How could you not be fascinated by a scientific attempt to de-extinct one of the most famous extinct animals of all time? That’s one of the questions posed by Mezrich in his latest non-fiction masterpiece, Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures. While we all know that the Woolly Mammoth has not yet been revived, this book is an astonishingly detailed and well-written account of how we have gotten to where we are, which is a lot closer than you might think.
Woolly jumps back and forth in time and place, but mostly follows the life and work of George Church, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and his team, including several post-docs and PhD students. Along the way, you meet men running wildlife reserves in Siberia, zookeepers, journalists, and more. Mezrich weaves a great narrative, easy to follow as you move between key players, all from remarkably true events. If you shelved this book in the fiction section, people would read it as the next Jurassic Park, but instead, it is real and happening in a lab in Boston and supported by people all over the world.
While the revival of the woolly mammoth is obviously very complex science, Mezrich does an excellent job of describing it without making you feel stupid or without simplifying it down too much. He tells it like it is in terms of what you need to really understand and what is background noise, and by the end of the 270-some page book, you’ll be able to talk about CRISPRs and gene splicing and mammoth hemoglobin and the like to your neighbor. Reading this as an English major, though one who has taken numerous biology courses, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the science I was able to understand, and when I didn’t understand something, I could be assured that it wasn’t going to impact my ability to enjoy the rest of the events at hand. I’m never going to be on that team reviving the woolly mammoth, but Mezrich’s writing allowed me to feel like I was right there alongside them.
If you want a taste of what Mezrich offers, check out this National Geographic article on the attempts at hand. Mezrich’s writing is splendid, the story is compelling, and you’ll feel really invested in the team’s work by the time you reach the epilogue, written by George Church himself.