DRAGON TEETH, written by Michael Crichton in 1974, was published after his death May 23, 2017. This light and entertaining novel about the Bone Wars in the Old West flits along and is somewhat forgettable, but it’s an easy read with many entertaining elements.
In DRAGON TEETH, William Johnson, a listless Yale student, decides to join an expedition into the Wild West on a bet. He follows paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh into territory contested between the United States and the Sioux Nation to dig up dinosaur bones, which at the time were amazing the public, shaking up the scientific world already in turmoil from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and challenging firmly held religious views. A lot was happening around this time–the gold rush into the Black Hills, the lawless town of Deadwood, Custer’s Last Stand, Wild Bill Hickock’s murder, Wyatt Earp’s travels. Johnson’s adventures take him out of Marsh’s service and into the camp of the man’s arch rival, Edward Drinker Cope, another paleontologist.
When Johnson gets separated from his expedition, he finds himself stranded in Deadwood with crates of bones, including an extraordinary find. He must protect the bones and somehow get them back East on his own. Johnson takes on the challenge and becomes a man in the process.
As far as a Wild West novel, it’s very light fare, if touching on some interesting American history. DRAGON TEETH is far more engaging in his description of the Bone Wars. The two paleontologists portrayed in the novel were real men who hated each other and dedicated their lives and fortunes to the pursuit of fossils and discrediting and ruining each other, socially and financially ruining themselves in the process. Their competition, which sometimes came to gangs of paleontologists shooting at each other at remote sites, produced a revolution in recovering precious fossils and our understanding of Earth’s history. Before their very eyes, humanity was achieving an understanding we now take for granted, that dinosaurs walked the earth long before modern humans existed.
So I give an “A” to Crichton for teaching me something I didn’t know in a novel that, while not his best work, reads short, fast, and easy. A fantastic beach read. If you’re interested in the Bone Wars, check out some of the sources Crichton points out at the end for further reading. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and Amblin Television are apparently also working on a limited TV series.