In 2012, a New York auction catalogue boasted an unusual offering: "a superb Tyrannosaurus skeleton." Eric Prokopi was the man who had brought this extraordinary skeleton to market. As the T. bataar went to auction, a network of paleontologists alerted the government of Mongolia to the eye-catching lot. As an international custody battle ensued, Prokopi watched as his own world unraveled.
Ms. Williams’s writing is often concise and evocative ... But those characters also leave Ms. Williams’s narrative feeling padded, even at 278 pages ... it’s not clear how another potted biography here advances the story. Ms. Williams’s 89 pages of endnotes, including a lengthy account of the death of Pliny the Elder in A.D. 79, are also symptomatic of runaway research. But the story, when she sticks to it, is gripping and cinematic.
Although the dinosaur is undoubtedly in the details, as it were, the biographies of minor characters occasionally distract from the larger narrative. Especially fascinating, however, are the intertwined roles of paleontologists, collectors, and commercial hunters—all who covet fossils and feel a claim to natural history. In the spirit of The Feather Thief (2018), Williams’ illuminating chronicle questions who has a right to nature.
Williams capably takes on the political and fossil-rich history of Mongolia ... All these Mongolia-centered sections are strengthened by Williams's one-on-one interviews with major players ... The book does have some flaws. It's as if Williams felt compelled to include every last thing she learned through her research, even beyond the 90 dense pages of footnotes ... More disconcertingly, whenever the Tarbosaurus narrative gathers speed, Williams dumps in a sticky web of new names and facts to keep straight ... When the fossils and fossil fieldwork are given center stage, the pages turn fast.