THE RAREST OF THE RARE: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Nancy Pick, Author, Mark Sloan, Author , photos by Mark Sloan. Harper Resource $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-053718-0

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 . Agent, Anne Edelstein . (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 08/16/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-1-78551-011-3
Show other formats
FORMATS
Discover what to read next
TIP SHEET
MORE BOOKS YOU'D LIKE
X
X