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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The world of fossil hunters stands at the shadowy juncture of science and commerce. The Dinosaur Artist is the story of how one man’s obsession with the trade took him to extraordinary financial heights—before international law brought him down. New Yorker writer Paige Williams follows dealer Eric Prokopi’s attempt to sell rare saurian remains at auction, unearthing a remarkable collection of self-described adventurers and fossil-obsessed celebrities. The Dinosaur Hunter raises the question of who gets to own pieces of natural history. If you loved Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, this eccentric, often-humorous true story is for you.
New Yorker staff writer Williams uses the story of fossil enthusiast Eric Prokopi to illuminate the murky world of modern fossil hunting in this fascinating account. The story begins with Eric's discovery, around age five, of a fossilized shark tooth off the coast of Florida, which sparked a lifelong fascination with prehistoric life. Eric's passion led him to take a cataloguing position with the Florida Museum of Natural History, and later to teach himself how to prepare fossils for exhibition. Williams carries this tale through Eric's starting a business to sell his acquisitions, to his prosecution in 2012 by the federal government for smuggling into the U.S. and auctioning off Tarbosaurus bones deemed the rightful property of Mongolia, where they were found. Williams provides just the right amount of context, from the long-standing tensions between paleontologists and commercial fossil dealers, to Mongolia's hardscrabble history since the days of Genghis Khan. To this foundation of solid research, she adds a vivid storytelling style. The combination results in a triumphant book that will appeal to a wide audience.
Great research....light story
The author clearly did an incredible amount of research, but sadly there really wasn’t much behind the story to justify it. The whole thing was pretty linear, not really a surprise, with a lot of filler wrapped around it. Nice detail about the fossil history in Mongolia...but not much of a story.