When I was in second grade, I had a "boyfriend" who was totally into dinosaurs. He lived, breathed, ate, and dreamed dinosaurs. Me- I was into books and stuffed animals. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to spend time looking at lizard-like, freaky-looking creatures, like dinosaurs, all day long.
And then, about twenty years later, I saw part of a documentary about dinosaurs and fossil-hunting and something clicked. Some years before that, I had become interested in the history and politics of museums and their collections, and learning about the acquisition of dinosaur bones and eggs by natural history museums suddenly seemed fascinating.
Thus my interest in this book about what some have called the "Indiana Jones" of fossil exploration. Roy Chapman Andrews, a charismatic, bold, restless, adventurous kind of guy, organized the massive undertaking known as the Central Asiatic Expeditions from 1922 until 1930 in the Gobi Desert of Inner and Outer Mongolia. With the help of his mentor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and financed by economic powerhouses like Morgan, Rockefeller, and many others, Andrews was able to gather together a talented group of scientists, archaeologists, and translators to explore one of the last mysterious regions on Earth.
Many people in the early 20th century thought that the Gobi held nothing but sand and bandits, but as Andrews and his teams discovered over nearly a decade of exploration, the great desert was unbelievably rich in dinosaur and mammalian fossils and eggs. Such discoveries helped fuel Andrews' multiple forays into the desert, as well as his determination to bring back to America as many fossils as he could to put on display in the museum.
Blocking him at every turn, though, were the bureaucratic hurdles put up by the Chinese government and the political unrest of the region in general. In these interwar years, China was nearly torn apart by rival warlords in a power vacuum. The chaos they churned up added to the disorganized methods of the bureaucratic machine, and the Communist takeover of Mongolia, together with the roaming bandits, made Andrews and his team prime targets. Foreigners weren't welcome, especially those who came to remove artefacts from the Gobi's sand.
And yet, as Gallenkamp strenuously emphasizes, Andrews was always careful to secure the correct permits for entering the Gobi. Often, permits were changed without notice when the government was shaken up, and Andrews would have to negotiate, with the help of his team, new permits and contracts. He agreed to give Mongolia duplicates of all that they discovered, but often this wasn't enough to appease government officials.
Nonetheless, Andrews and his team made some of the 20th century's greatest discoveries about dinosaurs and various extinct mammals, though they didn't find evidence of early humans, which they were also hoping to discover in the deserts of Asia. Andrews's expeditions added fuel to ongoing debates about evolution and human origins, and also raised important questions (still debated today) about national "ownership" of artefacts. So if you're interested in paleontology, exploration, museums, or just fascinating history, check out Dragon Hunter.