Books

the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Resurrecting the woolly mammoth

david wiloson for the boston globe

“I was obsessed with ‘Jurassic Park’ growing up,” said Ben Mezrich. “Ever since I was young, my goal in life was to be Michael Crichton.”

So when Mezrich first heard about an international effort to bring back the woolly mammoth, a long-extinct Pleistocene-era giant, he knew he had to write about it. He e-mailed George Church, a Harvard geneticist known for his pioneering work on the Human Genome Project, who has taken a lead role in resurrecting the woolly mammoth. Church invited Mezrich to talk. “He’s an awesome human being,” Mezrich said. “He’s so smart. He’s incredibly disarming; he’s very kind. I basically just embedded myself in his lab.”

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Along with scientists in Russia and elsewhere, Church hopes to bring back the woolly mammoth, not for fame, glory, or tourism as in “Jurassic Park,’’ but “to essentially save the world,” Mezrich said. By reintroducing once-native animals to the Siberian tundra, he added, they can help save an environment threatened by climate change. “It’s on the verge of melting,” he said. “The Russian scientists figured out that if you can repopulate it with these Pleistocene herbivores, you can actually lower the temperature of the permafrost by as much as 15 degrees.”

“Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures” is Mezrich’s account of what he calls “a moonshot project.” A movie will follow. In both, unlike in Crichton’s version, scientists are the heroes. “So often in books and movies, they’re the bad guys,” Mezrich said. “But if we’re going to keep going on this planet of ours, it’s going to be the scientists who get us there.”

Mezrich and Church will introduce the book and host a screening of “Jurassic Park” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 5, at Coolidge Corner, and will read 7 p.m. Friday, July 7, at Brookline Booksmith.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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