Nonfiction: Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? From Science to Supernatural, the Many Mysteries of Indiana Jones

Author: Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg, 2008
Genre: Speculative Nonfiction, Humor
Format: Paperback, 264 pages

I mentioned previously that I love popular science, along with pop culture and history. I also LOVE anything to do with Indiana Jones! In fact, I’ve had a huge crush on Harrison Ford as long as I could remember thanks to the movies. When I found out about the existence of this marvelous book that promised to combine all of the mentioned interests of mine, I knew I had to get it and pronto! Basically the authors took all three original Indiana Jones movies and picked it apart for various factoids they wanted to discuss. As a result, we got ourselves a book that tries to answer questions like, Do gigantic rolling boulders really exist? or, Which famous archeologists of the past might have inspired Indy’s character?

When I started reading the book, however, I was getting an uneasy feeling that it did not exactly deliver on its promises. The first part was quite exciting, especially given the fact that it is based on my least favorite movie out of the three – Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I picked up a few very interesting facts and wrote down potential topics I would have liked to research more. I learned about Hiram Bingham who discovered Machu Picchu and whose autobiography on the event I would love to read. I also found out about Percy Harrison Fawcett, who was looking for a lost city in the Amazon that he referred to simply as “Z”, only to disappear forever in the jungle. The exciting tale even prompted me to put “The Lost City of Z” by Davis Grann on my to-be-read list. I would love to learn more about Roy Chapman Andrews who led expeditions to Gobi Desert and Mongolia and survived wild animals and bandits alike, all while making groundbreaking discoveries.

But the further I read, the less convincing the book sounded. It made me doubt the authors’ expertise when they repeatedly stated incorrect facts from the movies. In one such example, they were recalling a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where singer Willie Scott is running around the jungle terrified of different animals she encounters, while Indy and Short Round are arguing about cheating in a game of cards. The authors state that Willie mistook a python for an elephant trunk and, when realized her mistake, screamed in terror. In reality Willie never found out that the alleged trunk was actually a snake, but rather threw it off her shoulder as annoyance. If the authors were actual fans of the movie, they surely would have remembered the hilarious ending to one of the funniest scenes in The Temple of Doom. Instead, they just came off as incompetent writers hired to put together a book in time for the release of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

And speaking of incompetence, Gresh and Weinberg mentioned in the book that they both worked as college instructors in the past. If so, why was the book so poorly put together? Many sentences are badly structured, facts are jumbled and sometimes repeated in one paragraph several times just by rephrasing them, and don’t get me started on research. Half through the book I decided to check out the bibliography and was horrified to find that most research came from Wikipedia and similar online resources. Isn’t the first thing that students are taught about research is to never use non-scholarly sources? I could get on Wiki myself, read a bunch of articles written by other nonprofessionals, sum it all up, and send it all out to a publisher for a nice paycheck. I wanted to see actual scientific research, but found pure speculation and tale-telling. Was it entertaining to read? Yes. Did I pick up a few ideas for further reading? Absolutely. Can I trust everything the book says? Not a chance. Good thing I borrowed it from the library, where it’s going to go back next week and never return.

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