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Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures Hardcover – July 4, 2017
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“Paced like a thriller…Woolly reanimates history and breathes new life into the narrative of nature.” (NPR)
"Step aside Jurassic Park, make way for the new and improved woolly mammoth." (USA Today)
"Jurassic Park, a bit of The Big Bang Theory...[mixed] with jaw-dropping scientific findings...for science-minded readers, thrill-lovers, or dreamers, Woolly is a mammoth-sized read." (Quad-City Times (Iowa))
“A page-turning tale. . . .[a] rollercoaster quest for the past and future. . . . Mezrich’s ability to weave the details of DNA science into an easily accessible narrative does much to broaden the lay reader’s understanding of the tremendous developments and awe-inspiring capabilities of some of today’s most groundbreaking science.” (Christian Science Monitor)
About the Author
Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. He has published eighteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires, which was adapted into the Academy Award–winning film The Social Network, and Bringing Down the House, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in twelve languages and was the basis for the hit movie 21, and most recently the national bestseller Once Upon a Time in Russia. One of the most influential writers in Hollywood, he lives in Boston.
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The book’s cover notes, soon to be a major motion picture, and Mezrich’s mosaic of opening scenes consciously mirror those of that other major motion picture about extinct monstrous animals, Jurassic Park. Mezrich’s technique can, however, be disconcerting in book form, with readers forced to jump from the viewpoint of the very last living woolly mammoths 3,000 years ago to a hypothetical scene of the future of the 21st century; from the early childhood in steamy Florida of American geneticist George M. Church to a truck drive across the icy Siberian wilderness; and on and on.
Scientifically minded readers should be warned that Mezrich (or his editors) can have a cavalier way with words. Elk antlers are blithely referred to as “horns,” small herbivores as “omnivorous,” and musk oxen as hybrids of an ox, goat and sheep. (Or possibly as hybridizing with all three of these species. I can’t quite make out which Mezrich has in mind.)
Less mammoth-infatuated readers may also wonder why anyone would spend the time (and money) to resurrect a long-extinct species when so many modern ones are in danger of extinction. Woolly tries to answer these skeptics, and in doing so skims through a host of stories as fascinating in their own right as any thriller.
There’s the eccentric and dyslexic scientist Church, zoologist turned geneticist intent on re-engineering the genomes of creatures from rodents to humans to mammoths. Church, Mezrich writes, decided after visiting the 1964-1965 World’s Fair that he was a time traveler from the future, desperate to find his way back.
And his wife, Chao-ting Wu (Ting to her friends), a Chinese immigrant whose race, sex, and yes, marriage blocked her scientific career path for years.
Or Stewart Brand, founder of the iconoclastic bible, Whole Earth Catalogue, and his wife, biotech entrepreneur Ryan Phelan, have dedicated themselves to resurrecting extinct species. (In an afterword to Woolly, Brand reports that the first proxy passenger pigeons may be alive as early as 2022.) Other leading candidates for revival, he writes, include the Tasmanian tiger, New Zealand moas, and ivory-billed woodpecker.
Most intriguing to me are Russians Nikita Zimov and his father Sergey, who for decades have worked to restore moss and lichen Arctic tundras to their Pleistocene lushness, which once supported vast herds of giant herbivores. Including woolly mammoths. The Zimovs’ dream doesn’t involve resurrecting extinct species for their own sake, but using restored Arctic grasslands to halt global warming. (The Zimovs believe the tread of large herbivore hoofs makes the upper permafrost area of soil more amenable to the growth of grass.)
So, even without living woolly mammoths, there would be plenty to report. Woolly, however, fails to deliver adequately on these promises. Near the beginning, and again near the end, Mezrich tempts readers with possible views of mammoths four years from today. . . and three years from today. Maybe he hopes that by the time of the cover’s promised “major motion picture” materializes, there will be more to show.
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Atria Books!
The book includes a forthright discussion about the concerns for "scientists playing God" and tinkering with the make-up of organisms. But we have reached a tipping point in terms of the current and future survival for all living organisms on Earth. By reading this book, you too can be both informed and hopeful.
This true quest to revive the Woolly Mammoth is for a very, very good reason and it involves climate change. Scientists have learned that under the melting permafrost of the Arctic lies such a massive quantity of methane and carbon dioxide (two greenhouse gases) that if released could exacerbate the rate of global warming at a more alarming rate than even present day pollution. The Woolly Mammoth would actually help alleviate that melting, but you have to read the book.
Dr. George Church is the man behind the genetics research and his spinoff studies have done so much already for humanity that you likely don't know. I'll leave it there... It's a fascinating read and you can find out just how close we are to making this quest a reality.