Book Review by Don Clare
By Paul Semonin
© 2000 New York University Press
“American Monster” by Paul Semonin is without doubt one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. This is the book that ties the many disciplines – of natural history, general biology, paleontology, archaeology, geology, mathematics, history, philosophy, and even religion and political science – together to explain, as the subtitle states, “How The Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became A Symbol Of National Identity.”
As the book progresses, the relationship between mythology and natural history and science comes to light as the dilemma of separating fact from conjecture from fiction unfolds. The most fascinating part of this progression is realizing what a major role Big Bone Lick played in this entire epic (and epoch!)
Our young nation had no established “ancient history” on which to base a feeling of national pride or cultural foundation as did Europe. The discovery of the American Incognitum provided the answer to this need. The great thinkers and men of science of the time responded enthusiastically and the result was the birth of a new science – paleontology.
In the end, Thomas Jefferson became the father of vertebrate paleontology and Big Bone Lick the home of vertebrate paleontology. Big Bone Lick is truly a World Heritage Site and the Friends of Big Bone need to see that it is recognized as such.
I was so impressed with American Monster that I searched and found the author and wrote to him to thank him for producing such a masterpiece. I explained to him the purpose of FOBB to promote the historical importance and significance of Big Bone Lick locally, statewide, nationally, internationally and our ultimate goal to help raise money to build a state-of-the-art museum and research center. He wrote back to say he is a native Kentuckian, born and raised in Louisville, but living in Oregon since 1986. He visited Big Bone Lick back in 2000 and was aware of FOBB and its goals and efforts. He added “I am especially pleased to know that my book may help make people more aware of this need and thereby aid you in your fundraising efforts.”
I encourage everyone to obtain a copy of American Monster to add to your personal Kentucky history library and Big Bone collection. It is truly a local classic. Big Bone Lick is featured extensively throughout the entire work. The book is available at Big Bone Lick Gift Shop for $28.95 or can be located from online book sources.