Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. New York: Harper Collins, 2017. 295p.
This posthumously published novel is an interesting and exciting read that explores a historical event through a fictional lens. Primarily set in the American West in 1876, Dragon Teeth imagines the adventures of a young man who finds himself going on a larger adventure than expected while traveling and fossil hunting with rival paleontologists.
The protagonist of this story is William Johnson, a fictional undergraduate student at Yale who makes a bet with a classmate that sends him on a journey with Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope that he’ll never forget. Cope and Marsh are real-life paleontologists who spent years exploring the American West while locked in a professional competition that, for a while, captured the attention of the nation. It is this history that Crichton draws from and explores by creating a story in the middle of all this chaos and excitement. As William Johnson spends a summer pushing himself into the great unknown, he finds out more about what sort of man he is becoming, making this novel a coming-of-age story at heart.
Though rooted in a historical event, Dragon Teeth is a fictitious rendering of what life might have been during that time. A mix of danger, natural beauty, exploitation, scientific growth, and man’s tendency to create destruction can be found within the book’s pages, which, like many of Crichton’s other novels, provides crossover appeal to a wide range of readers. However, one of the most appealing things about this book is the scenic descriptions rendered throughout, as the explorers travel west into wild country that was not yet modernized or spoiled by development.
By the novel’s end, one is shown the extreme risk that fossil hunters took in order to better understand the world that came before them. Crichton also shows that this era was not free of blunders and mistakes, with the character’s flaws and vanities sometimes getting in the way of scientific development.
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