11 minute read

Don Lessem (1951-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

("Dino" Don Lessem)


Born 1951, in New York, NY; Education: Brandeis University, B.A. (cum laude; Oriental art history) 1973; attended University of Massachusetts—Boston, 1976. Politics: Anarchist. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, sports.


Agent—Al Zuckerman, Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010.


Writer and consultant. Science journalist for Boston Globe and other periodicals; Dinosaur Productions, Waban, MA, president, 1995—; Dinosaur Exhibitions, Waban, president, 1996—. Writer and host of episodes of television programs Discovery and Nova for Public Broadcast System (PBS). Technical advisor on films and for theme parks.


Dinosaur Society (founder), Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Windsor Club (board member).

Honors Awards

Several National Science Teachers Association awards; Knight Science Journalism fellowship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988.

Don Lessem


Life Is No Yuk for the Yak: A Book of Endangered Animals, illustrated by Linda Bourke, Crane Russak (New York, NY), 1977.

How to Flatten Your Nose, Klutz Press, 1978.

Aerphobics: The Scientific Way to Stop Exercising (humor), Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.

The Worst of Everything: The Experts' Listing of the Most Loathsome and Deficient in Every Realm of Our Lives, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1988.

(With John R. Horner) Digging up Tyrannosaurus Rex, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.

Kings of Creation: How a New Breed of Scientists Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Dinosaurs, illustrated by John Sibbick, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992, published as Dinosaurs Rediscovered: New Findings Which Are Revolutionizing Dinosaur Science, Touchstone (New York, NY), 1993.

(With John R. Horner) The Complete T. Rex: How Stunning New Discoveries Are Changing Our Understanding of the World's Most Famous Dinosaur, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.

(With Donald F. Glut) The Dinosaur Society's Dinosaur Encyclopedia, Random House (New York, NY), 1993.

The Iceman, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.

Jack Horner: Living with Dinosaurs, illustrated by Janet Hamlin, Scientific American Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1994.

Inside the Amazing Amazon: Incredible Fold-out Cross Sections of the World's Greatest Rainforest, illustrated by Michael Rothman, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.

(With Donald Glut) Dinosaur Encyclopedia, Random House (New York, NY), 1996.

Ornithomimids, the Fastest Dinosaur, illustrated by Brian Franczak, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Raptors: The Nastiest Dinosaurs, illustrated by David Peters, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Seismosaurus: The Longest Dinosaur, illustrated by Donna Braginetz, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Troodon, the Smartest Dinosaur, illustrated by Brian Franzack, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Utahraptor: The Deadliest Dinosaur, illustrated by Donna Braginetz, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

(With Rodolfo Coria) Supergiants! The Biggest Dinosaurs, illustrated by David Peters, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.

Bigger than T-Rex, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

Skeleton Detective, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

Dinosaur Worlds: New Dinosaurs, New Discoveries, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.

Dinosaurs to Dodos: An Encyclopedia of Extinct Animals, illustrated by Jan Sovak, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

The Ultimate Dinosaur Field Guide, Klutz Press, 1999.

Looking Lousy, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

All the Dirt on Dinosaurs, illustrated by Kevin Wasden, Tor Kids (New York, NY), 2001.

Tyrannosaurus Rex, illustrated by Hall Train, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

The Dinosaur Atlas: A Complete Look at the World of Dinosaurs, illustrated by John Bindon, Firefly Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Dinosaurs A to Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia, illustrated by Jan Sovak, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

Regular columnist for Highlights for Children magazine under name Dino Don; author and editor of Dino Times (newsletter). Contributor to periodicals, including Boston Globe and New York Times.


Baby Dinosaurs, illustrated by John Bindon, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2001.

Biggest Dinosaurs, illustrated by John Bindon, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2001.

Giants of the Sky, illustrated by John Bindon, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2002.


Longtime science journalist Don Lessem specializes in writing about science for middle graders and penning humorous books for adults. His engaging style and evident excitement about his topics, coupled with his dedication to providing accurate, accessible information on his subjects, have made Lessem's books popular with readers and critics alike. Nicknamed "Dino" Don, Lessem is best known for his books on dinosaurs and the scientists who have dedicated their lives to uncovering the mysteries of these long-extinct animals. Beginning his book-writing career with Life Is No Yuk for the Yak, which profiles endangered species alongside lighthearted limericks and Linda Bourke's cartoon illustrations, he often combines science with a humorous approach. The majority of Lessem's books outline the history of and current findings about a wide variety of dinosaurs: their discovery, habits, environments, and time periods.

Lessem's books on dinosaurs and paleontologists have garnered widespread praise for their ability to inform readers in an attractive, uncluttered format. Critics have cited his prose style as both clear and inspirational, reflecting Lessem's own enthusiasm for his subject. As Lessem once told Something about the Author (SATA), "Dinosaurs are my writing life, at least much of it. My job as I see it is to communicate the latest discoveries of dinosaurs to anyone who gives a hoot, especially kids. I do so via exhibits I build, such as Lost World; writing a column for Highlights Magazine; creating CDs for Microsoft; creating the largest dinosaur charity and its children's newspaper (The Dinosaur Society and Dino Times); creating Web sites; casting the largest meat-eating dinosaur; advising on theme parks and movies; writing and hosting Nova and Discovery documentaries; AND writing books." In his Highlights column Lessem responds to over one thousand dino-related questions from young readers each year.

Born in 1951, Lessem first became interested in dinosaurs at the age of five, after seeing a museum model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Beginning his career as a science writer for major newspapers after studying biobehavioralism at the University of Massachusetts, Lessem traveled widely. He began writing books in the late 1970s, straying from nonfiction to straight-out humor. As he later recalled, "I got onto dinosaurs visiting a Montana dig for a newspaper while an MIT science journalism fellow in 1988. I find the new discoveries, the remote locales, the characters who study dinosaurs, and the scavenger hunting that is much of the science to be continually fascinating. Many, at least those under the age of ten, share that interest, fortunately, or I'd be working nights at McDonald's."

Notable among Lessem's many books on dinosaurs are Dinosaur Worlds: New Dinosaurs, New Discoveries and Dinosaurs A to Z: The Ultimate Dinosaur Encyclopedia. In Dinosaur Worlds several of the most important sites containing dinosaur remains are introduced to young readers. Lessem also provides information on the environments, prey, and life cycles of a large number of the prehistoric creatures. Dinosaur Worlds "is a book that report writers and dinophiles won't want to miss," averred Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist.

Dinosaurs A to Z assembles 700 entries and 350 color illustrations by Jan Sovak into a single volume that even the most knowledgeable dino buff will find illuminating. From habitat and diet to taxonomic classification and name pronunciation, the volume presents its many facts in an easily accessible alphabetical format. Childhood Education reviewer Joseph McSparran praised the work as a "fascinating reference book" that serves as an "exciting and complete resource," while in Booklist a contributor noted that Lessem's text is "thorough and interesting and not too difficult for elementary-school readers, who will be excited to have this book." "Only dinosaurs are covered, with no flying reptiles or ichthyosaurs to confuse things," added School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried, summing Dinosaurs A to Z up as an "attractive and useful resource."

In The Dinosaur Atlas Lessem collects even more facts about the ancient Earth-roamers, this time framing them around the rise and ultimate fall of the creatures. Geology, paleontology, the evolution of fifty different species, and the Earth's evolving ecosystem all come under examination, in a text that is "lively and enlightening, focusing on especially interesting examples rather than vague generalizations," in the opinion of Engelfried. Lessem breaks his subject into three area, each representing a different era in dino evolution: Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. He balances his focused text with informative sidebars, a well-researched bibliography, maps, and "excellent" illustrations by John Bindon that, according to a Booklist reviewer, add to the book's value. Praising both text and format in her Resource Links review, Judy Cottrell called the work a "refreshing" and "wonderful book which takes a geographical approach to the study of dinosaurs."

Lessem profiles individual dinosaurs in such books as Raptors: The Nastiest Dinosaurs, Ornithomimids: The Fastest Dinosaur, Troodon, the Smartest Dinosaur, Seismosaurus: The Longest Dinosaur, and Utahraptor: The Deadliest Dinosaur, all part of a series on special dinosaurs published by Carolrhoda. In these books, the author gathers information on the discovery of the fossil remains of each dinosaur type and the paleontologists who found them, as well as on how information about the creature's abilities and habits has been deduced from fossil evidence. Lessem then goes on to speculate about possible evolutionary descendants of his subject. "Lessem treats a popular topic adeptly, humorously, and with a balance of information that is both relevant and stimulating to read," remarked Olga Kuharets in a review of Seismosaurus and Utahraptor for School Library Journal. In her Booklist reviews of Ornithominids and Troodon, Frances Bradburn commented that these "finely crafted" books offer "a fascinating look at how paleontologists discover the fossilized remains of these huge beasts." In addition, Lessem's texts have been praised by critics for their clarity and organization of a wealth of fascinating material.

Lessem's dedication to introducing children and adults to the lives of the scientists behind the scientific discoveries has yielded such works as Kings of Creation: How a New Breed of Scientists Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Dinosaurs and Jack Horner: Living with Dinosaurs. In Kings of Creation, the author presents an overview of the explosion of new information that has become available over the last three decades, in which the popular image of dinosaurs has been completely revised by a group of scientists who have uncovered signs

A must-have for dino-enthusiasts, Lessem's 2001 volume is loaded with facts and illustrations focusing on many of the Earth's ancient creatures. (Cover illustration by Kevin Wasden.)

of intelligence, speed, and nurturing in species previously thought to be stupid, slow, and hostile even to their own offspring. Leading scientists, significant digs, and the new theories are all presented in a work in which Lessem, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "presents a lively sampling of current and significant work on dinosaurs worldwide.… This is the best book on the subject since Robert Bakker's Dinosaur Heresies and a treat for buffs."

Jack Horner: Living with Dinosaurs is a biography about John R. Horner, chief curator of paleontology at the University of Montana and a scientific advisor on the popular film Jurassic Park. In this work Lessem presents both personal background on Horner and information about the scientist's most famous discoveries. Lessem "writes with zest, showing the determination and excitement that accompanied Horner's explorations," remarked Susan Dove Lempke in a review for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni noted in Appraisal that "Lessem's portrayal of Horner feels authentic: a plainspoken, quiet, thoughtful man who is most at home walking on the badlands where dinosaurs walked before him." Writing in the same publication, Patricia Manning maintained that Lessem's writing style in Jack Horner is "perfectly tailored to fourth and fifth graders." A reviewer in Kirkus Reviews concurred: The "book works thanks to Lessem's own enthusiasm for dinosaurs and his impressive knack for writing in kid-speak."

Sometimes taking a break from dinosaurs, Lessem has also authored several nonfiction titles that focus on other topics of interest to him. In 1994 he authored The Iceman, a book describing the discovery of a 5,000-year-old mummy in the mountains of Europe and what scientists gleaned from it about the life of prehistoric Europeans. In his more recent Inside the Amazing Amazon, Lessem's clear text augments oversize fold-out illustrations by Michael Rothman that detail plant and animal life in the world's largest rainforest.

In addition to his work as a writer, Lessem is the founder of several dinosaur-related organizations, including the Dinosaur Society, a group for children; Dinosaur Productions, which in 2003 was in the process of creating the first full-size reproduction of a Giganotosaurus, the largest carnivore to ever walk the Earth; and Dinosaur Exhibitions; he is also a member of the developing committee for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. "My aspiration," he once told SATA, "is to continue providing children with what for so long they have lacked—current and accurate information on new scientific discoveries and the methods behind them in hopes of feeding their mania for dinosaurs and spreading it to all of science as a lifetime interest.… I hope to continue as long as dinosaurs are still alive, at least in the imaginations of many of us."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Appraisal, winter, 1995, Patricia Manning and Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni, reviews of Jack Horner, pp. 112-114; winter-spring, 1996, pp. 35-36.

Booklist, April 1, 1992, p. 1419; February 15, 1996, Frances Bradburn, review of Ornithomimids and Troodon, p. 1014; September 1, 1996, p. 997; November 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Dinosaur Worlds, pp. 583-584; December 15, 2003, review of Dinosaurs A to Z, p. 766; March 1, 2004, review of The Dinosaur Atlas, p. 1228.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1994, p. 17; December, 1994, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Jack Horner, p. 135.

Childhood Education, summer, 2004, Joseph McSparran, review of Dinosaurs A to Z, p. 212.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1994, p. 702; December 1, 1995, p. 1703; November 15, 1994, review of Jack Horner, p. 1534.

Publishers Weekly, March 2, 1992, review of Kings of Creation, p. 58; November 4, 1996, p. 78.

Resource Links, October, 2003, Judy Cottrell, review of The Dinosaur Atlas, p. 25.

School Library Journal, March, 1978, p. 138; July, 1994, p. 111; January, 1996, p. 120; September, 1996, Olga Kuharets, review of Seismosaurus and Utahraptor, p. 218; October, 1996, pp. 135-136; September, 1997, p. 232; December, 1997, p. 140; December, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of Dinosaurs A to Z and The Dinosaur Atlas, p. 170.


Boyds Mills Press Web site, http://www.boydsmillspress.com/ (October 22, 2004), "Don Lessem."

Dino Don's Dinosaur World, http://www.dinodon.com/ (October 21, 2004).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) Biography