The Woman Who Invented Dinosaurs

Coming November 2023

On a beautiful summer’s day in the south of England in 1822, a young woman changed the entire course of science, faith and, indeed, the world forever. And you have probably never heard of her.

Her name was Mary Ann Mantell.

But on that summer’s day — an outing to celebrate her neglected twenty-seventh birthday weeks before — this woman actually did invent dinosaurs.

Indisputable fact.

Also indisputable? She died forty-seven years later, an estranged wife and pioneering feminist, one who, by choice and intention, died alone in her garden behind her cottage in Cambridgeshire.

Yet Mary Ann’s memoir begins not on that summer’s day in 1822, but earlier, almost twenty years earlier, in the spring of 1803. She is but eight. Standing in her London back garden: her diaphanous dress; her bare arms; the dark cascades of curls about her shoulders. And the wonder on her face as upwards into a cloudless blue sky she gazes. For she holds in her hands a newspaper story: an announcement of, a fortnight before, the actual invention of meteorites. Which gives rise to her memoir’s opening line:

I was born the day the sky fell.

That young girl grew and lived and, eventually and tragically, loved. But as noted above, she died, by choice and intention, alone and in another back-garden pastoral. The sky had already fallen. The world had already changed. And though her heart was unconsoled, her soul was forever unconstrained.

Unknown of until now, Ms Mantell’s manuscript of her memoir was fortuitously preserved and reclaimed from the archives of England’s Huntingdon Public Library. It was brought forth so that we here at The Left Coast Press might finally restore for Mary Ann her due: a memoir hauntingly titled by Mary Ann herself: The Woman Who Invented Dinosaurs.