Elvis and T. rex have left the building*
Bring Back the King: The New Science of De-Extinction by Helen Pilcher
A book by an award-winning journalist with an Elvis fetish delivers vignettes on the death—and potential rebirth—of Earth’s animal species with a tone that is at once heartbreaking, hopeful and funny.
Humor is a bonus in this debut title by Pilcher, who holds a doctoral degree in cell biology but has made a living as a science journalist and comedian for more than a decade. She describes the nascent science of bringing species back from extinction through genetic engineering, and does it through a series of lively stories. Some are childhood memories. Others are stories of researchers who are working to make de-extinction a reality, or the species that are going extinct today. Though Pilcher has carefully researched and documented the science, her lighthearted tone and fast pace make the book fly by. For instance, Pilcher doesn’t just describe the extinction of the dinosaurs. Instead, she tells the story of Stan, a 7-ton 20-year-old T. rex, on the morning 65 million years ago when he awoke to the sound of a meteor the size of Mount Everest hitting the Earth. Later, she gives advice on how to escape from a T. rex, should Stan’s kind be “de-extincted”: “Bigger animals find it harder to run uphill… so run for the hills and when you get there, run up them in a zigzag pattern. T. rex, with its bulk and sticky-out head and tail, was not quick on the turn.” The book is replete with Elvis puns, and Pilcher explores the challenges—both technical and ethical—that prevent scientists from bringing her favorite rock and roll icon back from the dead. But she reserves the most reverent passages for an animal on the brink of extinction: “As I write this line, there are just three northern white rhinos left alive on the planet. By the time you read it, they might all be gone.”
A book to give curious adults a firm layperson’s grasp of the science, or a deft tool to recruit high school students to pursue careers in genetic engineering, animal conservation or evolutionary biology.
*I wrote this review as an "audition" for Kirkus Indie, hence the Kirkus style.