Hands-on Palaeontology: a practical manual


By Stephen K. Donovan

I wish I had this book when I was starting out collecting fossils. It has everything and more you need to take your hobby (and, who know, later a career in palaeontology) to a better, and more advance and fulfilling place. While I will never take the record-keeping and note taking to the levels gently suggested in this very readable book, perhaps if I had read this when I was a teenager, perhaps I would have done.

In fact, there are many books on palaeontology, which are aimed at amateurs, undergraduates and those dreaming of pursuing an academic career in the science. The most common of these are the many and often excellent guides to fossil identification, from the general, basic texts on fossil variety and morphology) to the specific (field guides to specific groups, locations or horizons), many of which are reviewed on this website (see, for example, the excellent Palaeontologist Association books and those published by the Geologist Association). If you read any of my reviews, you will see that I consider many of these to be eminently readable and comprehensive.

However, this is not such a book, because, as Stephen Donovan points out, there is more to palaeontology than putting a name on a specimen, no matter how important that may be. Rather, as the title makes clear, this is a ‘practical manual’, covering the sundry features of the science.

It is organised into 53 chapters, with each concentrating on one aspect of palaeontology as viewed with the geologist’s trained eye – with plenty of the author’s experience thrown in to illustrate the points being made. And each chapter is only a few pages long, so, while the book can be read from cover-to-cover, it can also be dipped into when an answer to a specific question is needed or, as I did, read in bite-size chunks sitting on the London Underground. Therefore, the aim of the book is to help developing palaeontologists move their skills on to the next level, but also remind those who are a bit longer in the tooth (like me) what they ought to be doing and how to do it.

As such, the manual is aimed at beginners, both amateur and undergraduate. However, more experienced palaeontologists and geologists (regardless of whether they are professionals in these sciences) are also encouraged to use the book, as much as a reference as a reader. In this way, those interesting in fossils can dip into the chapters that contain relevant tips, hints and comments, to enable them to improve their understanding of their current interest.

Professor Stephen Donovan has been publishing on such diverse subjects as palaeontology, Caribbean geology, the history of science, ichnology (trace fossils) and academic publishing for over 35 years. He loves researching the fossil record and writing about it.

Hands-on Palaeontology: a practical manual, by Stephen K. Donovan, Dunedin Academic Press (2021), 216 pages (paperback), ISBN: 9781780460970.

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