Friday, September 14, 2012

Battle of the Dinosaur Bones: Othniel Charles Marsh vs Edward Drinker Cope, by Rebecca L. Johnson

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The infamous "Bone Wars" refers to the period in American history from the 1870's through to the 1890's when two paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, engaged in a bitter rivalry to discover the most dinosaur fossils (each working at the expense of the other, often using bribery and theft) and become the nation's leading paleontologist. The rivalry was dramatic, bitter and legendary. It also led to some of the most important discoveries about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Rebecca L. Johnson's new book, The Battle of the Dinosaur Bones, presents the Marsh-Cope feud in an easy to follow, well-illustrated book that would be appropriate for children (and adults) of all ages. As someone who lives with an armchair paleontologist and is surrounded by dozens of dinosaur books all the time, I must say I LOVED this book. I don't find dinosaurs quite as intrinsically interesting as my partner Mike does, but I've always been completely fascinated with the characters of Marsh and Cope. I love how their rivalry partially started when Cope incorrectly assembled the fossil remains of the Elasmosaurus and put its head on the end of its tail instead of its neck (see below). Marsh saw it and ridiculed his colleague ruthlessly, sparking a professional animosity between the two men that reminds me of the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Which reminds me...

Why isn't this a movie? I'm still amazed that the infamous "Bone Wars" hasn't been made into a major motion picture. It would make a great movie! It's already been the subject of books, graphic novels, a card game (!) and a PBS documentary called "Dinosaur Wars," but it needs to be a movie. Seriously. Just look at these two. So cinematic! I could picture them being played by David Bowie (circa The Prestige, when he played Tesla) and Paul Giamatti, no?


Oh, one tiny little point of order: 
At one point in the book, Johnson refers to the Bay of Fundy, where Marsh discovered early fossils, as "in northeastern Canada." It's not. Trust me. That's actually where I grew up and it's in eastern Canada for sure, but it's absolutely not in the "north" by any means. A small point.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

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