567: How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner and James Gorman

by Gerard


567.9: Horner, Jack and James Gorman. How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution. New York: Plume, 2010. 213 pp. ISBN 978-0-452-29601-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 500: Science
  • 560: Paleontology
  • 567: Fossil cold-blooded vertebrates and fishes
  • 567.9: Reptilia

The study of dinosaur fossils has reached unprecedented heights and complexity. DNA can be extracted from tiny bits of bone and molecular biology is starting to unlock more and more pieces of the ancient past. Jack Horner, distinguished paleontologist and winner of a MacArthur Genius grant, along with James Gorman, bring together the fields of paleontology, paleobiology, paleobotany (and all the other paleo-s) with modern science to make a case for the creation of a living, breathing dinosaur. How to Build a Dinosaur is a look into the science involved as well as the scientists behind the discoveries leading the way.

Horner and Gorman’s thesis is that a chicken egg or fetus can be successfully manipulated in such a way as to hatch a dinosaur. Genes can be spliced, dormant sequences can be reactivated, and evolutionary changes can be undone. Once all the detritus has cleared, what would be in front of you could nominally be called a dinosaur. Since birds evolved from these ancient lizards, it makes sense to start with them and work backwards. The authors explore the science of evolutionary development to show what it can do and what implications this has on modern species.

I really enjoyed this book. This is science told by someone who is truly passionate about it. He starts with a problem and gathers together better minds to help solve it. Along the way, we hear the back stories of many scientists (and even a few fun anecdotes) about how they learned to love their fields. Granted, there are bits that could be cut to make the book tighter, but I think the rambling bits add color to what would have been a rather rote tour of the field. Horner’s infectious love of paleontology is apparent, and the book is richer for it. An informative and fun read.