Discovering the Mammoth

Book Review Comments

John J. McKay’s Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science (New York: Pegasus Books Ltd., 2017) describes the history of paleontology by tracing the history of the discovery of mammoth bones. The first part of the book provides some references to ancient and medieval Christian views and many connections to early modern, Christian views of giants, unicorns, and the biblical flood as people discovered the bones of large animals and tried to make sense of them. Mammoth bones were often associated with giants (cf. Genesis 6) and unicorns (as per the King James Bible translation and other resources). German scientists were especially involved in the modern period as they had greater access to Russia and Siberia.

The book is fun to read. However, the text has so many typos, one wonders what editorial process was used. Many of these typos should have been noticed by an alert reader. Perhaps the editors used some software based process that sped up work but in the end did not achieve the best results.

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