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The Dinosaur Artist

Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy

Paige Williams

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Little, Brown & Company
11 September 2018
In this 2018 New York Times Notable Book, Paige Williams does for fossils what Susan Orlean did for orchids (Book Riot) in her account of one Florida man's attempt to sell a dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia--a story steeped in natural history, human nature, commerce, crime, science, and politics (Rebecca Skloot). 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 most famous animal that ever lived. The fossils now on display in a Manhattan event space had been unearthed in Mongolia, more than 6,000 miles away. At eight-feet high and 24 feet long, the specimen was spectacular, and when the gavel sounded the winning bid was over $1 million.

Eric Prokopi, a thirty-eight-year-old Floridian, was the man who had brought this extraordinary skeleton to market. A onetime swimmer who spent his teenage years diving for shark teeth, Prokopi's singular obsession with fossils fueled a thriving business hunting, preparing, and selling specimens, to clients ranging from natural history museums to avid private collectors like actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

But there was a problem. This time, facing financial strain, had Prokopi gone too far? As the T. bataar went to auction, a network of paleontologists alerted the government of Mongolia to the eye-catching lot. As an international custody battle ensued, Prokopi watched as his own world unraveled.

In the tradition of The Orchid Thief, The Dinosaur Artist is a stunning work of narrative journalism about humans' relationship with natural history and 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, enthusiast and opportunist, can easily blur.

In her first book, Paige Williams has given readers an irresistible story that spans continents, cultures, and millennia as she examines the question of who, ultimately, owns the past.
By:   Paige Williams
Imprint:   Little, Brown & Company
Country of Publication:   United States
ISBN:   9780316382533
ISBN 10:   0316382531
Pages:   320
Publication Date:   11 September 2018
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Paige Williams is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a Mississippi native. A National Magazine Award winner for feature writing, she has had her journalism anthologized in various volumes of the Best American series, including The Best American Magazine Writing and The Best American Crime Writing. She is the Laventhol/Newsday Visiting Professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and has taught at schools including the University of Mississippi, New York University, the Missouri School of Journalism, and, at M.I.T., in the Knight Science Journalism program. Williams has been a fellow of The MacDowell Colony and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. At The New Yorker, she has written about suburban politics in Detroit, the death penalty in Alabama, paleoanthropology in South Africa, and the theft of cultural palimony from the Tlingit peoples of Alaska.

Reviews for The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy

Williams tells the fascinating story of the Tarbosaurus skeleton and of how its seller, Eric Prokopi, became the most infamous commercial fossil trader in the world.... Painstakingly detailed reporting. --Los Angeles Review of Books Compelling .... absorbing.... Williams effectively tells the story of people living out their passions. --Outside Like a massive trove of fossils, each skeleton with dozens of stories to tell, this phenomenal book is at once natural history and a history of paleontology. --Politics & Prose What began for [Williams] as the tale of an unusual court case involving a rogue fossil hunter unspools in this book into a wide-ranging examination of the ways that commercialism, ambition, politics and science collide... As a reader, being given entry by Williams into this underworld, privy to the secret knowledge of a black market, is a thrill.... The strange underground world Prokopi inhabits inevitably brings us in contact with some serious oddballs, each of whom is introduced by Williams with the economy and evocative precision of a haiku.... the book's most memorable character may be Mongolia itself, a rugged physical and political terrain that defies easy generalization. --New York Times The Dinosaur Artist is about a poached fossil and the folks--paleontologists and commercial fossil hunters--who try to protect and possess natural history. [Paige Williams'] layering of science upon story is so crafted that the book itself could pass as a geological act. --The Paris Review Williams writes elegantly on the importance of fossils to science. --NPR A tale so expansive that Nicolas Cage, Preet Bharara, and a colossal carnivorous dinosaur that lived some 70 million years ago are all entangled in its web. That alone should pique your curiosity, but it barely scratches the surface of the paleontological true crime story that unfolds in The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams. --Vice Williams's writing is often concise and evocative.... [The Dinosaur Artist] is gripping and cinematic. --Wall Street Journal An astonishing tangle of financial gain, national identity, scientific fervour and, above all, the obsessional need to possess pieces of the past. --Nature Vivid storytelling.... A triumphant book. --Publishers Weekly The Dinosaur Artist is a triumph. With peerless prose and sharp-eyed reporting, Paige Williams weaves a story that, even as it spans continents and transcends geological epochs, is deeply anchored in the passion and hubris of a rich cast of characters. Captivating, funny, and profound, it is easily one of the strongest works of non-fiction in years. --Ed Yong, staff writer, The Atlantic; New York Times bestselling author of I Contain Multitudes The Dinosaur Artist is a breathtaking feat of writing and reporting: a strange, irresistible, and beautifully written story steeped in natural history, human nature, commerce, crime, science, and politics. It's at once laugh-out-loud funny and deeply sobering. I was blown away by the depth of its characters, its vivid details, and Paige Williams' incredible command of the facts. Bottom line: this is an extraordinary debut by one of the best nonfiction writers we've got. --Rebecca Skloot, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Paige Williams is that rare reporter who burrows into a subject until all of its dimensions, all of its darkened corners and secret chambers, are illuminated. With The Dinosaur Artist, she has done more than reveal a gripping true crime story; she has cast light on everything from obsessive fossil hunters to how the earth evolved. This is a tremendous book. --David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon The Dinosaur Artist is a tale that has everything: passion, science, politics, intrigue, and, of course, dinosaurs. Paige Williams is a wonderful storyteller. --Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction


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