Reviewed by Rita Hoots
One of a series of books exposing scientific scandals and rivalries, this tome focuses on the field of paleontology, the study of ancient flora and fauna. Towards the close of the 19th century, two fanatic bone collectors, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, began as colleagues but gradually emerged as competitors in the domain of unearthing fossil mammoth and dinosaur bones. Despite their rivalries, their discoveries and analysis of the ancient skeletal remains reinforced Darwin’s theory of evolution and traced the lineage of ancient massive organisms that existed in the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods.
The narrative recounts the bitter rivalry between the two contenders for the crown of prime authority in the field of paleontology. The antagonism between the two led to many errors but also to big advances in this new, compelling field that excited the public with the discovery of dinosaur and mammoth skeletons.
For those with some knowledge of the area, this book will be easy reading. For others new to paleontology, the text can be difficult to follow without more clarifying charts showing geographic sites, fossil relationships, competitive issues over which the two disputed. The book presents insights into the personalities, quirks, principles, and competitiveness that is inherent in science and is also a key element to advancement of knowledge. Unfortunately, each scientist is viewed as a rather dry, two–dimensional cipher caught in a vicious match for ownership of the fossil prize.
Review posted on 10/25/2012