... thrilling ... Exciting as any action tale, The Monster’s Bones features characters from all walks of life, from cowboys and ranchers to scientists, railroad magnates and university scholars. As with any valuable assets, greed was a big factor driving this race to succeed. However, it also pushed science ahead by leaps and bounds, leading to findings that still inform paleontologists and biologists today.
Randall brings alive that swashbuckling time at the turn of the 20th century, when dinosaurs were still a relatively new concept, and the science of paleontology a weapon as America’s wealthiest men and institutions jostled for power in the waning days of the Gilded Age. Randall combines his journalist’s eye for details with a storyteller’s flair for spectacle. His tale is as rollicking as a Western—and in many senses, it is one. It tells of an age when paleontology was woven into the fabric of the American frontier, scientists reached the field by stagecoach and Pullman car, and literal cowboys collected dinosaur bones from the badlands, in service of the East Coast gentry. Along the way, Randall grapples with a profound question: Should fossils be treated as commodities? ... Randall wrestles with these questions, but here, his book is already slightly outdated. In late March 2022, it was announced that one of the world’s premier T. rex skeletons, nicknamed Stan, would be the centerpiece of a new museum being constructed in Abu Dhabi. A couple of years earlier, the fossil was auctioned for a staggering $31.8 million—the largest sum ever for a dinosaur—to an unknown bidder, leaving paleontologists like me aghast. Many of us are reassured that the skeleton has found its way to a museum, although the way it happened leaves me uneasy. Are we entering another age when museums can access dinosaurs only through murky connections with unholy amounts of private capital?