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The Rarest Of The Rare [Hardcover]

Nancy Pick

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Book Description

Oct. 24 2004

Where do you find Nabokov's butterflies, George Washington's pheasants, and the only stuffed bird remaining from the Lewis and Clark expedition? The vast collections of animals, minerals, and plants at the Harvard Museum of Natural History are among the oldest in the country, dating back to the 1700s. In the words of Edward O. Wilson, the museum stands as both "cabinet of wonder and temple of science." Its rich and unlikely history involves literary figures, creationists, millionaires, and visionary scientists from Asa Gray to Stephen Jay Gould. Its mastodon skeleton -- still on display -- is even linked to one of the nineteenth century's most bizarre and notorious murders.

The Rarest of the Rare tells the fascinating stories behind the extinct butterflies, rare birds, lost plants, dazzling meteorites, and other scientific and historic specimens that fill the museum's halls. You'll learn about the painting that catches Audubon in a shameful lie, the sand dollar collected by Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle, and dozens of other treasures in this surprising, informative, and often amusing tour of the natural world.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (Oct. 24 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060537183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060537180
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 21.3 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 816 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,124,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Rather like a natural history museum, this book contains arresting visuals and intriguing facts but has a vaguely musty air about it. Pick, a staff writer for the Harvard Museum of Natural History, traces the growth of the institution and the accretion of its millions of animal, vegetable, fossil and mineral specimens, asserting the continuing relevance of collecting and studying whole organisms in this age of molecular biology. (As Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson writes in the introduction, "Biology could not have advanced without the collections of museums like this one.") The bulk of the book is devoted to photographs of flora and fauna (or rather, their taxidermied or fossilized remains), accompanied by matter-of-fact commentary about their biology or provenance. Stuffed birds, pickled turtle embryos and tapeworms taken from the intestinal tracts of "upper-crust Bostonians" share space with a haunting fossil butterfly and an awesome plesiosaur skull. Other relics, though, fail to impress: Vladimir Nabokov's collection of butterfly genitalia, for instance, probably needs to be seen in person. The most interesting sections are those that delve into the science behind the specimens, such as the mini-essays on exotic animals and the physics of blue coloration, but these, too, are cursory and rare. 95 color photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A sampling from the 20 million specimens closeted at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the several dozen plants, animals, and minerals presented here were selected for their connections to interesting tales. The associations are sometimes either famous or bizarre, such as a woodpecker collected by Meriwether Lewis or a mastodon skeleton acquired by a Harvard professor hanged for the 1849 murder of a fellow don. Pick's choices, however, stem from the desire to depict her institution's two-century-long role in the history of biology. E. O. Wilson's introduction details the course of natural history from taxonomic description to molecular biology to evolutionary biology; Pick prefaces the main text with an essay detailing the fluctuations in the museum's reputation. Aided by Sloan's excellent photographs, Pick then groups specimens into extinct species, species discovered by museum scientists, or specimens studied by world-famous Harvard scientists such as Ernst Mayr and the late Stephen Jay Gould. This work is a beautiful showcase that will arrest the interest of every passing browser. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Peale, who founded America's first scientific museum in Philadelphia in 1784, taught himself the art of taxidermy. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone! Nov. 13 2004
By Alexander George - Published on Amazon.com
This is a beautifully produced book, as carefully designed as a "coffee table" book, but without the cumbersome size and off-putting price. The book will appeal both to those with a cabinet-of-wonders curiosity and to those who are more interested in the scientific relevance of this great museum's holdings. Aside from its production, there are three great stars to the book. First, its writing: clear, humorous, informative and narratively driven. Second, its photographs: gorgeous, telling, often interestingly angled. Finally, its selection: a wide-ranging collection of different kinds of objects with very varied histories and significances. -- Again, everyone will find something in this book, and most people will find a lot indeed.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treasure to Read and See!!! Nov. 5 2004
By Elizabeth Kochvar - Published on Amazon.com
In an age increasingly dominated by TV and the Internet, it's great to find

a book that both captures your imagination and caters to people with a short

attention span!!! The Rarest is a series of fascinating stories wrapped

around artifacts from the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The coolest

thing about this book is that each story is self-contained. Just open the

book to a random page and get the skinny on "The Last Wolf Nose." Flip to

another section and learn about "The Mastadon Murder." If you have kids who

like to learn about nature, these little vignettes are perfect educational

bedtime stories. Photos are beautiful.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A TRULY OUTSTANDING BOOK!!!!!!! Dec 10 2004
By Darwin Mayr Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
This is a gem of a book. A rare combination of science, history, and photography. The book presents the history of Harvard's Museum of Natural History and the great scientific treasures it holds. Nancy Pick's wonderful writing style includes historical information on how the specimens came into the collection and on the scientific importance of these specimens. You get to see material collected by Lewis and Clark, Captain Cook, Darwin, Nabokov, and many, many others. There is something here for everybody: birds, insects, orchids, mammals, fishes, reptiles, etc. This is truly an outstanding book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a mere listing or summary outline of specimens March 11 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Museum enthusiasts and natural history buffs alike will find the museum stories in The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History are enhanced with nearly a hundred color photos by Mark Sloan as images accompany descriptions for some of the unusual specimens housed at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, with Nancy Pick explaining the special importance of each. The Rarest Of The Rare is more than a mere listing or summary outline of specimens as author Nancy Pick reveals just how the item was collected and where, as well as noting the diverse financial and collector contributors who often performed extraordinary feats to get the specimen to the museum.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful and entertaining book Dec 6 2004
By Bill Rhodes - Published on Amazon.com
The Rarest of the Rare is an excellent and entertaining look at many of the truly unique and historically-significant treasures found at the Harvard Museum. It is very well written, with just enough information to capture your attention and imagination, but not so much as to be boring; together with the exceptional photographs, this makes for a wonderful addition to any natural history or museum buff's library.

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