Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions

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9780670890934: Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions

Roy Chapman Andrews led "the most celebrated fossil-hunting expedition of the twentieth century", wrote New York Times science writer John Noble Wilford. Financed by Morgan, Rockefeller, and a host of other Wall Street titans, the Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922-1930) comprised the most ambitious scientific venture ever launched from the United States up to that time. Under the auspices of New York's American Museum of Natural History, Andrews conducted five expeditions to the last unchartered corner of the world: the Gobi Desert of Outer and Inner Mongolia. In Dragon Hunter, Charles Gallenkamp vividly recounts these tremendous discoveries and the unforgettable adventures that attended them. Filled with astonishing tales of Andrews and his team braving raging sandstorms and murderous bandits, enduring political intrigue and civil wars, and reveling in the fascinating world of Peking's foreign colony, Dragon Hunter also traces the religious controversy over evolution and the anti-imperialist conflicts between the United States and China that were sparked by Andrews's expeditions. Gallenkamp tells Andrews's incredible life story, from his beginnings as a floor sweeper at the American Museum of Natural History to his international fame as one of the century's most acclaimed explorers. The result is a thrilling page-turner-an epic search for dinosaurs and extinct mammals cloaked in a sweeping historical narrative.

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Roy Chapman Andrews was never much of a scholar, and anyone who looked at his high school report card might have foretold an undistinguished future. But, from an early age, Andrews's ambitions lay outside the social norm; an ardent fan of Robinson Crusoe and a devoted outdoorsman, Andrews wanted nothing more than to be an adventurer. He got his chance when he talked his way onto the staff of the American Museum of Natural History in 1906, under whose auspices, 15 years later, he was to mount the first of his central Asian expeditions. This decade-long program of exploration took Andrews and his team into the heart of the Gobi, one of the last uncharted regions on earth.

Convinced for ideological as much as scientific reasons that humans originated not in Africa but in Asia, Andrews spent much of his time in the field seeking evidence of early man. That search would prove fruitless, for, as biographer Charles Gallenkamp notes, "nary a scrap of genuinely ancient human bone was ever retrieved by the Central Asian Expeditions." What Andrews and his colleagues did find, however, has propelled dozens of scientific missions ever since: huge caches of dinosaur bones at places such as Mongolia's Flaming Cliffs. These fossils helped demonstrate geological connections between Asia and North America, and they added dozens of new species to the paleontological record.

All the while, Andrews contended with bandits, corrupt officials, invading armies, disease, and other dangers. After finishing Gallenkamp's vigorous book, readers will understand why Andrews should have served as the model for the movie character Indiana Jones--who, if anything, pales by comparison to the real thing. --Gregory McNamee

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