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Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum (2008)

by Richard Fortey

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7322321,558 (3.7)66
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 London's Natural History 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.--From publisher description.… (more)

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» See also 66 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This is a special kind of book. A marmite book. It's a memoir of a scientist, of a museum, and of a whole era too in a lot of ways. It manages to cram a history of Taxonomy, the science of classifying things, a personal memoir, a history of the radical changes a century wrought to science in general, particularly the effect Darwin had on all fields of biology, a complete history of the incredible British Museum of Natural History, a biography of Linnaeus, discussion on the value of the colonial legacy of botanical gardens, a history of the changes to the British civil service in the past 40 odd years, a grounding in basic latin and greek, and .... well you get the idea. In fact, I think all the things I listed are covered before the half way point. There's a lot of book in this book! It's a bit of a dry read, unless you're really fascinated by that kind of thing which I am. It's chock full of hilarious anecdotes too. You just have to slog through a bit of science to find them. Like the one about the marine cryptogam expert (that's fungi) who was mistaken for a cryptogram expert (note the extra r in there) and whisked off to Bletchley park during the war - only to accidentally save the day (and possibly the war) when he was the only one who knew how to save and restore German codebooks retrieved from a sunken submarine. I read a good chunk of this, but then I was busy and set it to text-to-speech - which I really don't like usually, but I have this one posh english voice to use so I tried it out - and it actually worked pretty well. ' I suspect the audiobook version of this would be really great, if it's got a good narrator, and would probably get a whole 'nother star. In fact, I think I will look out for that, because there's SO much in this book, I am pretty sure I could read it another 3 times and still be finding new things. ( )
  krazykiwi | Aug 22, 2016 |
Richard Fortey is an expert on trilobites and he was a long time employee of the Natural History Museum in England. In this book he spends time behind the scenes of all the major departments in the museum and tells stories about a few scientists from each area. He also spends a lot of time discussing the importance of taxonomy and the change in science in todays world where research is so heavily tied to getting grant money. An interesting book. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
A wildly discursive but consistently fascinating and entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the Natural History Museum of London. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
Hmmm. Many interesting bits, unfortunately interspersed with far too many bits of gossip and MESSAGE bits. I think I finally understood what he was driving at on literally the last couple pages - he's trying to explain why museums are still valuable in this day and age. Since I already think they are, his cute stories about the characters (in every sense of the word) inhabiting the British Museum mostly bored me (exactly what was the point of the story about Octopus Ross? That sexism was a standard feature of the museum, not all that long ago? How...nice, and how important - not), and his discussions of how their research really does benefit everyone (the discussion of the research was usually interesting, then there would be several pages of him EXPLAINING how this was important...) were very boring. So - I enjoyed many parts of the book, but overall it just didn't work for me. Pity; I think I like Fortey, and I certainly agree with his manifesto. I just wish he hadn't pushed it quite so hard. ( )
1 vote jjmcgaffey | Oct 26, 2014 |
My college degree (Dutch: HBO) is in Cultural Heritage, but before they changed the name of the degree a couple of weeks before the graduation ceremony, it was museology. Basically, I've been trained for four years to work in a museum (any position really, but my preference will always be registration and documentation of collections). Even though the field I work in has nothing to do with cultural heritage or museums (I do software testing, at the moment for a logistics company), I still love it. So, any vacation my husband and I have, we visit many museums and cultural heritage sites, we watch programs and films about museums, and of course I read books about them. That's how I came to 'Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum' by Richard Fortey.
Rochard Fortey is a palaeontologist specialized in the study of trilobites who has worked for the Natural History Museum in London since 1973. This book is his personal store-room of memories of all that time working in the museum. Together with explanations of the how and why of the many types of scientific research undertaken at the Natural History Museum, its history and its building he tells of the people he's worked with all these years. That makes this book a strange introduction to the specific kind of natural science undertaken at a museum (hint, it's a LOT of taxonomy) and a book filled with gossip about the strange characters that worked (under tenure) for the museum.
Because of its focus on science (which is totally understandable because that is Fortey's branch of business in the museum) I was disappointed by the book. I had expected/wanted a book about the museum itself. About the collection, the collectors, the conservation, the curators and the exhibitions. Understandable from my point of view, because that is my personal interest in museums. Back in the winter of 2005/2006 my husband and I did an internship at the micro-palaeontological department of the Earth Studies department of the University of Utrecht. Our task was to register and if needed repackage the collection (of ancient mouse teeth basically) in a database system. We had a wonderful introduction into the many difficulties of taxonomy. We also met many of the types of characters (including the scientists who don't retire). We were able to look behind the screens at several natural history museum. And my husband went on to work in Mallorca with the Myotragus collection there in his next internship (a collection that is mentioned in this book). That made most of the parts in this book familiar, and a bit too much (I'd rather read about conservation than taxonomy). Another thing that put me off was Fortey's gossip about his colleagues. I get that he's trying to describe the quirks of scientists in a museum, but I found it unnecessary to make it so personal (working all your life on just beetles is quirky enough for me). Still, for the most part I can't fault Fortey for my disappointment with the book, it is a good, if somewhat rambling description and defense of the importance of scientific research in museums. Three out of five stars, but this will probably be higher if the reader likes to read about (natural) science more. ( )
1 vote divinenanny | Jan 13, 2014 |
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To Leo, with my love
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This book is my own storeroom, a personal archive, designed to explain what goes on behind the polished doors in the Natural History Museum.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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