New Yorker magazine staff writer Paige Williams delves into the surprisingly perilous world of fossil collectors in this riveting true tale
In 2012, a New York auction catalogue boasted an unusual offering: ‘a superb Tyrannosaurus skeleton’. In fact, Lot 49135 consisted of a nearly complete T. bataar — a close cousin to the more-famous T. rex — that had been unearthed in Mongolia. At 2.4 metres high and 7.3 metres long, the specimen was spectacular, and the winning bid was over $1 million.
Eric Prokopi, a 38-year-old Floridian, had brought this extraordinary skeleton to market. A one-time swimmer who’d spent his teenage years diving for shark teeth, Prokopi's singular obsession with fossils fuelled a thriving business, hunting for, preparing, and selling specimens to clients ranging from natural-history museums to avid private collectors like Leonardo DiCaprio.
But had Prokopi gone too far this time? As the T. bataar went to auction, a network of paleontologists alerted the government of Mongolia to the eye-catching lot. An international custody battle ensued, with Prokopi watching as his own world unravelled.
The Dinosaur Artist is a stunning work of narrative journalism about humans' relationship with natural history, and about a seemingly intractable conflict between science and commerce. A story that stretches from Florida's Land O' Lakes to the Gobi Desert, The Dinosaur Artist illuminates the history of fossil collecting — a murky, sometimes risky business, populated by eccentrics and obsessives, where the lines between poacher and hunter, collector and smuggler, and enthusiast and opportunist can easily blur.
‘What a terrific book. A fascinating story of adventure and obsession, and a captivating journey into the world of fossils and fossil peddlers, scientists, museums, international politics, the history of life, and the nature of human nature. Williams writes beautifully about it all. If you love dinosaurs, paleontology, or just a rollicking good tale, you will love this book. I couldn't put it down.’
Jennifer Ackerman, New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds
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‘A cracking combination of true crime, dinosaurs, and top-notch investigative journalism. Paige Williams' riveting tale exposes the dodgy dealings of the black market trade in dinosaurs, an international underworld that that few people have probably heard of, and which breaks my heart as a paleontologist.’
Steve Brusatte, bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs