New Yorker writer Paige Williams "does for fossils what Susan Orlean did for orchids" (Book Riot) in this "tremendous" (David Grann) true tale 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.
About the Author
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.
"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 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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Paige Williams is
as deft as the fossil hunters and skeleton builders she writes about. As they
exhume treasures secreted in earthen repositories and assemble brilliant mounts
from a scattering of dinosaur bones, she mines exquisite details from a quarry
of source materials and pieces together a compelling story out of a spillage of
human experience. The result is a work of art."—Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf
"I am in awe
of Paige Williams. Every line of The Dinosaur Artist--from her deeply informed discussions
of paleontology and the law to her often withering and hilarious
descriptions--was a pleasure to read. Few nonfiction writers are capable of
mining their characters with such a winning blend of sympathy, wonder, and
rigor."—Liza Mundy, New York Times bestselling author of Michelle and Code Girls
"Vivid storytelling.... A triumphant book."—Publishers Weekly
"Williams' illuminating chronicle questions who
has a right to nature."—Booklist
"An astonishing tangle of financial gain, national identity, scientific
fervour and, above all, the obsessional need to possess pieces of the past."—Nature
"Williams's writing is often
concise and evocative.... [The Dinosaur Artist] is gripping and
cinematic."—Wall Street Journal
Dinosaur Artist] pretty much does for fossils what Susan Orlean did for
"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 writes elegantly on the importance of fossils to science."—NPR