A Book Spy Review: ‘Dragon Teeth’ By Michael Crichton

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Set in 1876, Yale professor Othniel C. Marsh takes a group of students out West to dig for dinosaur bones. Among the group is William Jason Tertullius Johnson, who gets sucked into going along on the dig when his nemesis, Harold Hannibal Marlin, bets him a thousand dollars that he won’t, in fact, tag along for the trip.

The oldest son of Silas Johnson, a wealthy Philadelphia shipbuilder,  William didn’t need Marlin’s money. Nor did he take the bet to find favor in the eyes of the university, where he’s landed in trouble repeatedly during his brief time on campus. No, William Johnson accepted the bet for one reason–pride.

After word of the bet spread around campus, there was no way William was backing out of the deal. So, in order to show up Marlin, William secured a place in Marsh’s group by pretending to be a photographer–a skill set he rushes to learn, having promised to be ready to take up to a hundred photos for Marsh during the expedition.

As the dig gets underway, a deep rivalry is brought to the forefront of the plot as Marsh worries that Edward Cope, whom William hitched a ride with after Marsh and his classmates left without him, will steal the credit for his discoveries. At one point, Marsh even suspects that William is a spy for Cope, showing just how paranoid the overweight, brash paleontologist really is.

Through the summer, William Johnson, who never even wanted to go along on the trip in the first place, begins to mature and find purpose in what they’re doing. But as the ‘coming of age’ part of the story comes to an end, the plot takes an exciting turn when the team makes a shocking discovery. Buried in the American West are the remains of a giant dinosaur, which, to be fully analyzed, needed to be transported back to the lab–a job easier said than done.

Both Marsh and Cope were real people, and so was their carefully detailed rivalry, though William Johnson was not. And whereas Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park details the adventure of living dinosaurs, Dragon Teeth focuses more on the art of paleontology and the race to make the next big discovery.

Once the manuscript was discovered after Crichton’s death in 2008, the author’s wife, Sherri, traced her husband’s work back to a point in time when he was in contact with the Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. It’s well researched, as Crichton obviously put in a lot of time studying not just paleontology, but what life was life back in the 1800s. 

Unlike Jurassic Park, however, Dragon Teeth, Crichton’s “other” dinosaur story, is more of a slow-burn adventure. Mixing plenty of historical fact and fiction, Crichton took the time to carefully develop his plot and characters before ramping up the suspense for a twisting, tension-filled final act that doesn’t disappoint.

While Dragon Teeth is definitely not on the same level as ER (which he also created) or Jurassic Park, it’s entertaining enough for Michael Crichton’s fans to enjoy one more adventure from the supremely talented storyteller.

Book Details

Author: Michael Crichton
Pages: 292 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062473352
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: May 23, 2017 (Order Now!)

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