Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory … by John McKay

Large hairy elephants got me into paleoanthropology, eventually.

Cohoes Mastodon Exhibit in old New York State Museum, Albany, NY.
Cohoes Mastodon Exhibit in old New York State Museum, Albany, NY.
I had a strong interest in science, and it was nurtured and expanded by my frequent visits to the New York State Museum, and there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind, anywhere, that the coolest exhibit at that museum was the Cohoes Mastodon exhibit. Barbarians eventually came along and tore that exhibit down, along with all the other fantastic and traditional museum displays, when they made the new, slick, produced for consumption and not intense engagement with materials knowledge building museum.

My friend John McKay also got into paleo studies as a young child because of a hairy elephant, but in his case, it was diminutive and green, unlike the large hairy Cohoes elephant. But John persevered in the large elephant area, while I went in somewhat different directions (though I did get to help dig up an extinct four tusker in Africa once). Eventually, John became the Go To Guy in all matters Mammoth and related things. John is an historian, so his focus has been the emerging understanding of the past (and present) as western (and other) civilization(s) repeatedly encountered and grappled with the remains of ancient and unbelievable beasts.

The reason I mention any of this at all is because John wrote a book, Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science, that is now available for pre-order, and that you must read.

I’ve not seen the book yet, but I’ve read some of the stuff that is going into it. Think Stephen Jay Gould meets Don Prothero. Rich, engagingly written, context-rich, carefully done description and analyses of the afore mentioned process.

This book promises to be an interesting and important, and very readable, exploration of the development of natural history and modern science. I know John, this is what I expect of him, and this is what I’m confident he is going to give us.

The book will be available in hardcover or kindle. Of course, I’ll write a review as soon as I can. The book is slated for publication in June 2017.

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