by Andrew LisMay, 2000
What do you think about big government? This hot-button question is just one of many permeating Tyrannosaurus Sue, the true story of the most impressive, most complete, and most litigated T. rex skeleton yet unearthed. But Tyrannosaurus Sue is about much more than big government and lawyers in fact, it's mainly about the impact on a scientific and societal level of a very big dinosaur. After being unearthed on a Sioux Indian reservation by dinosaur-hunter Peter Larson, Sue became a mini-sensation as one of the most important finds in paleontological history. However, Larson wasn't digging on private land as he thought, and his history of naive handshake agreements would soon be put to the test. With frightening quickness, Sue was confiscated by the FBI and stowed for nearly 10 years while the courts unraveled conflicting claims of ownership by Larson, the Sioux Indian tribe, the U.S. government, and the Sioux rancher on whose land Sue was discovered. Nearly as compelling as this love triangle for Sue's 65-million-year-old bones is the story of excavator Larson, who faced prison for violating outdated federal statutes and Sue Hendrickson, the modern Indiana Jones who discovered the incredible fossil. Using his journalist's attention to detail and an accessible everyman voice, Fiffer keeps the reader engrossed by sprinkling personal information, historical perspective, and scientific tidbits into his narrative. Ê One tribute to the emotional strength of the story is the building sense of dread imposed, despite the inevitable conclusion. If you are unfamiliar with the vagaries of this case, you will, like me, wonder aloud whether Sue will even survive in one piece. Virtually anyone with an interest in dinosaurs, paleontology, conspiracy theories, courtroom dramas, or the struggle of a little guy against incredible odds should enjoy Tyrannosaurus Sue.
Sue will make her long-awaited debut in Chicago's Field Museum this summer. See you there!Though only 26, Andrew Lis sometimes feels as old as dinosaur bones.