978-0-609-80705-7 / 9780609807057

The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science


Publisher:Three Rivers Press



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About the book:

Feuds are common to all fields of human endeavour but only scientists see them as integral to their work. Scientific progress is always contentious, as we are reminded by science writer Mark Jaffe in The Gilded Dinosaur, his delightful examination of the well-known war between palaeontologists Edward Cope and OC Marsh in the context of the development of American science. Jaffe has delved deeply into the historical record to illuminate these large personalities and their struggle for access to physical and political territory on which to build their competing scientific empires. Fossil-hunting was inextricably linked with the expansion into the West, the explosion of industrial capitalism, and the new expression of America's status as a world power. Cope and Marsh, in part through their competition for scarce financial and scientific resources, forced the United States to build a scientific establishment combining elements of the public and private sectors.

Jaffe is careful with his details; though there are many of them, they always illustrate his themes and portraits rather than distracting from them. Instead of reproducing the legendary protracted newspaper battle in its entirety, he samples a few headlines and paragraphs, then explores the motives and reactions of the principals. Cope comes across as far more sympathetic than Marsh, but the reader is left with the sense that this reflects historical truth more than journalistic bias. How can you take two egos, thousands of tons of rocks and bones, and make a scientific infrastructure so sturdy that today's schoolchildren grow up with Apatasaurus? The Gilded Dinosaur explains it all. --Rob Lightner

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