Dinosaur Detectives (S/F) / (S/F-S) / (JN)

Dinosaur Detectives is a nonfiction book written by American vertebrate paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, coauthored by Michael Backes. It was published in the early 1990s and quickly became a nationwide bestseller in the United States. The book describes not only current paleontological theories of the time, such as causes of Mesozoic extinction events and the evolution of birds, but also the lives of paleontologists who perform this research. Along with bringing Dr. Grant into the spotlight as a well-known and publicly respected scientist, it is credited with gaining the attention of InGen CEO Dr. John Hammond.


This 300-page, fully-illustrated work of scientific nonfiction opens with a special thanks to Dr. Ellie Sattler, who was Grant’s colleague and romantic partner at the time of publication. On the back cover, it displays a positive review by Columbia University’s Martin Kline, which reads: “Whether you like dinosaurs or not, this book will open your eyes to the truly fascinating world of paleontology. A refreshingly bright overview of these so called dinosaur detectives…Loads of good stuff!

The book was published through Perineum Press with Quinn & Ryan Publishers. Since no illustrator is credited, it is likely that the illustrations were prepared by Dr. Grant and/or Mr. Backes themselves. A table of contents is present at the beginning of the book, immediately after the special dedication.


Dinosaur Detectives begins with a foreword by noted actor Lord Richard Attenborough (at the time of publication he held the title of Sir). His quote was given in London, England in 1991, and recounts his experience visiting Dr. Grant’s dig site in the Montana badlands where fragmentary fossil remains of dinosaur eggshells were discovered.

The foreword is followed by an introduction. In the replica prop of the book, this includes out-of-character information about the history of the prop, such as where it was used in the film Jurassic Park and the clarification that the original prop only included the content seen in the replica. Most of the book’s pages were blank in the original prop and have been converted, in the replica, into notebook pages for the owner to use.

After the introduction, there is a page where the book’s owner can sign their name, aiding its return to the owner in the event that the book is misplaced.

Chapter 1: Badland Discoveries

This introductory chapter describes paleontological discoveries made in the North American badlands region, and how they have shaped our understanding of prehistoric life.

Chapter 2: Prehistoric Birds of Prey

During the decade before the book was published, discoveries of maniraptoran (or “raptor”) dinosaurs had challenged the traditional notion that dinosaurs were sluggish reptilian creatures. Instead, animals such as Deinonychus showed that these animals were instead highly active and probably warm-blooded. Grant has habitually compared “raptor” dinosaurs to modern-day raptors, the birds of prey, due to their similarities. He also forwarded the idea that birds are not just living relatives of these dinosaurs, but actually members of the same evolutionary lineage.

Chapter 3: Our Friend the Herbivore

This chapter describes the habits and biology of herbivorous dinosaurs such as sauropods and ceratopsians. Triceratops, one of North America’s most famous fossils, is Dr. Grant’s favorite dinosaur. Some of Grant’s ideas regarding herbivorous dinosaurs included theories with direct evidence, such as the use of gastroliths in dinosaurs that could not chew, and more speculative hypotheses such as sauropods becoming extinct due to ecosystems in the Americas being unable to support stable populations of such large animals. Most modern paleontologists believe that sauropods declined due to the environment changing, rather than the animals themselves evolving past the point their ecosystem could support. However, newer discoveries have revealed that sauropods did actually survive until the end of the Cretaceous period, even though they were not as numerous as they had been during the Jurassic and early Cretaceous.

Chapter 4: Nesting in Colonies

Dinosaur reproductive behavior was beginning to be understood well in the 1990s with good fossils being found of dinosaur eggs and nests. This began with the discovery of the hadrosaur Maiasaura in 1978, which came with an entire fossilized nesting ground. Maiasaura demonstrated that some dinosaurs nested in enormous groups.

Chapter 5: Herding Patterns

Like the discoveries about dinosaur reproduction, new information was coming out about social behavior at the time the book was being written. Scientists had found fossilized trackways that suggested some species traveled in herds, migrating together between feeding and breeding grounds to gain protection in numbers. Grant hypothesized that predatory species might also have been social, using superior numbers to bring down prey. He believed that more intelligent predators such as Velociraptor were likely to have been social. While Grant did discover evidence of social behavior in raptors, this was not uncovered until Dinosaur Detectives had already been published.

Chapter 6: Visual Acuity in Dinosaur Breeds

One of Grant’s more controversial hypotheses regards visual acuity in dinosaurs. He suggested that some predatory species, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, could only distinguish moving objects; to them, a stationary object against a stationary background would blend in, as though it was a part of a flat backdrop. While this theory had some traction during the 1980s and 1990s, it is not considered likely by other paleontologists today. Proposed evolutionary reasons for a trait like this could include distinguishing a prey item among foliage by movement, singling out the prey by noticing that it was not in line with the movement of surrounding plants or other natural objects. However, most paleontologists agree that the binocular vision of Tyrannosaurus was actually excellent, and that it relied largely on sense of smell to find prey.

Chapter 7: Cognitive Problem-Solving in Breeds

Another of Grant’s less supported theories regards cognition in predators such as Velociraptor (a genus in which Grant lumped other maniraptorans such as Deinonychus, referencing Greg Paul’s taxonomy). He believed that their social behavior, which was only hypothesized at the time the book was written, indicated a much higher level of intellectual complexity than paleontologists traditionally assumed. As of the early 1990s, Grant believed that raptors could be as intelligent as their modern-day relatives the birds; some extant birds such as parrots and ravens are very clever and capable of solving problems. In the years following this book’s publication, Grant’s beliefs about raptor intelligence became much more extreme, suggesting instead that these dinosaurs were more intelligent than any animal in evolutionary history except for possibly humans. Other paleontologists generally do not agree.

Chapter 8: Parental Instincts

Along with the nesting sites discovered in the late 1970s demonstrating that some dinosaurs nested communally, many paleontologists suggested that these animals would have cared for their offspring. There was clear evidence for some species, but Grant believed parental care would be widespread. Virtually all modern birds provide for their young, and so do the dinosaurs’ cousins the crocodilians. Because parental care is present in both surviving groups of archosaurs, it is reasonable to believe that dinosaurs cared for their young too. Some paleontologists disagreed with Grant, such as the more conservative Dr. Robert Burke, who believed that tyrannosaurs in particular would abandon their young at the earliest opportunity. Most modern paleontologists now agree that parental care was widespread in dinosaurs.

Chapter 9: Territorial Boundaries

This chapter describes Grant’s hypotheses on how dinosaurs defined and protected their territories, and what kinds of interactions might have resulted.

Chapter 10: Field Chronology

Paleontologists use a variety of methods to determine the chronology of Earth’s past, and these methods have become more accurate and precise with time. Here, Grant details these methods and the ways in which paleontologial science is growing ever better at determining when events in prehistory took place.

Chapter 11: Notes and References

Clarifications, explanations, and sources cited. Grant used his own research to write much of this book, with Backes probably contributing as well, but no scientist works alone. All research builds upon that which was done before, and a good scientist will always utilize contemporary studies to inform their own. Grant kept up to date on various scientific discoveries that might be informative to him. Any scientific papers that he referenced would be listed here so that readers could find the same sources Grant used. In addition, he included notes to explain his descriptions that could not be fit in the text of the book itself.


An alphabetized list of scientific terms used in the book and where they can be found.

Book market

Dr. Grant and Michael Backes published this book in the early 1990s, probably 1991 or 1992, and it was sold in bookstores and other retailers across the United States. Within months it was a bestseller. In the present day, it is available for original purchase only online; however, it can probably be found secondhand in used bookstores and libraries. There is also a book-on-tape, or audiobook, version of Dinosaur Detectives.

Many people have purchased this book, especially dinosaur enthusiasts such as Tim Murphy and Eric Kirby; the audiobook version was bought by less well-read types such as Owen Grady. In order to have qualified as a bestseller, Dinosaur Detectives would have sold anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 copies per week when it was originally published.

Isla Sorna

At least one staff member on Site B owned a copy of Dinosaur Detectives. The book was kept in the Embryonics Administration building for all InGen staff on Isla Sorna to access. It was abandoned when the island was evacuated, but was still in usable quality as of 2001. That summer, the book was partly damaged by a juvenile Iguanodon. It spent some time in the possession of Eric Kirby, a fan of Alan Grant’s, before ultimately being lost on Isla Sorna. Exposure to the elements has probably destroyed this copy.

Behind the Scenes

Although this book was not published in real life, a screen-accurate facsimile is produced by Replica Books using the prop from the film as reference. It is registered with ISBN as 1981389458, 9781981389452. The reconstruction is based on a version of the prop which, while used in the film, was not used for publicity; the only difference is an added blurb on the back cover describing Dr. Grant’s career.

The design of the cover appears to be at least partly inspired by Dr. Jack Horner‘s book, Digging Dinosaurs, which contains a forward by iconic naturalist Sir David Attenborough, brother to Lord Richard Attenborough.