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

by Richard Fortey

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5642117,647 (3.77)59
Member:NielsenGW
Title:Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum
Authors:Richard Fortey
Info:Knopf (2008), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:science, natural history, British Museum, DDCC

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

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A lot of reviews comment on how dry they found this book, but I rather enjoyed it. I like Richard Fortey's style of writing, despite his tendency to ramble and get distracted. It's more of a biography or history of the Natural History Museum than a chronicle of the science that goes on there, but there's some of that, too.

I liked the sense of exploring a wonderland -- Fortey plainly finds everything in the Natural History Museum a delight and a revelation, and I shared in that. He got in some apt comparisons, too, like comparing the museum's storage to Gormenghast.

I was vaguely aware of most of the broader details here about trends in collecting and displaying, but most of the details about the actual scientists and curators were completely new to me. This book has a distinctly gossip-like feeling, which I didn't mind at all. ( )
  shanaqui | Mar 25, 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. ( )
  divinenanny | Jan 13, 2014 |
This was my favourite of the Fortey books I've read. Essentially an elegy to the grand natural history museum, whose peculiarities and closeted eccentricities are disappearing in a world of computer-assisted taxonomy and interactive galleries. Fortey began his career in a very different world, and conveys through charming anecdotes what made museums special, as well as why they're still important. ( )
  adzebill | Aug 31, 2013 |
Six-word review: Scientist reveals natural history's scholarly side.

Extended review:

Behind the vast galleries of exhibits at London's Natural History Museum, formerly part of the British Museum, is an even vaster labyrinth unseen by the public. Its halls and burrows and storage spaces house the millions of organic and inorganic specimens that make up the ever-growing collections gathered for study and classification by one of the world's major scientific institutions.

The author, a retired trilobite man, knows this world intimately. His years of employment in the paleontology section encompass the changeover from a traditional bastion of scholarly disciplines administered and populated by scientists to a grant-funded public attraction backed by crisp labs of white-coated computer operators. The legacy of the older model, whose passing clearly grieves the author, is preserved in the collections even as new information accumulates in other media.

Rich with anecdotes, character sketches, history, and detailed information about various zoological, botanical, and mineral specimens, including the complex and fraught sciences of taxonomy and nomenclature, Fortey's highly readable book claims only to be his own personal collection--his dry storeroom: an idiosyncratic accumulation of knowledge, lore, personalities, and memories garnered over a long career in the practice of science. Entertaining and informative are equally apt terms for this window on a world most of us will never see. ( )
3 vote Meredy | Apr 20, 2013 |
Wildly discursive, endlessly fascinating look behind the scenes of the Natural History museum in London. Fortey is a scientist's scientist, a naturalist's naturalist- he's compelled to explain some mind-numbing minutia along the way to imparting interesting facts. Some of his pedantic asides made me laugh out loud because they were such textbook nerd moments. There's a lot of detail here, more even than I wanted, but the narrative is terribly interesting. If you like that sort of thing, and I do. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307263622, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:41 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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