Indiana Jones the First

by John J. Miller on August 18, 2010

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

I’ve written a handful of book reviews for the Wall Street Journal. Two of them use Indiana Jones in the lede. What are the odds of that? I’ll post one today and one tomorrow.

The first is a 2001 review of a biography of Roy Chapman Andrews:

George Lucas has always denied that his movie character Indiana Jones was based on the American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. And it is true that in one respect the comparison doesn’t make sense: Jones was supposedly an archaeologist, and Andrews a zoologist. But Charles Gallenkamp’s exciting biography, “Dragon Hunter,” shows how Andrews mixed scientific investigation with swashbuckling adventure. And can it be mere coincidence that both Jones and Andrews were afraid of snakes?

I once had the idea of writing my own biography of Roy Chapman Andrews. During college, I read Chapman’s remarkable autobiography, Under a Lucky Star. It was out of print and I had borrowed it from the university library. I liked it so much that I xeroxed the entire thing and kept it in a binder until my discovery of a real copy in a secondhand bookstore.

The notion of an Andrews biography never got past the thinking-about-it stage. At any moment, I usually have about a dozen such ideas in my head. Even so, my seriousness with respect to an Andrews biography was a little higher than normal. I felt that it was a book that needed to be written. I dropped it, however, when I learned that Gallenkamp was working on his own manuscript. By sheer coincidence, I knew of Gallenkamp from having read his book on the Maya a number of years earlier, when my wife and I were in our Yucatan-honeymoon phase.

The world probably didn’t need more than one modern biography on Andrews. If there was going to be two, mine sure as heck wasn’t going to be second. So I compensated, lobbying to review Gallenkamp’s book for the Journal. It was one way to make use of what I had learned about the subject.

I gave Dragon Hunter a thumbs up. When the paperback edition came out, I was pleased to see that some of my words made it onto a cover blurb.

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