- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (September 8, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307275523
- ISBN-13: 978-0307275523
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum Paperback – September 8, 2009
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“A fascinating tour.” —The Seattle Times“Lifts the veil on the inner penetralia of the world’s premiere natural historymuseum.”—The New York Review of Books“An idiosyncratic, endearing, and colorful journey through the towers, vaults, libraries, collections, offices, and cabinets that lie beyond the public galleries.” —The Boston Globe“Fortey. . . in his affectionate portrayal of the institution in which he spent his working life. . . sneaks us behind the scenes with all the glee of a small child seeing for the first time the museum's iconic Diplodocus skeleton . . .always authoritative. . . the beauty of the book is that - just like a museum - you can visit the different sections in any order you choose, lingering in the places that most take your fancy. . . and there is plenty of solid science to enjoy, elucidated with brilliant flair.”—Sunday Times“Fortey has a scientist's regard for fact but a poet's delight in wonder. This is a rare intoxicating insight into a hidden community intent on unlocking the universe's myriad secrets.”—Metro"Engaging. . . .Fortey's writing is enough to make the behind-the-scenes work of the museum totally fascinating. . . . (his) delightful book, like the museum it describes, is both rambling and elegant."—Sunday Telegraph“This book is worthy of the place it tells us about, and that is a pretty lofty chunk of praise.”—The Times“Richard Fortey's wonderful book . . . shows the unspectacular elements of the museum collection as the most interesting part of its work, while placing the well-known exhibits in a new and often comical light. . . with eccentricity flourishing unchecked among its staff Fortey has amassed a brilliant collection of anecdotes about their habits.”—Daily Telegraph“In this loving survey of his life at the museum, Fortey. . . is never less than enthused by all the museum's collections.”—Financial Times “Compendious and entertaining. . . much of the narrative interest of the book is carried anecdotally, by wonderful stories. . . Fortey gives us a vivid virtual tour of the museum's hidden stores and retired displays. . . . it is a book filled with a passion for nature and pride in an institution that has done so much to compile its inventory. Fortey is a knowledgeable guide, with a keen eye and gentle humour."—Evening Standard
About the Author
Richard Fortey was a senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London. His previous books include the critically acclaimed Life: An Unauthorized Biography, short-listed for the Rhône Poulenc Prize in 1998; Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution, short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2001; and The Hidden Landscape, which won the Natural World Book of the Year in 1993. He was Collier Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in 2002 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.
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The Smithsonian has been called "America's attic." The Natural History Museum is the attic for the entire British Empire! Like all attics, it contains a great deal of odd stuff. Odd people, too. Richard Fortey, a career paleontologist at what old-timers like me still call the "BM" (for "British Museum," from which it is now divorced), knows or knew a great many of them. This book is partly a history of the Museum, akin to "Bankers, Bones and Beetles" by G. Hellman for the American Museum of Natural History (New York), partly an insider's memoir, partly a commentary on what museums are for, and partly--thank God--a collection of hilarious anecdotes about those odd museum people: the anal-retentive curator who saved string in bins by length, the smallest bin being reserved for pieces "too short for use;" the oh-so-systematic lothario with the well-curated, fully-annotated collection of pubic-hair samples of all his inamorata; the knighted Museum director who was so rotund that people referred to him behind his back as "Sir Cumference" and "the volvox" (Volvox being a perfectly spherical microorganism); and perhaps my favorite, the foraminiferan specialist Edward Heron-Allen, who was also a Persian linguist, a poet, a historian of stringed instruments, and an occultist who possessed an amethyst looted from a temple in India in 1855 and haunted by a Hindu ghost. If these teasershaven't piqued your interest, nothing will!
Beyond the gossip and the science, this is also a book about the nature of work and how it has changed. What used to be a leisurely career at the museum, where for many workers there was minimal oversight and no real pressure to publish, seems to have become in recent years driven by the need for productivity and cost-effectiveness. Although this change is in some ways sad, it also means that a scientist can no longer retire before anyone happens to notice that he has spent his career collecting bits of string.
And beyond being a book about changes in scientific work, Dry Storeroom No. 1 is a book about the changing role of the museum. Is it a place to do science, or is it show biz? Even Richard Fortey admits that when it comes to engaging the public, there's a lot to be said for show biz.
Here Fortey turns his gaze inward, sort of, to examine his work-home of the past 40 years, the Natural History Museum in London. He examines and plays around with the nooks and crannies of its history, physical spaces, objects artifacts and, perhaps most fun of all, the odd, curious, brilliant, pompous, fascinating, funny, exasperating, pugnacious, officious and tumultuous personalities who also called it their work home.
Any long-lived institution is bound to have its characters, but museums encourage it. No one gets rich in museum work (though it sometimes attracts those of, um, independent means). Long-term museum people pretty much have to love it - or rather, love their subject of study and research. Single minded obsession with, say, trilobites, for example, tends to bend one's personality into interesting shapes. Fortey understands, and likely suffers some from, this and his treatment of his coworkers, and the many who came before, is warm, witty and thoughtful, even if he doesn't seem to suffer fools (or bureaucrats) gladly.
I'll not get into great detail here. If you are reading reviews of this book, then 9 chances out of ten, you are going to enjoy yourself in its pages. Fortey is a good writer writing about interesting things and people. If you are a museum person, you will be right at home here. If the thought of reading about the behind the scenes history of this sort of institution sounds dull and boring, then, well, you should move along. The rest of us will get along just fine here.