Friday, September 14, 2012

Shells, Diamonds, and Pressed Plants

Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey

Summary: Richard Fortey—one of the world’s most gifted natural scientists and acclaimed author of Life, Trilobite and Earth—describes this splendid new book as a museum of the mind. But it is, as well, a perfect behind-the-scenes guide to a legendary place. Within its pages, London’s Natural History Museum, a home of treasures—plants from the voyage of Captain Cook, barnacles to which Charles Darwin devoted years of study, hidden accursed jewels—pulses with life and miraculous surprises. In an elegant and illuminating narrative, Fortey acquaints the reader with the extraordinary people, meticulous research and driving passions that helped to create the timeless experiences of wonder that fill the museum. And with the museum’s hallways and collection rooms providing a dazzling framework, Fortey offers an often eye-opening social history of the scientific accomplishments of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Fortey’s scholarship dances with wit. Here is a book that is utterly entertaining from its first page to its last.

Review: A disjointed and disappointing book that touches on a lot of science, a number of people who did that science, and not much about the actual museum itself. 

I was quite excited to read this book since I had thought it would be about natural history museums. It turns out I didn't read the summary all the way, which seems to be happen more than I would like. I love museums and certainly need to go to more to them so I would have loved if this book was about the history of natural history museums. It turns out it is about the London Natural History Museum, which would have been fine if the book was about the history of the museum, but it isn't. Even the county historical society I worked at has enough of a history to be able to fill at least a few pages so I was expecting a lot of good information about the Natural History Museum. 

I really did enjoy the first chapter when I learned about the hidden stairways, doors, and hallways. I like exploring buildings (including the historical society I intern at) and it sounds like the Natural History Museum is a great place to get lost in. I did somewhat enjoy learning about the different sciences and the scientists, but I did find myself skimming through a lot of the information. If I had been expecting it, I might have enjoyed it more.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interested in the sciences that are usually featured in a natural history museum.

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