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The Dinosaur Project
Reviewed by Robert J. Sawyer
[Starred review, denoting a book of exceptional merit]
The Dinosaur Project is a wonderful book and not just for those who love dinosaurs. It's a fascinating tale of adventure and Canadian achievement, a compelling travelogue, and an intriguing look at cultural conflict.
This is the story of the Canada-China Dinosaur Project, which in the 1980s saw Canadian paleontologists dig in China and Chinese paleontologists come to Alberta and our high arctic.
Grady, a Governor General's award winner, is a consummate storyteller: he captures both the grandeur of inhospitable landscapes and the interpersonal squabbles inevitable when strangers are thrust together.
His chapter that intercuts between the paleontologists and the slaughter in Tiananmen Square is a real page-turner. Also fascinating are attempts to involve Mongolians and Native Canadians through an exchange of traditional tents a well-intended enterprise that caused much conflict.
Throughout the book, the ghost of Roy Chapman Andrews, the first western paleontologist to visit China, hovers over the scene, providing a stark contrast between the gonzo (and racist) science of the 1920s and the tight-budgeted, earnest science of today.
Grady wisely assumes his audience knows something about dinosaurs (too many books these days presume that, somehow, the reader has avoided all the other books, articles, and TV shows about them), so he simply dives into the story. Yes, by the time it's done, the reader will have learned many new things about dinosaurs the Canada-China expeditions re-wrote much of what we thought we knew about Mesozoic life but it will all have been absorbed effortlessly.
There was also a documentary made about The Dinosaur Project ("In Search of the Dragon"), but, unlike that film, Grady's book paints the expeditions with warts and all. Tempers flare, people get sick and great discoveries are made. This book tries to be many things, and to Grady's credit, it succeeds at all of them. Robert J. Sawyer, whose latest science-fiction novel, Far-Seer (Berkley/Ace, May 1993), is about an intelligent dinosaur who is himself a paleontologist.
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