The Dinosaur Artist

Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth's Ultimate Trophy
Narrated by: Ellen Archer
Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
4 out of 5 stars (96 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New Yorker magazine staff writer Paige Williams explores the riveting and perilous world of fossil collectors in this "tremendous" (David Grann) true tale of one Florida man's attempt to sell a dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia - "a triumphant book" (Publishers Weekly) that is "steeped in natural history, human nature, commerce, crime, science, and politics" (Rebecca Skloot).

In 2012, a New York auction catalog 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 one million dollars.

Eric Prokopi, a 38-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 audiobook, Paige Williams has given listeners an irresistible story that spans continents, cultures, and millennia as she examines the question of who, ultimately, owns the past.

©2018 Paige Williams (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

"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, number-one New York Times best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon)

"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 best-selling author of I Contain Multitudes)

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

More filler than Joan Rivers’ face.

I love stories like this. But, like other reviewers, I cannot believe the amount of unnecessary information hanging like barnacles off the main story line. I feel like I know the deep personal history of every human to ever enter or leave Mongolia. I bet I could pass a Central Asian History masters class final. Did we really need to know what was on the t-shirts of the men scouting dinosaurs or what the children were wearing when someone was released from prison? (Spoiler: no.)

I hate to sound so negative, but I slogged through ALL of the extraneous garbage I wanted to give up on by telling myself that it was all going to be woven together in the end. Nope. Ugh.

And the narrator sounds like a robo-dialler. :(

3 people found this helpful

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There's a great story in here, but it's covered up

This book could easily be half as long and twice as good.
There's just way too much background information included.

The narrator doesn't help matters. It sounds like one big long run-on sentence.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Worth Reading

Prior to listening to this book, I knew nothing about paleontology. Now I know quite a bit. It is an interesting science with an interesting history. The story of the “dinosaur smuggling “ was another interesting story. Take the time to read or listen to the book. It is worth reading.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Another Made Mediocre by So-So narration.

Narration: Somewhat annoying. Narrator has only one rhythm, one melody, which grows tiring after half-an hour or so. Also, the timber sounds a bit tinny and shrewish. Production would be much, much better with different narrator.

Content: I don't think so much time should be devoted to explaining the backgrounds of all the players in this story, nor should the initial themes be repeated ad nauseam. Badly in need of editing.

Too bad, because the subject matter is compelling and important.

Recommendation: Not recommended.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Who knew the politics of bones could be so interesting

Williams makes you fall in love with the Central characters. She keeps the story moving at a good pace while steering you through layers of multi government bureaucracies. I highly recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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Less would have been much more!

OMG There is way too much detail about everyone she talks about!!! It’s gets incredibly dull. And the breathless excitement of the narrator combined with many pronunciation errors made it really irritating. I only finished because I decided to use it to help me go to sleep and it didn’t matter to me if I missed fifteen minutes here or there.

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Who Owns Prehistory?

This tale of fossil hunters surprised me with the breadth of its concerns, including dinosaur bones, the fossil trade, Mongolian politics and the history of natural history museums. The story focuses on Erick Prokopi, a Floridian whose fascination with hunting fossils began in his childhood, along with a giant dinosaur skeleton he hoped to sell.

Paige Williams focuses on the legal issues surrounding rights in fossils, which are prized by private collectors (including Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio) and which are also part of the heritage of countries like Mongolia. The principal characters are Americans and Mongolians, although every country appears to have an interest in dinosaur bones. One interesting digression offered the history of Mary Anning, an English woman of poor background who became expert in collecting fossils from the English coast.

The book seemed almost picaresque, following Prokopi from adventure to adventure. But overall it gave a nice overview of its subject matter.

The narrator had a somewhat sharp voice, which was useful in holding the reader’s attention during some of the longer disquisitions on Mongolian history.

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disappointing

Would love to see this fascinating story tackled by a better writer.

As it is, the writers style just got in the way

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Unearthing scandal among fossils from the Gobi

Loved the book and characters. Narrator's efforts to pitch Mongolian and Southern US accents were not very believable but you can't say she didn't try to play up the drama. Highly recommended for dramatic documentary imagination of a true story of tension between science, culture and fossilized life in the Gobi.

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Story Jumps Around Too Much

Interesting story. But, the reading was painful to listen to at times. There were awkward pauses like the speaker had forgotten a word or how to pronounce it. The story of the Prokopi’s was fascinating. However, the author jumped around in timelines so much that it was impossible to follow what was going on when backstories were expressed. It reached a point where I no longer cared about the history behind the story. This is sad since I’m guessing the history behind making fossil trade a black market is probably fascinating. But by jumping from one time point to another, I had no clue what she was talking about or why. This may be easier to read. But overall, I was disappointed in the story telling both in written and oral form.