Othniel Charles Marsh died in the last year of the nineteenth century. The names coined by Marsh for his dinosaur discoveries are better known than his own: Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops, to name just a few. Before death intervened, Marsh had planned a series of richly illustrated monographs. The illustrations were prepared, but the monographs on the Sauropoda and Stegosauria were never written.
In 1966, the beautiful but all-but-forgotten illustrations were unveiled by John Ostrom and John McIntosh in the book Marsh's Dinosaurs. Now this wonderful book is again available, with a new introduction by Peter Dodson, and an updated history including the exploration and research that have taken place during the thirty-plus years since the book was originally published.
Marsh's Dinosaurs is not your garden variety dinosaur book. There are no color plates or discussions of the latest controversies. This book focuses on the fossilized bones of dinosaurs that lived near the end of the Jurassic period in North America, and which were discovered in spectacular abundance at a place called Como Bluff, which paleontologist Robert Bakker calls "the Real Jurassic Park."
If you want to see what Stegosaurus plates look like, or the vertebrae of Apatosaurus, the bones are here, with detail that few photographs can capture. Here, too, is the large camarasaurid cranium that Marsh selected as the skull for Brontosaurus. Except for trace fossils such as trackways and a few skin impressions, our notions of what the dinosaurs looked like and how they lived are built on bones, and the bones are here to behold. For anyone whose interest in dinosaurs has gone beyond the popular summary, and who wants to go further than plaster and resin restorations in museum displays, this book is for you.
The illustrations are preceded by a history of the discovery and working of this paleontological gold mine. This section of the book includes watercolors by Arthur Lakes, whose sketches, diaries, and correspondence with Professor Marsh provide an eyewitness account of the thrill of discovery at Como Bluff, as well as the hardships involved, and the inevitable conflicts of the colorful personalities.
For those with an interest in art, the charming watercolors of Lakes provide an interesting counterpoint to the magnificent lithographs. Here we have the human history of discovering dinosaurs, over one hundred years ago, and the history of the dinosaurs themselves, over one hundred million years ago.
I heartily recommend this book to the dinosaur enthusiast. But for those of us with a passion for the denizens of the Jurassic Morrison Formation, this book is a necessity!