The Science of JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD, Rob DeSalle & David Lindley

Basic Books, 1997, 194 pages, C$25.50 tpb, ISBN 0-465-07379-4

Since JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD were two immensely popular SF movies seen by million of people worldwide, it was only natural that at least one unauthorized non-fiction book would come out of this success. The Science of JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD is this book.

Those looking for snide references to acting blunders by Jeff Goldblum et al. will be severely disappointed, though: this isn’t as much a shot-by-shot discussion of the movies as a meticulous description of the problems facing potential Jurassic Park scientists. The subtitle “How to build a dinosaur” is a far better description of the book’s content.

Since the two authors are scientists and not movie buffs, you get a book much more centered on science than filmmaking. Even then, much of Science is spent discussing the details provided in the books, rather than in the movies. (The two authors probably hadn’t even seen the movie version of The Lost World at the time of the publication of the book) Furthermore, it’s a book focused on “how can we make this happen” rather than “this is where they screwed up.”

The book is divided in nine big questions, each covering a different problem to be conquered before T-Rexes can stomp the ground again. The most salient are finding dinosaur DNA, extracting it, reconstructing it, turning the DNA into embryos, raising these embryos and compensating for the lack of a “natural” environment.

One side-effect of the book might be to give to the reader a glimpse in the infinitely complicated mechanisms of life. If DNA is the blueprint of life, it’s not the finished construction. And what if the plans are in multiple copies, mixed-up, even shredded?

Each step of the way is meticulously detailed—up to a point where it will seem very unlikely to the reader that dinosaur construction is even possible. The two authors of Science know their stuff, and it show, perhaps even a bit too much when they delve into the strange jargon of biologists.

But even then, the book remains mildly interesting. It’s by no mean gripping, but it challenges normal mental curiosity. The road to a living, breathing, people-eating dinosaur now seems arduous, but not impossible. While an opportunistic book cashing in a faddish trend, Science is primarily a useful vulgarization of an interesting subject. Somehow, it is likely that if ever a third Jurassic Park book is written, Science will be one of Crichton’s reference books.

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