Still Life: Book summary and reviews of Still Life by Melissa Milgrom

Still Life

Adventures in Taxidermy

by Melissa Milgrom

Still Life

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About this book

Book Summary

It's easy to dismiss taxidermy as a kitschy or morbid sideline, the realm of trophy fish and jackalopes or an anachronistic throwback to the dusty diorama. Yet theirs is a world of intrepid hunter-explorers, eccentric naturalists, and gifted museum artisans, all devoted to the paradoxical pursuit of creating the illusion of life.

Into this subculture of insanely passionate animal lovers ventures journalist Melissa Milgrom, whose journey stretches from the anachronistic family workshop of the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History to the studio where an English sculptor, granddaughter of a surrealist artist, preserves the animals for Damien Hirst's most disturbing artworks. She wanders through Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosities in the final days of its existence to watch dealers vie for preserved Victorian oddities, and visits the Smithsonian's offsite lab, where taxidermists transform zoo skins into vivacious beasts. She tags along with a Canadian bear trapper and former Roy Orbison impersonator--the three-time World Taxidermy Champion--as he resurrects an extinct Irish elk using DNA studies and Paleolithic cave art for reference; she even ultimately picks up a scalpel and stuffs her own squirrel. Transformed from a curious onlooker to an empathetic participant, Milgrom takes us deep into the world of taxidermy and reveals its uncanny appeal.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Milgrom’s initial uneasy curiosity blossoms into genuine appreciation for a true art form, an enthusiasm the author imparts with style in this substantial study." - Publishers Weekly

"While this reviewer would have liked a little more detail on how taxidermists work, Milgrom's lively account will appeal to readers who enjoyed Mary Roach's quirky science books" - Library Journal

"Who knew a book about dead animals could be so lively? This is a wonderful look at a quirky, passionate, sometimes fanatical subculture." - A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know It All, The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries

"A delightful, illuminating journey through a passionate subculture that prizes the natural world (even if nature's inhabitants are dead when taxidermists work their magic on them)." - Shelf Awareness

The information about Still Life shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Sande O. (Rochester, NY)

Riveting Read
I have always found taxidermy fascinating. A little strange perhaps, but interesting. I spent 8 years in grad school at the University of Wyoming so I get the "trophy" aspect of "stuffing" animals, and I remember the museum dioramas from childhood and I've read about Victorian's fascination with personal collections is species. That being said, what motivates modern day taxidermists? Are there many left? Are they all like Norman Bates from Psycho?

Armed with these questions and a healthy curiosity, I was drawn to Melissa Milgrom's book on the subject. What I got were a lot of answers, but much more.
The author covers the gamut of these artists/technicians and along the way gives the reader insight into the field, the science, the history, the eccentricities and the politics that make up this field. There is a lot more to preserving animals than one might suppose and Milgrom takes the time to become a participant in the process as well as an observer. If you like to venture outside your comfort zone once in while, give this a try. Altogether Still Life is a riveting read.

Fred S. (san diego, CA)

still life
I thought it was a great book. It brought back my own memories of the sights and smells of the shop which I hung out in when a boy.

Sharon W. (Two Rivers, WI)

Still Life
This was a very interesting book and a learning experience. The book was about Taxidermy. I knew what taxidermy was but never realized how much went in to it. This is an art. The people involved in taxidermy take it very serious. They even have contests.

If you are up for a learning experience, I would definitely recommend this book.

Penny N. (Saginaw, MI)

Yikes! Still Life and it's stuffed
I chose this book because I knew nothing about it's subject matter except for the fact I never enjoyed the final product staring at me. Now that I have read the book I know a lot about the subject matter but feel no less of an aversion. However, this book is well written, well researched and I commend the author on her exacting work. No matter if you're fan or foe you will end up angry at taxidermy and what happened at the Smithsonian, as a man is allowed to "buy" his way to trophies. You will marvel at the extent some will go to be the best or even the most creative. Some start with road kill. What's funny is most practitioners will not "recreate" pets. Others go back to the Audubon method: he killed them, to stuff them, to draw them. If you can get past the "chill factor" this is an interesting look at life after death. By the end even the author gets into the act.

Daniel A. (Naugatuck, CT)

Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy
I was pleasantly surprised after reading this book; the last hundred pages were the best and justified my high rating. I now have a basic knowledge of the art of taxidermy just in case it ever pops up in a conversation.

Heather K. (Brooklyn, NY)

Taxidermy is Not for Sissies ...
and neither is this book! Melissa Milgrom shatters the images that taxidermists are ghoulish or perverse (but eccentric, yes, definitely, collectively ... eccentric!). She finds they admire animals intensely, and gives an exclusive look into a world of men and women who are zealous in perfecting how they preserve and display animals.

Taxidermists are beyond "dedicated": they're down-right obsessed with their art, and absolutely exacting with the science in how they achieve perfection. Why is this book not for sissies? Because the chapters on her stuffing a squirrel are excruciating to read -- in a good way! I'm all for journalistic integrity, but the book was falling flat for lack of any real involvement on the author's part. Finally our author gets her hands dirty (well, bloody) as she skins and mounts a squirrel for competition.
Milgrom does not leave out any details during this ordeal. I felt like I was standing next to her, cringing with every cut and snip! By the end of the competition, and thus the book, I felt much more satisfied with the read as whole!

...12 more reader reviews

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More Information

More Information

Melissa Milgrom has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Travel and Leisure, and Metropolis, among other publications. She has also produced radio segments for Public Radio International's Studio 360. She holds a master's degree in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and lives in New York City. She can be found online at melissamilgrom.com

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