“Woolly: The True Story of the De-Extinction of One of History’s Most Iconic Creatures”
By Ben Mezrich
c. 2017, Atria
$26, $35 Canada; 304 pages
Your closet is filled with yesterday’s fashions.
You’re reluctant to donate a thread of it, though, because hey! They could bring back skinny ties, Hammer pants, or shoulder pads any day now, right? Or maybe, as in the new book “Woolly” by Ben Mezrich, re-emergence is best done with bigger things.
Growing up near the swamps of west-central Florida, George Church had a laboratory for his back yard. Born with burning curiosity, Church taught himself etymology at age five and left his peers behind in every stage of public school; in college, he fell fully in love with science and almost flunked out, so focused was he on lab work. He did eventually become a full professor, and landed at Harvard University.
There, in a typical nerdy-but-brilliant-George-Church way, he wooed a co-worker, married, and started working in the then-new world of genomes. Cells consumed him. DNA fascinated him with information and possibilities. It became an obsession, then, when he talked with a journalist who asked if, considering the advances made in the science of genomes, it was possible to bring back extinct species.
Say, a woolly mammoth?
It wasn’t such a far-fetched thing. In 2003, Spanish scientists cloned a Pyrenean ibex and brought the species back three years after it went extinct. But Woolly Mammoths? While many carcasses were frozen nearly intact, they’d been gone for thousands of years.
But was it ethical to revive a creature that may’ve died out anyhow?
The answer came to him in 2012, from a source that Church had never heard of. When two well-known conservationists held a workshop think-tank on the subject of revival, Church discovered Russian scientist Sergey Zimov, who’d spent two decades of his life studying permafrost in Siberia. Zimov claimed that thawing permafrost, in conjunction with global warming, was poised to do great damage to the planet. He explained how ancient animals forestalled the issue millennia ago, and that damage could be reversed by reversing time.
He’d made it his life’s work, as did certain Chinese scientists.
That was all Church needed to hear.
If you do nothing but imagine a meadow filled with 12-foot-tall, shaggy Mammoths, then you know a little bit of what you’re getting from “Woolly.” That, of course, and a totally blown mind …
In a true story that reads like a novel, author Ben Mezrich takes some “Jurassic Park,” a bit of “The Big Bang Theory,” and mixes it with jaw-dropping scientific findings to show how a formerly-extinct mammal or bird may sooner-than-later arrive in a forest near you. As you might guess, there’s international intrigue and adventure in this, and more: Mezrich looks ahead and behind us; he delves deeply into his subjects’ personalities, where zoology fits in, how scientists wrestle with the ethics of revival, where lines are drawn, and where those lines are push-able.
That makes this a book that’ll cause you to think and think and think for days to come, eager and excited, or frightened senseless. For science-minded readers, thrill-lovers, or dreamers, “Woolly” is a mammoth-sized read.
By Janet Mock
c. 2017, Atria
$24.99; $33.99 Canada; 228 pages
When you were 20, you wanted only to impress.
If people looked at you, wasn’t that good? You wanted to be seen, watched, adored by those you saw as desirable. But what, exactly, did you want people to notice? Was it your hair, your body or, as in “Surpassing Certainty” by Janet Mock, was the whole you on display?
At age 19, Janet Mock should never have been where she was, three nights a week.
Her Thursday-through-Saturday schedule was meant for women over 21; that was the legal age for dancing as a stripper in a Waikiki clubs, but the proprietress of the club jokingly offered to “give” Mock two of her own birthdays, and that was that: Mock was a dancer, albeit a self-conscious one.
She was afraid that someone could spot her secret from the bar rail.
At a very young age, Mock knew she was a girl in a boy’s body. Her mother looked the other way while Mock wore feminine clothing and grew out her hair, and she ignored when Mock started taking female hormones as an adolescent. After saving every penny, Mock flew to Bangkok to finalize her transition at 18; months later, she realized that nobody saw her as anything but a pretty black woman.
But the club, well, money was good there and she settled in. She sometimes made a cool grand a week, and she didn’t have to sleep with customers; the club’s owner, in fact, urged her girls not to do so. “Love can wait,” she’d said, but when Mock met the man she’d ultimately marry, there was no reason not to take the plunge.
He was a Navy man who took Mock’s truth in stride, but the two grew apart: Mock quit dancing before she quit the marriage to move to New York City to attend college, where she felt empowered as a woman in control of her life. She made friends, decided what she wanted to do with her life, landed the job of her dreams and, “I was home.”
Filled with florid prose and swoony drama, “Surpassing Certainty” is one of those memoirs that feels like a long conversation.
That can be a good thing, and it can be bad.
In speaking directly to readers, author Janet Mock offers an aura of girl-friendship. We’re privy to many details – maybe even too many – and the information is meted out as if we’re all “Sex-in-the-City” in a bistro somewhere on a Sunday afternoon.
And yet, this conversation doesn’t seem to have a point. Mock writes at great length about stripping. She tells about her many loves, fusses too much about her appearance, and shares thoughts about men that reflect her youth at the time. Except for a juicy admission of omission in her last book, this seemed like a lot of navel-gazing.
If you read Mock’s first memoir and are eager for more, by all means, find this one because you’ll love it. For most readers, though, “Surpassing Certainty” may not completely impress.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.