Our dragon book gets a flaming thumbs up in Nature review

A three-headed dragon statue in Russia, an image from our book from Shutterstock.
A three-headed dragon statue in Russia, an image from our book from Shutterstock.

When you write a book like our new dragon book, as the first reviews of it start coming in you just never know what they’ll be like.

When the person or outlet doing the review has a huge audience, the stakes are higher.

How have the early reviews been for our new How to Build a Dragon or Die Trying book?

For background, my daughter Julie and I wrote a book about how one would try to make a real, living, fire-breathing dragon. You can read more about it here and you can order it here. It could be the ideal gift for many young adults or adults who love dragons or dinosaurs or are just fascinated with science overall.

Helen Pilcher wrote the first review of our book and it was for Nature.

No stress there, right, if it turns out bad? Only millions of readers at Nature.

Fortunately, she seemed to really love the book.  She ended her review this way:

How to Build a Dragon or Die Trying is deliberately flamboyant and outrageous. It’s also funny and smart. Far from a how-to guide for ne’er-do-wells to weaponize reptiles, it is designed to spark healthy curiosity in anyone who enjoys a ripping good science read.”

We felt like Helen totally “got” what we were after in this book. We want readers to have fun with science and let their imaginations run wild. At the same time we poke fun at science hype (note that our subtitle is “A satirical look at cutting-edge science”). Also, we have a more down to earth discussion of ethics in the book too.

We got to have fun imagining how we’d design our dragon or dragons. In that sense we had many things to consider including just to cite one example, how many heads we’d want our dragon to have (see Russian statue of a 3-headed dragon for instance above). Shoot fire or electricity or storms?

If our dragon uses its own “natural gas” as the fuel source for the flames perhaps via specialized GI structures and a designer microbiome, how do we avoid it having a Hindenburg moment? See at right.

Hindenburg explosion
A photo of the Hindenburg explosion. How do we avoid having this happen to our dragon?

We included dozens of cool pictures throughout the book.

Here’s an excerpt from  How to Build a Dragon or Die Trying about how we might use bioelectrical “technology” of electric eels (they have cells called electrocytes that can produce electricity; talk about a cool name for a cell!) to either allow our dragon to ignite its spewed flammable gases and/or to power inserted cybernetic implants:

“So the next question is – how would our dragon control its spark?

Again, we can look to the electric eel for ideas. It can stimulate its electrical organs to produce a coordinated burst of current when it senses and wants to zap its prey. With some training, our dragon could learn to release its electrical spark coordinately with breathing out flammable gases. Electrical animals can also control when and where they release their own electricity via what’s called a pacemaker – a bundle of special cells that trigger other cells to release their electricity.

Such pacemakers are not so different to the cardiac pacemakers that we all have in our hearts, which control our heartbeat – or to the artificial pacemakers that are implanted in people whose hearts don’t beat properly.

Another cool idea inspired by electrical animals is the use of electrocytes and electrical organs as batteries to power cybernetic implants in humans if the right cells and organs could be bioengineered. In the same way, should we choose to engineer our dragon to have electrical organs to ignite its fire, we could use these same organs to power any cybernetic implants we might, in the future, add to our dragon to upgrade its capabilities.”

For more on the book, you might enjoy listening to our interview about it on Insight with Beth Ruyak on Capital Public Radio here.

If you do read the book please let me know what you think of it!

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