Monday, October 19, 2009

_How to Build a Dinosaur_ by Jack Horner and James Gorman

Subtitled "Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever," this book talks about ways and means of reverse-engineering a dinosaur from a chicken. The author is dead serious, and transmits a lot of interesting science, but the path is meandering.

I love pop sci books, and this one, like a lot of them, turns science into a narrative. I went along with most of that, but I wasn't always sure where we were going. The main thing this book did for me was to introduce me to evolutionary development ideas. It also brought home the close relationships between dinosaurs and birds.

It puts the ideas from Jurassic Park into some perspective. Jurassic Park's method of getting DNA from insects that sucked blood from dinosaurs was far-fetched. But some of the real science outlined in this book is mind-blowing.

The basic idea is to analyze evolutionary developments and reverse some of them. There's no magical rollback, no turning people into rats the way the High Evolutionary sometimes did. But there have been discoveries of identifiable biological molecules in fossils. There's an exciting bit about cutting open a bone to split it in half for transport and finding organic material inside. It's a fun read.

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