Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

We are participating in Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge. This review is for a To-Be-Read book, published before March 2015.

There aren’t a whole lot of extinct species that continue to enjoy posthumous remembrance and fame; most are lost the annals of time, footnotes in dusty textbooks. Dinosaurs have always been the exception with their size, and strength, and, you know, that whole ruling the Earth for 165 million years thing. The new Jurassic World movie comes out this June and, in preparation, I’ve been rewatching the original Jurassic Park movies when I realized that I’d never thought to read the books on which they were based.

Published in 1990, Jurassic Park became Michael Crichton’s signature novel (despite his prolific body of work of thrillers, medical and science fiction such as Sphere, The Andromeda Strain, and Congo). Crichton has a background in computer modeling and biological anthropology and received his MD from Harvard Medical School, all of which serve him well in fleshing out his writing with legitimate scientific and mathematical theories that serve to bring his stories to life.

Michael Crichton reignited an interest in paleontology that led to a dinosaur being named in his honor.
Michael Crichton reignited an interest in paleontology that led to a dinosaur being named in his honor.

For those who don’t know, Jurassic Park is the cautionary tale of men (in this case, the scientific world) playing God with genetic engineering. Much in the vein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Crichton showcases how much can wrong with the right amount of hubris and madness. Billionaire John Hammond and his team of scientists have discovered how to create dinosaurs from preserved prehistoric DNA. The reasonable thing to do, of course, is to make an amusement park out of it all. Unsurprisingly the park hits multiple snags in its start-up and experts are brought in to assess the safety of the little island off of Costa Rica that is to become a dinosaur haven. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

I think we all know the answer to that. The rest of the book is a study in chaos theory, where the park owners and workers think they can predict the outcome of their work (a successful park, obedient and sustainable organisms, etc.), when in reality the future conditions are entirely unpredictable. Also, pretty much everything bad that can happen does happen.

Highlights include: All-female, barren dinosaurs finding a way to breed in the wild; baby velociraptors secretly escaping on boats; corporate dinosaur espionage; a startling amount of dinosaur poop that comes with its very own mystery; and the adventures of the stalker T-Rex!

More on Crichton’s writing style and diversity representation behind the cut!

The now iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex from the film version of Jurassic Park.
The now iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex from the film version of Jurassic Park.

Crichton’s style took a little while for me to get into for a few reasons: 1) Though Crichton initially went to school for creative writing, his switch to science seems to have affected his writing style, giving it a certain clinical distance or detachment at times; 2) The book switches frequently between perspectives, from paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler to Jurassic Park tycoon Hammond or his grandkids, Tim and Alexis, to park workers like genetic engineer Henry Wu, control room supervisor John Arnold, lawyer Donald Gennaro, and game warden Robert Muldoon. Now, take that long list and jump between each person’s perspectives every three to twenty pages. It’s a lot to take in.

Truthfully, as frustrating as the shifting perspectives can be, it works as an overall structural technique. We are able to see the park from every angle, understanding the mindsets of the builders and the visitors, from the legal aspects to the practical and oppositional. Even if we disagree with Wu’s excitement about engineering dinosaur DNA without thinking too hard about how these creatures will function in a modern environment, we understand why things are happening, especially why things start to go wrong. Grant and Sattler provide much needed observations of the dinosaurs based on their expertise, and the kids give the novel that innocent excitement that very quickly turns to terror and mistrust.

Jurassic Park main cast: (L-R) Lawyer Gennaro, Park owner Hammond, mathematician Ian Malcolm, paleontologists Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler.
Jurassic Park main cast: (L-R) Lawyer Gennaro, Park owner Hammond, mathematician Ian Malcolm, paleontologists Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler.

Diversity in the book is limited. All of the main protagonists are white, straight, able-bodied characters, save for Henry Wu, the chief geneticist, and side characters (such as the doctors in the prologue) and the nameless Costa Rican construction workers throughout the park. Wu provides an interesting perspective, idealistic and naive in his pursuit of reconstructing dinosaur DNA, filling in the gaps with other animal DNA, such as amphibians. He clearly loses sight of the ethics of his work, focusing only on whether or not he can keep creating. He is blinded by the possibilities and potential prestige and, when faced with the consequences, does not have a slow disillusionment or redemption arc, which makes his storyline a little more complex.

I’ve got another Crichton book, Micro — his final novel, published after his death — which takes place in Hawaii. I’m interested to see how his representation of diversity has progressed since Jurassic Park, especially in an environment so near and dear to my heart.

If you’re also participating in the TBR Challenge, leave us a note in the comments so we can check out your book reviews this month!     

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4 thoughts on “Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

  1. “corporate dinosaur espionage” is the coolest phrase ever, and might need to be the name of my next fictional band.

    I’d be cautious with any of Crichton’s books published after his death… there were a couple of them, it seemed, and I’m not sure how much he actually completed of them before other people had to take over…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review!

    If you’re looking for more dinosaur action to tide you over until Jurassic World, I’d love to hear what you think about The Dinosaur Four.

    The Dinosaur Four focuses on a small group of everyday people struggling to survive in the Cretaceous, without any real discussion of science or philosophy. It’s more like The Mist (Stephen King) in that regard, but with lots of dinosaur carnage.

    Geoff

    Like

    1. I see what you did there, Geoff Jones. I’ll queue this title up for review if only because of your endorsement of dinosaur carnage. LMK if you’d be interested in some kind of interview for our blog as well in regards to your book. 🙂 -Cheri

      Like

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