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.
Forteys scholarship dances with wit. Here is a book that is utterly entertaining from its first page to its last.
Behind the Galleries
This book is my own store room, a personal archive, designed to explain what goes on behind the polished doors in the Natural History Museum. All our lives are collections curated through memory. We pick up recollections and facts and store them, often half forgotten, or tucked away on shelves buried deep in the psyche. Not everything is as blameless as we might like. But the sum total of that deep archive is what makes us who we are. I cannot escape the fact that working for a whole lifetime within the extravagant building in South Kensington has moulded much of my character. By the same token, I also know the place rather better than any outsider. I am in a position to write a natural history of the Natural History Museum, to elucidate its human fauna and explain its ethology. There are histories that deal with the decisions of the mighty, and there are histories that are concerned with the ways of ordinary people. An admirable history of the Natural ...
Fortey's passion for stewardship is convincing and comes across clearly in the way that the book's content and style mirror each other. This is not a fast-paced book to absorb in one sitting but its meticulous descriptions will please the reader who is sharply attuned to every turn of phrase. While at first glance Dry Storeroom No. 1 would appear to be of interest only to a niche audience interested in the nuances of taxonomy and other somewhat rarefied subjects, Fortey's ability to meld science and autobiography with an essayist's skill has created a book rich with trivia and anecdotes that has much to offer the casual reader. If the language is occasionally burdened by an excess of crystalline details, patience is rewarded in this tribute to the simultaneously timeless and mutable world.
(Reviewed by Karen Rigby).
Full Review (893 words).
Entomology: Did You Know?
Entomology is the scientific study of insects. Defining characteristics of insects are: three main body parts (head, thorax and abdomen), an exoskeleton and no more than 6 legs in their adult form.
"The geneticist J.B.S. Haldane remarked, when questioned by a cleric about the putative properties of God, that one sure characteristic of the Almighty would be "an inordinate fondness for beetles". Of the 1.3 million known species, about two-thirds are insects and one-fifth are beetles.
"There are an estimated twenty-eight million insect specimens in the Natural History Museum, including about a quarter of a million type specimens." (A type specimen being the definitive example of a species ...
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