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Dry Store Room No 1 The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum [Hardcover]

Richard Fortey


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Book Description

Jan. 10 2008
'Dry Store Room No. 1' is an intimate biography of the Natural History Museum, celebrating the eccentric personalities who have peopled it and capturing the wonders of scientific endeavour, academic rigour and imagination. 'This book is a kind of museum of the mind. It is my own collection, a personal archive, designed to explain what goes on behind the polished doors in the Natural History Museum. The lustre of a museum does not depend only on the artefacts or objects it contains -- the people who work out of sight are what keeps a museum alive!I want to bring those invisible people into the sunlight.' Behind the public facade of any great museum there lies a secret domain: one of unseen galleries, locked doors, priceless specimens and hidden lives. Through the stories of the numerous eccentric individuals whose long careers have left their mark on the study of evolutionary science, Richard Fortey, former senior paleaontologist at London's Natural History Museum, celebrates the pioneering work of the Museum from its inception to the present day. He delves into the feuds, affairs, scandals and skulduggery that have punctuated its long history, and formed a backdrop to extraordinary scientific endeavour. He explores the staying power and adaptability of the Museum as it responds to changes wrought by advances in technology and molecular biology -- 'spare' bones from an extinct giant bird suddenly become cutting-edge science with the new knowledge that DNA can be extracted from them, and ancient fish are tested with the latest equipment that is able to measure rises in pollution. 'Dry Store Room No. 1' is a fascinating and affectionate account of a hidden world of untold treasures, where every fragment tells a story about time past, by a scientist who combines rigorous professional learning with a gift for prose that sparkles with wit and literary sensibility.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: UK General Books (Jan. 10 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007209886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007209880
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 24 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 762 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #863,099 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Fortey!in his affectionate portrayal of the institution in which he spent his working life!sneaks us behind the scenes with all the glee of a small child seeing for the first time the museum's iconic Diplodocus skeleton!always authoritative!the beauty of the book is that -- just like a museum -- you can visit the different sections in any order you choose, lingering in the places that most take your fancy!and there is plenty of solid science to enjoy, elucidated with brilliant flair.' Sunday Times 'Immensely satisfying!not just enjoyable and informative, but inspiring.' The Independent 'Richard Fortey!a superb writer, is the perfect guide to the extraordinary Victorian edifice that he compares several times to Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.' The Guardian 'An enchanting book.' Sunday Express 'Teeming with life, Fortey's prose is eloquent, lively and suffused with often self--deprecating humour.' New Statesman 'Fortey has a scientist's regard for fact but a poet's delight in wonder. This is a rare intoxicating insight into a hidden community intent on unlocking the universe's myriad secrets.' Metro 'Engaging!Fortey's writing is enough to make the behind--the--scenes work of the museum totally fascinating!(his) delightful book, like the museum it describes, is both rambling and elegant.' Sunday Telegraph 'Compendious and entertaining!much of the narrative interest of the book is carried anecdotally, by wonderful stories!it is a book filled with a passion for nature and pride in an institution that has done so much to compile its inventory. Fortey is a knowledgeable guide, with a keen eye and gentle humour' Evening Standard 'Richard Fortey's wonderful book!shows the unspectacular elements of the museum collection as the most interesting part of its work, while placing the well-known exhibits in a new and often comical light!with eccentricity flourishing unchecked among its staff Fortey has amassed a brilliant collection of anecdotes about their habits' Daily Telegraph 'His glorious new book is generously illustrated!the tale he tells is often very funny as well as erudite!it is impossible to avoid list--making in reviewing such a book. Really, all that needs to be said is simply read it, and enjoy it.' Country Life More praise for 'Dry Store Room No. 1': 'This book is worthy of the place it tells us about, and that is a pretty lofty chunk of praise' The Times 'In this loving survey of his life at the museum, Fortey!is never less than enthused by all the museum's collections' Financial Times 'Fortey!in his affectionate portrayal of the institution in which he spent his working life!sneaks us behind the scenes with all the glee of a small child seeing for the first time the museum's iconic Diplodocus skeleton!always authoritative!the beauty of the book is that -- just like a museum -- you can visit the different sections in any order you choose, lingering in the places that most take your fancy!and there is plenty of solid science to enjoy, elucidated with brilliant flair' Sunday Times 'Engaging!Fortey's writing is enough to make the behind-the-scenes work of the museum totally fascinating!(his) delightful book, like the museum it describes, is both rambling and elegant' Sunday Telegraph 'Fortey has a scientist's regard for fact but a poet's delight in wonder. This is a rare intoxicating insight into a hidden community intent on unlocking the universe's myriad secrets' Metro Praise for 'The Earth': 'Richard Fortey is without peer among science writers.' Bill Bryson '"The Earth" is a true delight: full of awe-inspiring details!it blends travel, history, reportage and science to create an unforgettable picture of our ancient earth.' Sunday Times 'This is not a book for people who like science books. It is a book for people who love books, and life!Fortey has written a wonderful book.' Tim Radford, Guardian 'Read this book because it is, indeed, the best natural history of the first four billion years of life on earth.' John Gribbin, Sunday Times '[an] enchanting book...it cannot be denied that the denizens of the Natural History Museum...might well be the ones to ride to the rescue and help reverse or check the environmental catastrophes that increasingly face us' Sunday Express 'Fortey writes beautifully and this is a wonderful biography of rock and life!He has restored palaeontology to its rightful place in the pantheon.' Lewis Wolpert, Observer 'The tale of life needs constant retelling. Thank some happy accident of history that we have Fortey to tell it to us anew.' Ted Nield, New Scientist 'This book is a metaphor: a book about a museum that is itself a museum...a natural history of the Natural History Museum. It contains collections, of objects and of people; it educates and entertains; it helps you to see the world, and the NHM with new eyes.' Spectator

About the Author

Richard Fortey retired from his position as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 2006. He has won both the Lewis Thomas and Michael Faraday medals for his science writing. He was elected President of the Geological Society of London for its bicentennial year in 2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Museum, the Scientists and their Specimens Oct. 8 2008
By Daniel Allie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
About a month ago, (September 2008) I had a chance to hear Richard Fortey himself lecturing about this book. The lecture, very fittingly, was happening in a natural history museum. As his lecture unfolded, I found myself with many of the most interesting characters that have ever contributed to natural history, both famous and obscure. I also learned about what goes on behind the scenes of the museum, and of some of the many interesting and strange specimens which are not on display, such as an "accursed amethyst" and the famous rock from Mars which is said by some to contain fossils. After the lecture was over, I went home and started reading the book, and found the written account of these things and people to be just as engaging as it was to hear Richard Fortey speaking. It is like recieving your own guided tour through the Natural History Museum of London, and even through the history of natural history. Richard Fortey shows that scientists can be very eccentric and unusual characters, in spite of their stereotype of being very dry and boring. All in all, this is an excellent book which chronicles the history of the museum, the people who make it go, and the specimens which are stored inside it. I recommend this book to anyone who has wondered what goes on inside the hearts of museums, and also to people who are interested in natural history. You will finish this book knowing much about the "behind the scenes" of museums.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent March 6 2009
By John Lynch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've had the pleasure of working behind the scenes in a number of natural history museums. While a grad student, I had an office in the Natural History Museum in Dublin, spent a good deal of time every year in the collections of the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and a month at the Natural History Museum in London. As anyone who has spent time behind the scenes will tell you, not only are all the really cool specimens kept away from public view, but museums are populated with some very strange people! Richard Fortey's latest book offers a wonderfully entertaining and evocative depiction of life in the London museum. He covers the the history of the museum and its collections, the people, and the political skirmishes as administrators wrestled control of the museum away from the scientists and into the hands of businessmen.

Fortey's central message is important: the sort of basic (often morphological) systematic and taxonomic work that is being done in museums is important and should not be diminished by administrators' love of "sexy" techniques or charismatic taxa. Our intellectual landscape is being shrunken by the ever-increasing trend to turn museums into sites of performance and tourism rather than of research.

Those familiar with museums will recognize many archetypal figures. Members of the public will get a wonderful insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I highly recommend this book.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Did you have a nice week with the troglodytes, dear?" Jan. 18 2009
By Bart King - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Richard Fortey is also the author of Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution. This has some bearing on this wonderful book because of passages like this:
***
It might seem an odd ambition to try to get everyone to pronounce a word correctly. But mine has always been to get the world to say "trilobite" without fudging, and with a certain measure of understanding. My own mother was wont to say "troglodyte," which at least has a certain prehistoric dimension, even if it refers to human cave dwellers rather than extinct arthropods several hundred million years older than humans.

"Did you have a nice week with the troglodytes, dear?" was one of her regular enquiries.
***
As this (hopefully) illustrates, Fortey is a capable and humorous guide, one who can impart information without the reader minding it a bit. And this book isn't just about hidden exhibits and research. Some of its most fascinating specimens are the humans who work behind the scenes.

One of Fortey's particular strengths is what I call the "Doug Henning Superpower." Older readers may remember Doug Henning as a tie-dyed magician with big hair. Although he should have been aggravating, Henning was able to look as amazed as his audiences at the wonders he wrought onstage. Fortey has this ability as well; he is a guide who takes us behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum with a convincing demeanor of excitement and wonder.

And it's contagious!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Witty Sept. 20 2011
By RyanS93 - Published on Amazon.com
I actually received this book as a gift from my former biology teacher. Biology and the such isn't my favorite subject but I enjoy learning about it, and so was interested in reading this book. I (and many others I'm sure) expected this book to be rather like a textbook or encyclopedia (to play on the title, be "dry") but I was pleasantly surprised. Fortey manages to introduce a wealth of genuinely fascinating information about the museum, its eccentric scientists, and the many specimens they studied while being humorous and entertaining at the same time. I learned an incredible amount about species I never knew existed, how taxonomy and its related methods work, and lots about the museum itself. Fortey tells many stories about himself and his coworkers, and really shows the genius of the scientists who do all of this incredible research. His humor and wit are sure to make you smile while reading it, and keeps you interested in it for the entire length. I never thought I would enjoy a book like this about natural history and a museum, loaded with technical information, but due to Fortey's writing talent I did. Overall, an excellent read and highly recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anything but dry Jan. 6 2009
By Patricia A. Folley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Dry Storeroom No. 1" is a lively, gossipy memoir of the author's lifetime working at the British Museum. I was intrigued by the resemblance of the characters to some of those I have myself experienced in working at a very different kind of museum. The author has managed to capture the humanity of his fellow-workers while sharing also their contributions to human understanding of the earth.
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