Acrocanthosaurus: The Bones of Contention, by Russell Ferrell, is a story that’s as amazing as the dinosaur bones discovery around which the adventure unfolds. The book is populated by two larger than life heroes along with a cast of sharply drawn characters from the worlds of paleontology, politics, government, corporations, and contract law. Greed, corruption and dishonesty abound. And like all riveting tales, there are twists and turns, and an unexpected surprise: Acrocanthosaurus is no tall tale, it’s a true story.
Simply put, Ferrell describes the book as “basically about nature, a dinosaur discovery and excavation, and the struggles of the book’s two heroes in the aftermath of the discovery.” In fact, this book is a meticulously researched, historical account of what the author contends, and his research would seem to support, is “one of the greatest achievements of paleontological history.” Given both the breadth and importance of the historical and scientific aspects of the story, the author has actually created two versions of the book. This is a review of the version which concentrates more on history. The second version focuses more on the paleontological science of the event.
The story is anchored not by the dinosaur, but rather by its two larger than life, colorful heroes Cephis Hall, the Arkansas hillbilly, and Sid Love, a Choctaw Indian. Hall is the central figure of the story. In the context of today’s modern naturalist and environmentalist model, Cephis himself is an anachronism. He is a classic, old-timey nature guide, who entertains school children and adults with the stories, legend and lore, and magic of the natural world. He and Sid are vestiges of a vanishing breed of American naturalist adventurers, dinosaurs like the one they seek imbedded in the earth. Ferrell’s portrait of Cephis Hall is rich and romantic.
Acrocanthosaurus is a perfect project match for Ferrell. He is thoroughly familiar with the region of the country in which the story unfolds. He’s an historical writer and former school history and science teacher. And, he has a self-acknowledged bias against the banking and legal professions, and big, multinational companies. This attribute provides especially timely and relevant content in view of the state of current affairs in America and throughout the world. However, these same match-up strengths are also the source of flaws in the book’s manuscript. Some readers may feel that Ferrell “the teacher” is giving them more history and science than they need. Others might feel that there are too many insignificant, anecdotal digressions. But despite these instances, Ferrell is above all a consummate storyteller who always manages to get his yarn back on track and keep the story moving forward at an engaging pace.
Russell Ferrell’s writing infuses Acrocanthosaurus: The Bones of Contention with a “tall tale” quality that makes the book an interesting and entertaining read. Its quirky personality makes it a good choice for anyone who is an avid reader of modern, historical non-fiction.