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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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6372515,184 (3.74)63
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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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 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:03 -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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