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Re: The last dinosaur book



Matthew Celeskey wrote:

[on Bill Mitchell's _The last dinosaur book_.]..
>> I would be curious to learn how you lot thought about this book.
>> Anyone?
>
>
>I'm currently working on a review of this book, so my thoughts are good
>and fresh.
>
[clipped]
>
>In total, a few solid thoughts scattered throughout a framework of
>overextended ideas. Man's fascination with dinosaurs deserves better
>treatment.
>

I also read and reviewed The Last Dinosaur Book. It never quite reached the
"hurl the book across the room in disgust" stage, but it came close at
times.

Mitchell has some interesting ideas, and once in a while gets playful
enough to be interesting. But my main frustration was the feeling that he
never did enough homework to understand what he was critiquing. He picked
up scattered images and assembled a pastiche that was to me rather
reminiscent of Charles Fort, the eccentric New Yorker who compiled books of
oddities he found in the archives of the New York Public Library.

Item: He mentions rumors that the paper mache used in a Smithsonian
dinosaur was mulched up money, and goes (verbally) off shaking his head at
how such silliness could have arisen. I happen to know -- around the turn
of the century mulched-up money was used to make souvenirs sold to
Washington tourists, such as a paper-mache plate my grandmother gave me
when I was a child.

I would have considered that a footnote -- anybody could easily have missed
it -- except that Mitchell missed so many easier targets I saw a pattern.
He didn't even understand that the Zalllinger mural contains more than the
Mesozoic, going all the way back to the Permian. I wonder if as a cultural
relativist he didn't think that was necessary?

Which all in all was a shame, because I think his outsider's perspective
could have been very valuable. How did the racist perspective of some late
19th- early 20th-century paleontologists shape their attitudes? Didn't
social Darwinsism implicitly assume that progress was good, and thus the
old must have been obsolete and sluggish (thus the old view of slow,
lumbering, and very dumb dinosaurs)? If he'd been more interested, I think
he could have done a much better job, but he wasn't. Either that or he had
a book deadline and just churned it out.

And there's the rub. Maybe it isn't possible to properly cover a subject
that you don't care about. That's why I don't write about, say, football or
professional wrestling or abstract philosophy. -- Jeff Hecht