.” The museum, which is said to have cost $27 million, is privately funded through donations to the ministry Answers in Genesis (AiG) and opened its doors to the public on May 28, 2007. Since its opening, the museum has counted more than 600,000 visitors. [One visitor among a group of paleontologists that visited the facility labeled it the “Confusion Museum.”]

The exhibits reject universal common descent, along with most other central tenets of evolution, and assert that the Earth and all of its life-forms were created 6,000 years ago over a six-day period. In particular, exhibits promote the claim that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted, and that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark. The Creation Museum insists that people rode around on dinosaurs (like Fred Flintstone) and that fossils were formed when certain animals were drowned in Noah’s flood. There are as many arguments for and against creationism as there are angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but denying the prehistoric existence of dinosaurs is an insult to science and to education. Sampson writes:

“For several reasons, dinosaurs offer a superb vehicle for teaching science through a combined eco-evolutionary approach. First, unlike many topics in science, dinosaurs inspire rather than intimidate our imaginations. Second, as primary exemplars of prehistoric Earth, dinosaurs serve as able, even ideal guides to an exploration of the deep past. Third, the living descendants of dinosaurs, birds are much beloved and keenly observed, forging a robust link between past and present.”

You shouldn’t need a “reason” to read a terrific book like “Dinosaur Odyssey,” but if you need one, look out the window. City dwellers can see dinosaurs every day, although they might be no more exotic than pigeons, starlings or sparrows. (Non-urbanites might have a much greater range of possible dinosaur sightings.) Even the humble sparrow can brighten your life when you realize that its ancestry can be traced back for millions of years. Come to think of it, so can yours.

Times Higher Education (UK)

Sampson gives an up-to-date overview of dinosaurs and their world and situates these fascinating animals in a broad ecological and evolutionary context, while detailing the major discoveries of the past 25 years, the most active period in the history of dinosaur palaeontology. (Jeff Hecht)

Reading dinosaur books is often like visiting the zoo; you see fascinating animals, but you don't learn much about them nor their lives in their natural environment. In Dinosaur Odyssey, palaeontologist Scott Sampson brings dinosaurs back to life as living, breathing parts of their long-vanished ecosystems. It's a fresh and welcome approach: dinosaurs never stood alone in isolated cages - they were vital parts of terrestrial ecosystems.

Sampson has a sure hand in describing biology and ecology. He explains the virtues of warm- and cold-blooded metabolisms, and looks at how an intermediate metabolism called "mesothermy" may explain how some dinosaurs became gigantic. His chapter on the dawn of the dinosaurs draws on the latest research on how they emerged from a family of closely related reptiles. The book may be short on full-colour portraits, but it is rich in food for thought.

Palaeoblog (Michael Ryan)

The author has taken the traditional approach of most dinosaur books that discusses each group chapter by chapter and turned it on its ear. In Dinosaur Odyssey Sampson is more concerned with what dinosaurs can teach us about the evolution of the Earth and our place in the intricate web of life than about any specific specimen of T. rex or Triceratops. Scott weaves an engaging story of the history of Earth and takes entire chapters to explain topics like the energy cycle and the soil formation, all the time relating these seemingly mundane topics back to why they are intimately involved with dinosaurs as living animals. And that’s where this book excels – making the dinosaurs and their world come alive while at the same time making the reader understand that the same processes that shaped the dinosaurs and their ecology also shapes ours today. Although the dinosaur’s extinction (except birds!) was caused by outside forces, the one staring us squarely in the eye is self-imposed. In many ways this book will, I suspect, act as a jumping off point for Scott’s long term commitment surrounding education and sustainability.

Scott touches on the major advances in dinosaur palaeobiology and uses these to discuss at length his (developed with Jim Farlow) concept of ‘mesothermy’ to explain the success of the dinosaurs, especially the gigantic sauropods. In this ‘Goldilocks’ hypothesis dinosaur were not quite endotherms and not quite ectotherms, but something in between that that gave them the benefits of each type of physiology while minimizing their disadvantages. As a hypothesis this is fine but I still want to read the scientific paper that presents this concept in detail!

The real strength of this book is Scott’s ease at weaving sometimes dry or complicated topics into an engaging narrative that brings dinosaurs alive, and the book often works best when Scott is relating events that he was directly involved in. I’m hoping that he (or some member of the crew) will write a book about the work and adventures of collecting dinosaurs in Madagascar.

The book is sparsely illustrated with an eight page colour insert, and a colour cover & evocative pencil illustrations by Michael Skrepnick that introduce each chapter.

This book is written for someone with at least a high school understanding of biology and is, in a sense, an updated version of Bob Bakker’s Dinosaur Heresies for a new generation of palaeo-enthusiasts and palaeontologists to be. For the kids and their parents who know Scott as the host of the highly successful “Dinosaur Train”, here’s hoping that he writes a version of this book for the little ones.

Finally, I have to divulge that Scott is an old friend of mine and at one time our research interests strongly overlapped. Those of you who know Scott for his charismatic speaking skills will be pleased to know that his passion also comes through in his writing.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.

Library Journal (Michael Strutin): STARRED REVIEW

This fine volume brings the Mesozoic era and dinosaurs to life. Not only does paleontologist Sampson (Utah Museum of Natural History; geology, Univ. of Utah) explain the dynamics between sauropods and the tyrannosaurs that preyed on them, he also reveals the environments that these huge and hugely successful species inhabited. From geologic events and climate change to the botanical base of the food chain upward, Sampson allows the reader to see—and understand—whole Mesozoic ecosystems. Why did dinosaurs grow so large, and how did the herbivores reach gigantic proportions eating conifers and horsetails? To answer such questions, he presents his colleagues' debates, highlighting the vitality of this field. Although his tone is engagingly conversational, Sampson does not shy from close explanations of, say, dinosaur metabolism. In addition to detailing how life worked in the Mesozoic era, Sampson brings eloquence to the grand pageant of evolution and voices concern about how we must take care of our own world. VERDICT This book draws scientifically accurate pictures in a style that is accessible to researchers and general readers alike.

Publishers Weekly
If one day you saw a Torvosaurus looking through your second-story window, would it be able to live on the vegetation it found? Dinosaurs, paleontologist Sampson stresses throughout this book, were part of a complex ecosystem, and to understand these beasts, we must also understand the plants and other animals they shared it with, along with factors such as the position of the continents and climate change. Sampson's sprawling study is one of the most comprehensive surveys of dinosaurs and their worlds to date. The author discusses in detail plant life during different dinosaur eras (e.g., there were no flowering plants) and even what insects would have scurried beneath them. Who knew that fossilized fecal matter hid so many clues to a dinosaur's dinner millions of years ago? Sampson addresses the ever popular subject of dinosaur extinctions and develops a comprehensive theory encompassing various dinosaur generations. Highly recommended for all dinosaur fans, although the writing may prove a bit too scholarly for younger buffs.

Foreword Magazine (Whitney Hallberg)
Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life by Scott D. Sampson puts the lives of dinosaurs into the context of history and their own environment. He includes food chains of the periods in which they lived, charts that show which creatures would have encountered each other over the 160 million years they ruled the earth, and diagrams that show their relative size. In the book’s introduction, Sampson discusses the paradigm shift that occurred in the 1960s, when paleontologists realized that dinosaurs were not “awkward giants lumbering across ancient landscapes, with brains barely capable of carrying them from day to day.” During this time period, fossils were discovered that made scientists realize dinosaurs were more like birds than lizards. Skeletons were rearranged to reflect this evidence; T-rex is no-longer Godzilla-like with a dragging tail, instead he is depicted with lean muscular legs and an elevated tail that balances his heavy skull and upper body. The author then helps readers understand the daily life of dinosaurs and their planetmates. He refers to paleontology as a kind of time travel, and this book immerses readers in the world of the dinosaurs.

Smithsonian Magazine/ (Brian Switek)

Given the number of books that are published about dinosaurs, there is bound to be some overlap among them. Most titles fall into a handful of categories: the “menagerie” approach, where a collection of various dinosaurs is prefaced by a few short summaries of paleontology; the “life in the field” perspective, in which the scientific content is tied to the author’s experiences, and the “Age of Reptiles” summaries, which focus on which dinosaurs lived when.

But paleontologist Scott Sampson’s new book, Dinosaur Odyssey, cannot be pigeonholed into these categories. Relatively late in the book, Sampson recounts how paleontologist Jack Horner, harried by reporters asking whether a meteor had wiped out the dinosaurs, replied that he didn’t give a whit how dinosaurs died, he wanted to know how dinosaurs lived. Sampson uses this as his guiding principle throughout Dinosaur Odyssey, and gives readers a rare peek at what dinosaurs might have been like as living, breathing creatures.
Sampson starts things off not by diving into a discussion of bleeding-edge research, but by gradually setting the scene. Using dinosaurs as examples, Sampson discusses evolution, ecology, geology, biogeography and other concepts that provide essential background for the latter half of the book. In different hands, this material could easily be the stuff of dry, textbook-type recitation, but Sampson’s use of dinosaurs as examples and his injection of personal anecdotes into the storyline keep the text flowing nicely.

The second half of the book builds upon these topics by looking at looking at how dinosaurs interacted with one another and their world. Did the origin of flowering plants influence dinosaur evolution? Were the fancy horns on dinosaurs such as Triceratops for fighting or for display? Were dinosaurs really “warm-blooded”? How could so many different kinds of large predatory dinosaurs have lived at the same time? In answering these and other questions, Sampson refers to specific localities and studies, allowing the reader to get a better understanding of what particular places were like during the age of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs might seem almost like mythical creatures now, but Sampson shows that they were real animals that were affected by phenomena that are still shaping our world. His “dinosaur odyssey” offers a new way of linking the past to the present.


Lab Out Loud, Brian Bartel and Dave Basler (hosts), April 12, 2010

WILL Radio, Urbana, IL; David Inge; February 11, 2010

Athens Banner-Herald, Athens, GA; Erin Rossiter; February 28, 2010

Around Noon, WCPN (NPR affiliate; Dee Perry), Cleveland, January 28th, 2010

The Plain Dealer (John Mangels), Cleveland, January 28th, 2010

KCPW (NPR affiliate; Jeff Robinson), Salt Lake City, November 12, 2009 (Jed Boal), Salt Lake City, November 12, 2009

The Daily Utah Chronicle (Mandy Loader), Salt Lake City, November 16, 2009

Deseret News (James Thalman), Salt Lake City, November 26, 2009

KSFR (NPR affiliate), The Journey Home Show (Diego Mulligan), Santa Fe, November 20th, 2009

KVMR (NPR affiliate), Nevada City (Eric Tome), December 7, 2009

Dinosaur Research

Below is a sample of the hundreds of articles pertaining to the announcement of two new horned dinosaurs from Utah. For the original article, go to:
Also check out the linked YouTube video:

The Guardian (Ian Sample), London, UK, Sept. 22, 2010

National Science Foundation, Washington, DC, Sept. 22, 2010

Dinosaur Tracking (; Brian Switek), Sept. 22, 2010

The Christian Science Monitor (Charles Choi), Sept. 23, 2010

New Scientist (; Wendy Zukerman), Sept. 23, 2010 (Jeffrey Kluger), Sept. 24, 2010,8599,2021394,00.html

Dino find may change thinking on migration
Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, November 20, 2009

Dinosaur Train

Buddy & Dr. Scott at the White House Easter Egg Roll, Washington, DC, April 5, 2010

Palaeoblog (Michael Ryan), January 29, 2010

MuseoBlogger (Jennifer Chevreax), February 3, 2010

New York Daily News, Sept. 3, 2009

San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 3, 2009

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 4, 2009

KSL-TV, Channel 4, Salt Lake City, Sept. 4, 2009

ABC-4 Television, Salt Lake City, Sept. 5, 2009

Deseret News, Sept. 6, 2009,5143,705328270,00.html

The Seattle Times, Sept. 6, 2009

The Fresno Bee, Sept. 7, 2009

Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 7, 2009

TV America, Sept. 7, 2009

Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 7, 2009

KCPW Radio, Sept. 9, 2009

ABC-7 View on the Bay, San Francisco, Sept. 10, 2009

Southtown Star, Ilinois, September 27, 2009,092709ludwig.article

KTLA Morning News, October 14, 2009