How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever
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How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  485 ratings  ·  73 reviews
In movies, in novels, in comic strips, and on television, we've all seen dinosaurs—or at least somebody's educated guess of what they would look like. But what if it were possible to build, or grow, a real dinosaur without finding ancient DNA? Jack Horner, the scientist who advised Steven Spielberg on the blockbuster film Jurassic Park and a pioneer in bringing paleontolog...more
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Published April 20th 2009 by Tantor Media (first published 2009)
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So much of this book is, "oh, people are going to be nervous about making a dinosaur out of a chicken," and "ethical considerations this," and "playing God that."

Stop pussy-footin', Horner! We want our dinosaur chicken, and we want it NOW!

We're not going to live forever, and neither are you. You already have people changing proteins in eggs and making chicken embryos with teeth and tails. Let 'em hatch!

Grant? You don't need a grant! You need a loan, from somebody who understands that a dinosaur...more
Joel Carlin
Book reviews, like online hotel reviews, are entirely biased by the reviewer's background. As a professor of evolutionary biology, I like to look over books that are both responsibly written, scientifically accurate and engaging for both the high school graduate and science graduate student.

For me, it gets two stars primarily for the third category: I just found the writing a little simplistic and lacking in detail. Generalizations can let you build up an exciting story, but the language just wa...more
Nick Gotch
Believe it or not, the title's no joke: the author really does want to bring back a dinosaur. Ok, maybe a superficially similar form, but the story really is about genetics, developmental biology, paleontology, and the like. The author's approach isn't like "Jurassic Park," rather, he has a different approach that makes a lot of sense.

It's definitely a great read even if there are quite a few off-topic tangents he seems to take. It's not so much a book about dinosaurs themselves, so don't expect...more
This is a stunning example of the book contradicting its title. "Extinction doesn't have to be forever" is a sexy proposition which is addressed in the 200 or so droll pages of what's essentially a condescending conversation. The author directly indicates in the pertinent sections that he is merely talking of atavisms rather than reconstructing a dino genome. Let me save you a shit ton of time:

1)Modern tech makes the recovery of proteins possible across long periods
2)The author hates creationist...more
Ebster Davis
A few years ago I was waiting in a dentists office, I picked up a magazine and read an article about developmental evolution that could turn a chicken into a dinosaur. It was riviting. I looked forward to reading this book.

Now that I've read it, I'm a bit disenchanted. Most of this book doesn't deal with the chicken-dinosaur directly; and until I could see how each of the chapters progressively builds on the next one, it was hard to see what the author was talking about and how it related to de...more
I picked this book up on a whim because some part of me is still seven years old and intrigued by dinosaurs. The first couple of chapters coupled with the title had me skeptical. But coming to the end of the book there was more emphasis on discussing the results of trying to bring back old characteristics to current species. Asking a question will sometimes lead to an answer, but it always leads to more questions and what better way to further out knowledge. Don't read this book if your heart is...more
Adam Lee
A paleontologist tackles the question of whether we can rewind evolution by using genetic manipulation to induce a chicken egg to hatch into a dinosaur.

I enjoyed Dr. Horner's vivid description of fossil digging in Montana's Hell Creek Formation, his account of how his assistant Dr. Mary Schweitzer left young-earth creationism behind to become a scientist, and his patient explanation of the "fossilized blood cells" controversy in T. rex bones that creationists seized on. That said, this book cou...more
The biggest problem with this book is that Horner didn't really have enough material to fill a whole book, so he padded it. For example, he spent 40 pages of a 230 page book going over the geography and history of Eastern Montana from the time of the dinosaurs, through the first arrival of man, and down to the current day. That said, the last hundred pages or so are interesting. The true subject of the book is however not really on how to build a dinosaur. That's just the hook. It's really about...more
Sean McBride
Mr. Horner is no doubt a great teacher. I would love to be in any one of his classes, because you can tell, just by his writing style that he wants his students to learn and figure the issues out for themselves. The fact that he is an evolutionary paleontologist, and willingly teaches and tells creationists that they can decide for themselves, that he has the mental fortitude and patience to do so, is admirable and incredible. The text itself was interesting as well, a touch base about evolution...more
Ann Keller
Renowned paleontologist, Jack Horner, and James Gorman, deputy science editor of The New York Times, have written a profound book in How to Build A Dinosaur. Rather than zeroing in on ancient dinosaur DNA, Horner and his colleagues instead focus on evolutionary development, or “evo-devo”, as they term it.

We know that the embryos of multiple creatures develop in a similar fashion, for a time featuring arm and beg buds as well as tails. Assuming that dinosaurs evolved in a similar manner, Jack Hor...more
Todd Martin
In “How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever” noted paleontologist Jack Horner discusses the state of paleontological science and puts forth some interesting ideas about how it may be used to make further discoveries in the field.

Like with any cutting edge science, some of the discoveries he recounts have yet to be independently confirmed and gain universal and approval. All the same, the ideas are intriguing. Paleontology used to be dominated by bone hunters and comparati...more
crowd-sourcing has this right, a 3.5. half way between 3 and 4. the science was not intimidating (to a non-scientist). certainly it was detailed enough for biologists to enjoy. it's worth a read.

the places it fell short. first, there were a few points where the author diverged from the subject at hand to interject evolution commentary. it is necessary to provide some background, and explain where following genetic lines could simplify or complicate a microbiological cloning effort to bring back...more
Having heard Jack Horner lecture on his theories about the natural history of T. rex and Maiasuar and read his book 'Digging Dinosaurs' I may be predisposed to like this book. The book may seem dry to some with it's opening exposition about fossil hunting and discussion of combining paleontology with laboratory research with DNA. Horner confesses that the scenario supposed in 'Jurassic Park' is quite incredible as a means of recreating dinosaurs. Rather Horner recaps the evidence that birds are...more
Deniz Cem Önduygu
Yes, yes, this is not exactly a book on how to really build a dinosaur. That wouldn't be something you can buy at $10. This is an informal conversation with a brilliant and eccentric paleontologist covering science, pedagogy, history and philosophy; from what it's like to hunt for fossils under the sun, to the latest findings that established the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds; from the molecular biology of embryonic development, to the ethical questions about animal experiments –...more
I thoroughly enjoyed Horner's latest, which deals with reverse evolution and other very cool and exciting things. Like fossilized hemoglobin, and cretaceous collagen, and developmental evolution that could (theoretically) produce a dinosaur from a chicken embryo.

I found the sections that deal more heavily with embryology a bit harder to follow, so the last quarter of the book definitely took longer to process than the first 3/4. That's okay. The theories are pretty groundbreaking, even though th...more
This isn't a book for everyone, but I grew up loving dinosaurs and am raising an almost-six-year-old who is obsessed with them, so I really enjoyed it. The title is a little misleading, but it sure gets your attention. A true dinosaur can't be reconstructed, but the leading experts believe it is possible to alter a few proteins here and there to turn on and off the genes of, say, a chicken to grow teeth and a tail to create a sort of dinochicken. If you're curious about genetics, evolution, dino...more
I found this book to be a fantastic read. The book has the feel of conversing with Jack Horner it's a little rambling at times but tends to stay around on some of the exciting developments for the future of paleontology. The science covered was detailed but not so in depth as to lose the reader. I think this was helped by the fact that Jack, as he mentions often, is not an evolutionary development biologist; he doesn't have the background to go too in depth. Still I found myself keeping my phone...more
James (JD) Dittes
I read this book to keep up with my 10-year-old son, Owen's encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs. It was a great read.

In the first two chapters, Horner quickly dismisses the idea behind Jurassic Park--that dinosaur DNA is still around, waiting to be harvested and cloned into new dinosaurs. Even as paleontology has moved to the molecular level--as vessels and blood cells have been harvested from fossils--there is no sign of DNA or cell nuclei.

Horner turns to genetics and embryology in the last ha...more
Ted Hopkins
This proposal for an experiment, written for the lay reader, gives an enjoyable and satisfying read. The discussion draws upon knowledge in both palaeontology and molecular biology as applied in current research in the field of evolutionary developmental biology. These fields of science combined give better understanding of how changes which occur on a molecular level cause significant changes on a physical level. The discussion gives an intriguing overview of current understanding in these fiel...more
Leo Morales-Egizi
Jack Horner wants to take a chicken embryo and fidget with regulator genes in such a way that the chicken grows teeth, a long tail, and clawed forearms instead of wings; that is, he wants to make a non-avian dinosaur. This book tells you why and how it might work, why Horner thinks we should do it, and why it wouldn't result in a terrifying apocalypse. It's an intriguing idea and it's exciting to learn about the kind of research that has been and is being done that might make it a reality. The b...more
Nicholas Griffith
Although it starts off slow, the research behind this book is extraordinary. The new evolutionary field of evo-devo is coming up with surprising new insight as to how embryos develop. Very much ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, it seems as though in many animals the embryo undergoes the transformation of it's genetic ancestors. In the case of a chicken, for a brief stage in the chicken's development it resembles something more like it's dinosaur ancestor. (In humans, the tadpole stage is probabl...more
Mo Tipton
Try as I might I couldn't bring myself to finish this one. Horner has an annoying tendency to digress...and digress and digress, and I never even made it to the "meat" of the book--the actual evo-devo material. In the first chapter, he blathers on about the Freemen, the Unabomber, Lewis and Clark, and buffalo, which, had I picked up a book on any one of those topics I suppose I would have been satisfied, but I wanted to read about frickin' dinosaurs. Granted, all of that blathering eventually le...more
Kin Guan
Got this book mainly for Dr Horner's signature... It is intriguing to listen to a paleontologist talking to you in a casual, conversational way about his research, and how he thinks the study of dinosaur fossils and of chicken embryo can solve the mystery of evolution. I like how he raises some issues in the field, such as the ethical and political concerns over the modification of embryos, yet was slightly disappointed by the shallow discussions. It has a very catchy title, yet does not deliver...more
It's an interesting idea, but this feels more like a one-hour lecture that was expanded. It is a reasonable primer for those who know little about evolution but who are interested in dinosaurs, but there is not much new for those who know a lot about evolution -- or dinosaurs for that matter. Also, annoyingly there were a number of typographical errors.
Michelle Jones
I was looking through books in the library and was struck by this title. I had seen Jack Horner in a number of documentaries and had actually seen Horner's TED talk on "Dinochicken" see

Overall, I found this book fascinating. The first chapter started a bit slow, but I found most of the book to have a lot of fascinating information on new palaeontological methods and ideas about dinosaurs. Toward the end of the book, it again started to lag a little talkin...more
I initially thumbed through this book at the bookstore and thought is was a combination between fantasy and science; a mixture of 'what if' combined with real world science. Fantasy it is not! This is a serious but easily digestible view into new though processes involving interrupting the proteins processes of DNA to persuade regression to once again evolve. While scientists these days can grow skin or some organs from cells of the same type of organ, this book goes further to explore the possi...more
Christopher Obert
This book is a very interesting book about the history and evolution of modern birds, namely the humble chicken. It is also about the history and development of what may be the most fascinating group of animals ever, the dinosaurs. The book covers the question of whether it is possible to create a clone of a dinosaur in the same way it is done in the movies; however maybe it is not a question of cloning, but biological reverse engineering, aka “reverse evolution.” I found the book well written a...more
I ordered this book after seeing a segment on 60 Minutes with Jack Horner and Mary Schweitzer about the research and the book, and it was well worth the read. It is written in a conversational tone, easily read by the lay person--but let's be realistic, there is a minimum level of nerdiness one needs to possess to even want to read this book in the first place. If you have that nerdiness though--be it a background in science or simply (like me) a residual fascination with dinosaurs that has carr...more
Accessible and humorously written, with nuggets of fascinating information on every page. If you want to know about genetic engineering in general, and dinosaurs in particular, this is a good place to start. Some of the other reviews are scathing about the science and the bias, but any book that tells me how to produce teeth in chickens is worth my time. And, I like it when science fiction enters the world of the laboratory. (This one has me remembering the STNG episode when the crew began de-ev...more
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“The worse the country, the more tortured it is by water and wind, the more broken and carved, the more it attracts fossil hunters, who depend on the planet to open itself to us. We can only scratch away at what natural forces have brought to the surface.” 2 likes
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