The author is going to annoy the crap out of me.
He seems to be more obsessed with academic rank and reputation (or perception thereof) than engaging his readers with the topic of the book, or what I presumed was the topic of the book.
I would love more details about the "forensic" aspects of paleontology or how we figure that the geology of a place gives an insight into the history and changes in flora and fauna.
I have absolutely no interest in the authors career (much of which seems to be the author celebrating his own achievements), his idea of cute commentary on his travels, or his writing about his buddies. I simply do not care. At all.
"I arranged my visit through a series of formal e-mails with a very senior Polish professor, who badgered one of his graduate students into meeting me at the station and guiding me to the small guestroom where I would stay at the Polish Institute of Paleobiology, just a few stories above where the fossils were kept.
I had no idea whom I was looking for, and because the train had been more than an hour late, I figured the student had escaped back to the lab, leaving me on my own to navigate a foreign city in the twilight, with a few words of Polish on the glossary page of my guidebook."
To me his description says more about him being unorganised and somewhat unprofessional than about the excitement of doing research. He took this trip in 2008. I guess it would not have been too far a stretch to send his mobile phone details to the person meeting him at the station in advance? Or did he just expect people to know who he is and be available to wait and/or search for him?
And then we get this:
"Just as I was starting to panic, I saw a sheet of white paper flapping in the wind, my name hastily scrawled across it. The man holding it was young, with a close-cropped military hairstyle, his hairline just starting to recede like mine. His eyes were dark, and he was squinting. A thin veneer of stubble covered his face, and he seemed to be a little darker than most of the Poles I knew. Tanned, almost. There was something vaguely sinister about him. He broke into a huge smile, grabbed my bag, and gripping my hand firmly. "Welcome to Poland. My name is Grzegorz. How about some dinner?"
Sure, he then goes on to describe how the two of them "ended up knocking back several beers" and becoming fast friends, but I'm finding the author to be a bit of an ass.
The tone of narration is quite "laddish" and quite arrogant, and it really does not work for me.
A few more examples:
"Radiometric dating revolutionized the field of geology in the middle of the twentieth century; it was pioneered by a Brit named Arthur Holmes, who once occupied an office a few doors down from mine at the University of Edinburgh."
Surely, he means he once occupied an office next to Arthur Holmes rather than the other way around. Or does the author believe himself to be more influential in the scientific world than the man who "revolutionized the field"??? Oh, hang on, ... he probably does.
"Today's labs, like the ones run by my colleagues at New Mexico Tech and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre near Glasgow, are high-tech, ultramodern facilities where scientist in white lab coats use multi million-dollar machines bigger than my old Manhattan apartment to date microscopic rock crystals."
Of course, we don't get an explanation of why those research facilities should not be ultramodern and be bigger than the author's Manhattan apartment...
And more "cute" commentary...
"Some Argentines weren't so happy that a Norteamericano had come down to their neighborhood to collect fossils, which were being removed from Argentina and studied in the United States.
That spurred a pair of up-and-coming homegrown scientist, Osvaldo Reig and Jose Bonaparte, to organize their own expeditions."
I'm not sure how long I can put up with this nonsense, even if this is a Flat Book Society read.