Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions, By Charles Gallenkamp. (New York: Viking Press, 2001. Pg. 344) ISBN: 0-6708-9093-6
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - November 11, 2001
Dragon Hunter is the biography of Roy Chapman Andrews. A real life Indiana Jones, Andrews may have actually been the model for this fictional character. While this book offers the reader a comprehensive overview of Andrews life and work, the main focus of this biography is Andrews' expeditions to Central Asia, which took place between 1922 and 1930. A palaeontologist, Andrews led five expeditions to the Gobi Desert in search of prehistoric human fossils. He hoped to prove that human life originated in Asia, and not in Africa. While the expedition never found any ancient, human remains, they did find a plethora of animal and floral remains, including several clutches of dinosaur eggs.
Andrews' Central Asiatic Expeditions where conducted under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. And they were financed by some of the biggest names on Wall Street, including J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. While the expeditions were a failure in that they never found what they were looking for - human fossils, they were nonetheless an unmitigated success. Andrews' discoveries where to influence the science of palenotology, and they were to help us better understand the science of evolution. His discoveries also helped fuel the ongoing, religiously based, controversy over the theory of evolution, a subject which was being hotly debated in the U.S. at the time of the expeditions. While in the Gobi, Andrews did more than just hunt for fossils. He made a geological and geographical survey of the region, and, on the side, he spied for the U.S. against the Chinese.
Andrews was a complicated man. He was arrogant and passionate. He was a man who knew what he wanted, and did not let anything stand in his way of achieving his goals. He was a poor scholar yet his work was destined to make numerous scientific discoveries, including many first of their kind discoveries, such as finding the first Velociraptor skeleton. Although he worked for the American Museum of Natural History, and was destined to become its director, he disliked the job of running the museum - it kept him from his first love - exploration. He was, however, a phenomenal showman, who joyously worked to promote himself.
This is just as much an adventure story as it is a biography. Andrews was a daring explorer who willingly faced bandits, civil wars, and harsh living conditions which often included sandstorms. Without the aid of modern conveyances such as GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking equipment and reliable transportation, Andrews challenged the mostly uncharted Gobi desert, which overlaps of the boundaries of both Inner and Outer Mongolia. Besides providing a telling look at Andrews and the expeditions, this book also offers a glimpse at a world that was, including Peking's Foreign Colony, the joys of using camels as pack animals, and the growing storm over Western imperialism in China. This growing political storm was to be one of the factors which prevented Andrews from returning to the Gobi after the conclusion of the 1930 expedition.
Charles Gallenkamp spent many years researching Andrews life before settling down to write his biography. He does not try to analysis why Andrews acted the way he did, but what he does do is to paint a comprehensive picture of who the man was and what he accomplished. This remarkable work will enthrall both the general reader and the academician. It recounts Andrews' discoveries, his adventures, and the scientific and political ramifications of his work. Gallenkamp's treatment of Andrews is fair and unbiased. Gallenkamp, is however, a respected archeologist in his own right. Throughout this book he unabashedly promotes the wonders of archaeology and the almost undescribable sense of joy that one feels when uncovering even the tiniest bit of the past.
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