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Book review: 'My Beloved Brontosaurus' examines and enlightens without boredom (+audio excerpt)

Published: Saturday, May 11 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

"MY BELOVED BRONTOSAURUS: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science and Our Favorite Dinosaurs," by Brian Switek, Scientific American, $26, 222 pages (nf)

Cleverly written, well researched and sprinkled with lots of tidbits of information gleaned from dinosaur sites that include Utah's wealth of material, Brian Switek's "My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science and Our Favorite Dinosaurs" is a jewel.

Even if you have no clue what separates a Diplodocus, Allosaurus, Brachiosaurus or Ceratosaurus from a true but outdated Brontosaurus, and even if you really don't care, Switek lays this out so it's entertaining as he educates.

How did dinosaurs come together on "hot Jurassic nights" and how did little dino-babies survive?

Why did some get so very large?

How did they fight? Did they bash heads, lock horns?

Were dinosaurs social or solitary?

Did they really roar? Could they hear, smell or see well?

In the end, what brought them down after 230 million years? "We're never going to know what happened," he writes, suggesting an asteroid, global climate change, caterpillar destruction of the dinosaurs' food supply, may have played a part.

Switek manages to take an immense amount of information — dinosaur trivia — if you will, and weave it into a readable story.

He's been hooked since he was very young, and his enthusiasm is catching.

He starts with a discussion about the Brontosaurus at Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah, noting that it's just plain silly to paint a polka-dot bikini on Dinah, the town mascot.

He takes some issue with dinosaur displays where the bones are mismatched or too quickly labeled, pointing out that what we know about dinosaurs keeps changing.

His observations are pithy. "Sauropoda had a habit of losing their heads between death and burial."

He pays a healthy respect to "Sue the Tyrannosaurus" and her battle with the tiny parasites that probably killed her.

Switek takes apart some common misconceptions: The Velociraptor was actually more the size of a small turkey and therefore, not very threatening, many dinosaurs probably were very colorful and had feathers, even the T-Rex.

Switek's research takes him to all kinds of museums and quarries. He is voracious in his quest for dino facts. It's language is clean and there is minimal reference to violence. He does reference dinosaurs mating.

If you are mildly or deeply interested in the dinosaur worlds, this is a keeper.

Even if you're not, it's a good read with pictures.

Audio excerpt of 'My Beloved Brontosaurus'

This is an audio excerpt of "My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science and Our Favorite Dinosaurs" as read by the author Brian Switek.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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