Imagine that you had discovered dinosaur bones that the world had never seen before. You meticulously mapped their location, shipped the bones to your city’s most prominent museum, and continued to spend the next thirty years cataloguing your discovery. Then, one night, your life’s work is reduced to ash and rubble, all evidence of its existence destroyed. This is what happened to Ernst Stromer van Reichenbach. On August 25, 1944, the Munich Museum was obliterated in an Allied bombing raid. Stromer was a brilliant man; he knew his work was in danger, and he pushed to have his collection relocated. His foresight was interpreted as anti-Nazi sentiment, and he was threatened with being sent to a concentration camp; instead, his three sons were shipped off to the most perilous wartime positions. Only one survived, returning from a Siberian labour camp in 1950. Stromer died in 1952; some say his belief that his remaining son would one day come home kept him alive.
Neither bones nor maps remained from Stromer’s 1911 Egyptian expedition. Over fifty years later, Josh Smith and a team of scientists return to the Bahariya Depression in the hopes of finding The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt. The book jacket blurb states that “If you liked Indiana Jones, you’ll adore this tale...” I did enjoy the movie, and I did enjoy this book. However, Stromer’s story is what struck a chord with me – think Indiana Jones meets Treasure of the Sierra Madre meets Titanic. An odd mix, but it works. What doesn't work is the team members' patter filled with “Dude” and “Dumbass”. It's like reading the script for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Egyptian Adventure. At times it does seem like a dark comedy, especially the team lesson on identifying the local wildlife like the death stalker scorpion so they can tell the hospital staff what type of anti-venom to use. Then they stumble upon the biggest dinosaur discovery since, well, Stromer.
It is no wonder this book appeared on the small screen as an A&E Documentary, and perhaps one day an emotional A&E Biography on Ernst Stromer. The reader learns a lot about dinosaurs, but it is painless. Note to Fred Flintstone: cancel that brontosaurus burger! The brontosaurus does not exist; it was found to be identical to a previously discovered creature named Apatosaurus and in the scientific world, as in any cafeteria, first come, first served. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would and that is because of Stromer’s story. Smith and his team of scientists name their discovery paralititan stromeri. In the field of paleontology there’s a rule book for naming dinosaur, The International Code of Zoological Nonmenclature. Because this was a new species, Smith and his team could have tacked on their own last names; instead they chose to honour a man who vanished from the history books. Well done, dudes.