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

19 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 0307263622
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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

“The Natural History Museum is, first and foremost, a celebration of what time has done to life,” writes Fortey, whose engaging book similarly commemorates the vast record of life on Earth. As he meanders through the halls of the museum’s back rooms, Fortey proves to be an excellent, witty guide to the scientists and specimens that give testament to this history. Far from being a dry read, Dry Storeroom No. 1 weaves together colorful anecdotes about the scientists, their research, and the value of museums, defending evolution while admitting how much we still don’t know about the Earth’s species (starting with beetles, for example). A few critics pointed out that Fortey errs on the side of including too much information, but most readers will embrace his guide to, well, everything having to do with life.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

From Booklist

Fortey, senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London and author (Life, 1999; Trilobite! 2000), here turns his eye to the inner workings of a natural history museum. Though a paleontologist and an expert on trilobites, Fortey looks at all of the major departments of the museum, examining how they work, providing brief backgrounds on the sciences themselves, and telling stories of many of the museum’s scientists both past and present. Explaining how science works through his stories from the museum, Fortey tells of truffles and how they illustrate the science of taxonomy; the Piltdown Man fraud and how more modern techniques exposed the hoax; how one of the ichthyologists found a lost Mozart manuscript while searching for a sixteenth-century book’s illustration of a herring; and how the “First Law of Museums”—never throw anything away—turned up a cast of the Koh-i-noor diamond made before it was recut. Well illustrated with photos, this chatty book meanders from tale to tale in the endlessly fascinating manner of a good storyteller. --Nancy Bent

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307263622
  • ASIN: B002RAR1MG
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,226,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Allie on October 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
About a month ago, (September 2008) I had a chance to hear Richard Fortey himself lecturing about this book. The lecture, very fittingly, was happening in a natural history museum. As his lecture unfolded, I found myself with many of the most interesting characters that have ever contributed to natural history, both famous and obscure. I also learned about what goes on behind the scenes of the museum, and of some of the many interesting and strange specimens which are not on display, such as an "accursed amethyst" and the famous rock from Mars which is said by some to contain fossils. After the lecture was over, I went home and started reading the book, and found the written account of these things and people to be just as engaging as it was to hear Richard Fortey speaking. It is like recieving your own guided tour through the Natural History Museum of London, and even through the history of natural history. Richard Fortey shows that scientists can be very eccentric and unusual characters, in spite of their stereotype of being very dry and boring. All in all, this is an excellent book which chronicles the history of the museum, the people who make it go, and the specimens which are stored inside it. I recommend this book to anyone who has wondered what goes on inside the hearts of museums, and also to people who are interested in natural history. You will finish this book knowing much about the "behind the scenes" of museums.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Lynch on March 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've had the pleasure of working behind the scenes in a number of natural history museums. While a grad student, I had an office in the Natural History Museum in Dublin, spent a good deal of time every year in the collections of the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and a month at the Natural History Museum in London. As anyone who has spent time behind the scenes will tell you, not only are all the really cool specimens kept away from public view, but museums are populated with some very strange people! Richard Fortey's latest book offers a wonderfully entertaining and evocative depiction of life in the London museum. He covers the the history of the museum and its collections, the people, and the political skirmishes as administrators wrestled control of the museum away from the scientists and into the hands of businessmen.

Fortey's central message is important: the sort of basic (often morphological) systematic and taxonomic work that is being done in museums is important and should not be diminished by administrators' love of "sexy" techniques or charismatic taxa. Our intellectual landscape is being shrunken by the ever-increasing trend to turn museums into sites of performance and tourism rather than of research.

Those familiar with museums will recognize many archetypal figures. Members of the public will get a wonderful insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I highly recommend this book.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bart King on January 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Richard Fortey is also the author of Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution. This has some bearing on this wonderful book because of passages like this:
It might seem an odd ambition to try to get everyone to pronounce a word correctly. But mine has always been to get the world to say "trilobite" without fudging, and with a certain measure of understanding. My own mother was wont to say "troglodyte," which at least has a certain prehistoric dimension, even if it refers to human cave dwellers rather than extinct arthropods several hundred million years older than humans.

"Did you have a nice week with the troglodytes, dear?" was one of her regular enquiries.
As this (hopefully) illustrates, Fortey is a capable and humorous guide, one who can impart information without the reader minding it a bit. And this book isn't just about hidden exhibits and research. Some of its most fascinating specimens are the humans who work behind the scenes.

One of Fortey's particular strengths is what I call the "Doug Henning Superpower." Older readers may remember Doug Henning as a tie-dyed magician with big hair. Although he should have been aggravating, Henning was able to look as amazed as his audiences at the wonders he wrought onstage. Fortey has this ability as well; he is a guide who takes us behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum with a convincing demeanor of excitement and wonder.

And it's contagious!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By RyanS93 on September 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I actually received this book as a gift from my former biology teacher. Biology and the such isn't my favorite subject but I enjoy learning about it, and so was interested in reading this book. I (and many others I'm sure) expected this book to be rather like a textbook or encyclopedia (to play on the title, be "dry") but I was pleasantly surprised. Fortey manages to introduce a wealth of genuinely fascinating information about the museum, its eccentric scientists, and the many specimens they studied while being humorous and entertaining at the same time. I learned an incredible amount about species I never knew existed, how taxonomy and its related methods work, and lots about the museum itself. Fortey tells many stories about himself and his coworkers, and really shows the genius of the scientists who do all of this incredible research. His humor and wit are sure to make you smile while reading it, and keeps you interested in it for the entire length. I never thought I would enjoy a book like this about natural history and a museum, loaded with technical information, but due to Fortey's writing talent I did. Overall, an excellent read and highly recommended.
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