BookBrowse Reviews Dry Storeroom No. 1 by Richard Fortey

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Dry Storeroom No. 1

The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum

by Richard Fortey

Dry Storeroom No. 1 by Richard Fortey X
Dry Storeroom No. 1 by Richard Fortey
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2009, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A museum of the mind and a behind-the-scenes guide to a legendary place

From mushroom gnats to amethysts, botanical prints to vertebrae, the ordinary rests alongside the extraordinary in Dry Storeroom No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum. Like artist Joseph Cornell's boxes, the book presents a cloistered world with all the eccentric curiosities inherent in the process of acquiring, labeling, and storing specimens.

Once viewed as markers of civilization, museums were a gentleman's pastime. Fortey's passing references to the British Empire could make it seem as though 19th century game trophies were on a par with women's genteel watercolors, but despite any omissions regarding colonialism or the ethics of hunting abroad for collections, the book maintains a charm difficult to criticize.

Rather than dwelling on the unsavory aspects of museum-making—at one point Fortey encounters a cupboard filled with models of human heads, arranged by racial stereotype—the book focuses on the rooms and researchers behind the public galleries. Small details often taken for granted are presented as they are; it is up to the readers to make of them what they will, and in the end, this may be the better, if safer, approach, considering that Fortey admits that his book is not meant to be a "comprehensive account". Being guided by an insider has its benefits and drawbacks, but the benefits outweigh any minor complaints about presenting a more dimensional portrait.

Fortey takes a strong position when it comes to the matter of preservation. He periodically returns to the idea that museums are "first and foremost, a celebration of what time has done to life", adding that "the planet's very survival might depend upon such knowledge." The connection is obvious in retrospect, but the environment isn't the first cause that comes to mind when thinking of museums (tourism seems more likely). This alone makes the book noteworthy, compelling one to realize that museums are far from being static institutions. For all that one might debate the methods for creating museums in the 18th and 19th centuries, the urgency to document and save species before they disappear is clear. Museums can be ideal harbingers for change, as when Fortey's colleague, Alwyne Wheeler, led the effort to clean the River Thames.

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

This review was originally published in September 2008, and has been updated for the September 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Timekeepers
    Timekeepers
    by Simon Garfield
    If you can spare three minutes and 57 seconds, you can hear the driving, horse-gallop beat of Sade&#...
  • Book Jacket: How to Stop Time
    How to Stop Time
    by Matt Haig
    Tom Hazard, the protagonist of How to Stop Time, is afflicted with a condition of semi-immortality ...
  • Book Jacket: Mothers of Sparta
    Mothers of Sparta
    by Dawn Davies
    What it's about:
    The tagline on the back cover of Mothers of Sparta says it all: "Some women...
  • Book Jacket: Fortress America
    Fortress America
    by Elaine Tyler May
    In Fortress America, Elaine Tyler May presents a fascinating but alarming portrait of America's...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

A nuanced portrait of war, and of three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Only Child
    by Rhiannon Navin

    A dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    As Bright as Heaven
    by Susan Meissner

    A story of a family reborn through loss and love in Philadelphia during the flu epidemic of 1918.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Be sincere, be brief, be seated

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

G O T P, B The P, F T P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.