Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park introduced readers to the once improbable notion that, thanks to advances in genetic science, dinosaurs could be brought back from the grave. Richard Stone's Mammoth offers a kindred scenario: the establishment of a "Pleistocene Park," in which long-extinct creatures like the mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, and woolly rhino could be resurrected and given sanctuary.
This is not a science-fiction vision, we learn from science journalist Stone's absorbing journey into recent prehistory. Already, scientists from Russia, Canada, the United States, and other nations are studying the possibility of restoring a stretch of northern Siberia to its Pleistocene condition, thereby creating what they call a "mammoth steppe" populated by bison, Yakutian horses, and elephants--and one day, perhaps, creatures such as the woolly mammoth, genetically "summoned from the world of the dead." The materials are readily available, Stone writes, in the form of DNA-bearing "muscles and ligaments and fat" found in mammoths now buried in arctic permafrost. Whether those remnants can be made to bring back to life what Siberians call the "rat beneath the ice" is another question, but it's one that many scholars are busily exploring.
While looking into what he calls a "watershed in efforts to study lost ecosystems," Stone provides a lively natural history of the mammoth and evaluates conflicting theories on its extinction. His book makes for a memorable journey into unknown scientific territory--and a glimpse at a possible future that is surpassing strange. --Gregory McNamee