Cover image for The dinosaur artist : obsession, betrayal, and the quest for Earth's ultimate trophy
Title:
The dinosaur artist : obsession, betrayal, and the quest for Earth's ultimate trophy
Author:
Williams, Paige, author.
ISBN:
9780316382533
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
xxii, 410 pages ; 24 cm
Contents:
"Superb tyrannosaurus skeleton" -- Land O' Lakes -- Garcia, king of the Ice Age -- Dive -- Deal -- Tucson -- Big game -- Middleman in Japan -- Hollywood headhunters -- The warrior and the explorer -- The flaming cliffs -- Market conditions -- "Go Gobi" -- The ghost of Mary Anning -- The last dinosaur -- The President's predicament -- United States of America v. One tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton -- Raid! -- Verdict -- Tarbomania -- Petersburg low -- The dinosaur bus.
Abstract:
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. 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?
Personal Subject:

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Corning - Southeast Steuben County Library 1 560.75 WIL New NonFiction Book
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Montour Falls Memorial Library 1 560.75 WIL New NonFiction Book
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Summary

Summary

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.


Author Notes

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.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Williams tells the unbelievably complex story of how United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, an unprecedented decision, affected museums, science, law, and collecting. At the heart of the case is Eric Prokopi, a driven, humble paleontology enthusiast whose life's passion is finding, prepping, and selling fossils. To monetize the travel, equipment, and storage required of a commercial fossil hunter, Eric and his wife flip properties and juggle debt, seeking buried treasure that can land them in the black. Soon, Eric is negotiating with the shady Tuvshin for T. bataar, Mongolia's T. rex cousin. Along the road to Eric's sentence as a dinosaur smuggler, Williams detours into decades of scientific expeditions and Mongolia's complicated political history. Although the dinosaur is undoubtedly in the details, as it were, the biographies of minor characters occasionally distract from the larger narrative. Especially fascinating, however, are the intertwined roles of paleontologists, collectors, and commercial hunters all who covet fossils and feel a claim to natural history. In the spirit of The Feather Thief (2018), Williams' illuminating chronicle questions who has a right to nature.--Katharine Uhrich Copyright 2018 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Accomplished New Yorker writer Williams brings her journalistic hand to the intriguing world of for-profit fossil trade, highlighting the people who find, prepare, and auction fabulous works of prehistory, including large dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals. The narrative focuses on the life of Eric Prokopi, a fossil prodigy who has a natural gift at finding and reconstituting prehistoric creatures. Prokopi's gift led him to selling his work at high-stakes and high-profit fossil auctions. His procurement of a Mongolian Tyrannosaurus bataar became the grounds for an international dispute over the legal ownership of natural history resources. Williams skillfully navigates this unique nexus of various fields, including paleontology, law, and international politics, leading readers through a wild topography of deep prehistory and modern black markets. Various issues are raised, including disputes between private fossil collectors and academic paleontologists; the market value of a dinosaur skeleton vs. its scientific value; and the proper enforcement of antiquities' laws. VERDICT Prokopi's case is a fascinating example of the pull of prehistoric fossils and the power of law. Nature enthusiasts, scientists, and politics buffs will sink their teeth into this intriguing account.-Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. -Pleasant P.L., IA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Abbreviationsp. xi
Author's Notep. xiii
Introduction: Originsp. xv
Part I
1 "Superb Tyrannosaurus Skeleton"p. 3
2 Land O'Lakesp. 16
3 Garcia, King of the Ice Agep. 22
4 Divep. 31
5 Dealp. 41
6 Tucsonp. 52
7 Big Gamep. 63
8 Middleman in Japanp. 79
9 Hollywood Headhuntersp. 85
Part II
10 The Warrior and the Explorerp. 93
11 The Flaming Cliffsp. 105
12 Market Conditionsp. 116
13 "Go Gobi"p. 132
14 The Ghost of Mary Anningp. 147
15 The Last Dinosaurp. 162
16 The President's Predicamentp. 176
17 United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeletonp. 194
Part III
18 Raid!p. 207
19 Verdictp. 219
20 Tarbomaniap. 232
21 Petersburg Lowp. 242
22 The Dinosaur Busp. 252
Epiloguep. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 279
Quick Reference to Deep Timep. 287
Selected Bibliographyp. 289
Notesp. 293
Indexp. 383

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