Review of Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton. “Once it hits the Wild West, it grabs you and never lets go.”

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Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

In 1876, the hunt for ancient bones is more thievery than science. When a spoiled Yale student takes a bet that he can’t survive one summer in the Wild West with paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, he’s in way over his head.

His boss might be paranoid, but the bullets are real.

This is one fantastic story!

Dragon Teeth is a thriller set in the past (not a Jurassic Park novel), so the antagonists read like Indiana Jones villains in the Wild West. (Not dinosaurs.) But here’s the crazy thing: they’re actual historical figures. And the locations and surrounding events that form the novel’s setting are real too—including the intense rivalry between paleontologists Marsh and Cope. Only the direct plot line is invented, and not even all of that.

Crichton blurs the line between fact and fiction just as masterfully in the distant past as he does in the near future of his best sci-fi titles.

In fact, the only character that seems to be entirely fictional is William Johnson himself, and he’s one of the most realistic protagonists we’ve ever read. He’s rich. He’s spoiled. He’s arrogant. And his development over the course of the novel is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

The beginning does a marvelous job of introducing William and laying the foundation for the world he lives in. The very idea of evolution and extinction was tantamount to heresy in 1876; the hunt for credible evidence was shrouded in secrecy; and the rivalries between fossil hunters played out with a level of intrigue and espionage worthy of Mission Impossible.

Once the novel hits the Wild West, it grabs you and never lets go.

This comes as no surprise from the author who wrote and directed the 1973 film Westworld, the movie on which the modern TV series is based. Crichton has a love for the time period that shines through every page, while bullets fly in the untamed badlands—where fortunes can be made and lives can easily be lost over a single “dragon’s tooth.”

From the publisher:

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novel—a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America’s western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition.  But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions.  With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William’s newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the West’s most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.

“Among all Crichton’s novels, it’s one of his best, a beautifully detailed, scientifically engrossing, absolutely riveting story.” (Booklist, starred review)

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