Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science

Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science

by Deborah Cadbury
     
 

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In 1812, Mary Anning, a poor girl from Lyme Regis, discovered the skeleton of a monster beneath the cliffs of Dorset. Her remarkable find set in motion a quest to understand the strange, buried world thought to have existed before Noah's Flood. And with that quest came another -- to take top honors in the rapidly expanding new field of dinosaur scholarship.

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Overview

In 1812, Mary Anning, a poor girl from Lyme Regis, discovered the skeleton of a monster beneath the cliffs of Dorset. Her remarkable find set in motion a quest to understand the strange, buried world thought to have existed before Noah's Flood. And with that quest came another -- to take top honors in the rapidly expanding new field of dinosaur scholarship.

Terrible Lizard re-creates the bitter feud between two nineteenth-century English naturalists -- Gideon Mantell, a poor country doctor, and Richard Owen, an eminent and well-connected anatomist -- which drove one of them to despair and ruin and secured for the other unrivaled international acclaim. Their struggle brought to light the age of dinosaurs and created a new science that would forever change man's perception of his place in the universe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this comprehensive narrative, Cadbury (Altering Eden) tells the story of the first fossilists, whose discoveries challenged the religious convictions of their day as they struggled with the implications of new science. It begins with Mary Anning, who unearthed the skeleton of a monstrous creature beneath the cliffs of Dorset in 1812; Anning would earn the respect of her male peers, but not entry into their exclusive societies. Men like the eccentric Oxford don William Buckland sought to reconcile the biblical account of Noah's flood with the fossil record, while the brilliant Georges Cuvier posited a theory of "catastrophes" to explain the progression of life while still holding true to scripture. The ambitious Richard Owen, who coined the term dinosaur and claimed credit for the discovery of dinosaurs, used his prestige to discount early evolutionary theories in favor of his own backward-looking notions about a biblical past. Unlike his rival Gideon Mantell, whose studies in geology and paleontology laid the foundation for the new science, Owen rarely set foot in a quarry or dig, but he did, according to Cadbury, mine his share of fellow scientists' works for ideas he then claimed as his own. Cadbury makes much of the rivalry between the two men, and to good effect. Her focus on Owen's injustices against Mantell, Owen's corresponding rise to fame, and Mantell's ultimately tragic end lends momentum to her narrative, culminating in the advent of the evolutionary idea with Darwin's On the Origin of Species. This is a must-read book for dinosaur enthusiasts, and for anyone who has ever wondered about the source of our present-day assumptions and unanswered questions about human origins. (June 6) Forecast: In its inevitable sales duel with Christopher McGowan's Dragon Seekers (see review p. 231), Cadbury's more three-dimensional account is sure to win hands down. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing account of the pioneer 19th-century British geologists and fossil collectors. Our hero is Gideon Mantell, of a noble family long fallen on hard times. The son of a shoemaker, Mantell was smitten with fossils at an early age. Without resources but recognized as a prodigy, he was apprenticed to a surgeon and became a doctor in London. For the rest of his life he would balance his unenthusiastic practice of medicine with a passionate devotion to fossils. Enter one Mary Anning, who supported her family by gathering fossil "trinkets" from the dangerous coastal cliffs of Dorset to sell to tourists. Her keen eye led to her recognition as a prime "fossilist" among geologists and collectors, including Mantell. One of her major finds was the fossil remains of a giant sea lizard; little by little, other huge reptilian bones were unearthed by Mary and others, but not without controversy. Mantell waited years before the eminent Baron Cuvier in Paris agreed that he had found the remains of a huge herbivorous land reptile (reversing his earlier opinion that the fossil was mammalian). But the plot thickened with the appearance of the wicked Richard Owen, who rose to pinnacles of power within the Royal Society and the Geological Society, became a social lion, and was an intimate of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. At every step of the way he did his best to discredit and ridicule Mantell, at the same time claiming some of Mantell's fossils as his own. His comeuppance (and the recognition of Mantell's true worth) was the result of both his egregious behavior and his being on the wrong (creationist) side of the evolutionary debate as the scientific tide turned to Darwinian theory. "He liedfor God and for malice," an Oxford don declared. "A bad case." A scholarly account infused with a rare drama and suspense: read it not only for the science, but to learn what happened to all these wonderful characters.
From the Publisher
"This is a wonderful book, evoking a time when science required remarkable people to conduct it." (The Observer)

". . . No other narrative I know illustrates the human element in scientific discovery quite so dramatically."(Evening Standard)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805070873
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/01/1902
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 8.36(h) x 1.06(d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Cadbury is an award-winning TV science producer for the BBC. She is also the author of The Feminization of Nature. She lives in London.

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