It's been 65 million years since dinosaurs roamed Earth, and just 16 years since Steven Spielberg brought them back to life on the big screen. How to Build a Dinosaur returns, in a sense, to the adventure of Jurassic Park, though it doesn't feature harrowing Jeep rides through the jungle or gory battles between mutually terrifying dinosaur species. In fact, this book leaves fiction behind altogether to explore the even stranger frontiers of modern science. Authors Jack Horner and James Gorman suggest that it should be possible to "rewind the tape" of evolution to go back to a time, for instance, when the chicken had a tail and claws and no feathers. If time, chance, and opportunity turned a dinosaur into a chicken, why not use today's tools to turn a chicken into a dinosaur?
How to Build a Dinosaur takes us on a scientific adventure, from the dusty trenches of a dinosaur dig to the sterile workings of an embryology lab. In the process, the book touches on a range of scientific topics, from geology to paleontology to the emerging field of evolutionary developmental biology (mercifully shortened to "evodevo"). Throughout the book, narrator Patrick Lawlor guides us through all of this science carefully and clearly. Lawlor has an excellent sense of narrative pacing that adapts to the complexity of the subject at hand, without ever slowing so much that the story lags, or moving too quickly for the listener to follow. Augmenting the authors' keen use of analogy and lucid prose, Lawlor's performance makes the concepts easier to understand.
The book navigates the scientific aspect of the story with expert precision, but the authors sometimes wander off-course while tracking the historical or personal narratives involved. Lawlor's tone in these places becomes relaxed and conversational. While these digressions don't advance the authors' central argument, they are entertaining in the voice of Lawlor's rich storytelling and variedif sometimes slightly sillyEmily Elert
Jack Horner, the scientist who advised Steven Spielberg on the blockbuster film Jurassic Park and a pioneer in bringing paleontology into the 21st century, teams up with the editor of the New York Times's Science Times section to reveal exactly what's in store.
In the 1980s, Horner began using CAT scans to look inside fossilized dinosaur eggs, and he and his colleagues have been delving deeper ever since. At North Carolina State University, Mary Schweitzer has extracted fossil molecules---proteins that survived 68 million years---from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil excavated by Horner. These proteins show that T. rex and the modern chicken are kissing cousins. At McGill University, Hans Larsson is manipulating a chicken embryo to awaken the dinosaur within---starting by getting it to grow a tail and eventually prompting it to grow the forelimbs of a dinosaur.
All of this is happening without changing a single gene. This incredible research is leading to discoveries and applications so profound they're scary in the power they confer on humanity. How to Build a Dinosaur is a tour of the hot rocky deserts and air-conditioned laboratories at the forefront of this scientific revolution.
©2009 Jack Horner and James Gorman; (P)2009 Tantor
This book wanders all over the place. It starts with a very interesting hypothesis about how embryonic development of a chicken might be manipulated to recreate the morphology of dinosaurs (i.e the great great grandfathers of birds), but then it digresses. The author is not content to educate us about dinosaurs. We're also told about Clovis people, Lewis and Clark, buffalo hunting, a dog attack by a beaver, Indian use of horses, etc. etc. It also is full of silly analogies (e.g. post-meteorite earth is compared to the wild West). I could only get halfway through it. If there's no thief like a bad book, then this is the John Dillinger of books. If you're interested in dinosaurs, Audible has several good books. Unfortunately, this isn't one. Hard to believe the author (Jack Horner) had the assistance of a professional writer (James Gorman). I'm sure Horner could have done this badly on his own.
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