In the three years between its release and its film adaptation, a novel about paleontology, theme park logistics, and the ethics of genetics science in the hands of private corporations sold around nine million copies. Jurassic Park (1990) was a banger. A novel by the late twentieth century’s preeminent airport thriller writer, Michael Crichton, it transcended even his usual wide readership—bored businessmen and others craving some semblance of intelligent-but-not-square “high octane” plotting—and spawned a franchise worth billions. Yet Jurassic Park’s success has always been predicated less on the novel’s actual content and concerns—Can and should we clone dinosaurs? If we do, are they really dinosaurs? What happens when we try to put them in a theme park?—and more on the bare fact that it has dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?
Given that our collective obsession with dinosaurs has helped fuel trends in popular culture since the 1800s, Jurassic Park’s success as a novel makes some sense. The novel has always remained in print and was a bestseller, but it was never acclaimed and isn’t remembered with much fondness. It was, for all intents and purposes, a mediocre thriller novel. But it asked big questions and it started something even bigger—a franchise, spearheaded by Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film adaptation, that became a global phenomenon and shows no sign of extinction three decades after the novel’s release.