Mar 9, 2016

A Gathering of Wonders

by Joseph Wallace

This book is about behind-the-scenes stuff at the American Museum of Natural History in NY. I though it would be just my thing - I love visiting natural history museums- but it wasn't quite. It does have a lot of background stories- how different departments were developed and shuffled over the years, how the vision of the museum changed and shifted with various patrons and directors, how things are managed. Lots of names in here- both famous and those which remained in obscurity but should be recognized for some amazing work they did contributing to the collections or their organization. What I enjoyed most were the mention of interesting specimens and their importance, or stories of collecting expeditions, but those were all so brief it just sent me online to look more stuff up, particularly for firsthand source material which might satisfy my curiosity more.

Some interesting stuff I was motivated to look up: ants that are blind and follow scent trails can get confused into marching in a circle until they die of exhaustion. Poison dart frogs born in captivity are not poisonous- scientists think that the frogs get toxins from their natural diet. Coral is used to grow new bones. There are lizard populations comprised entirely of females- and their offspring can bear young. And there was a curious dinosaur Mononykus olecranus which had oddly stunted forelimbs attached to strong muscles- scientists are not sure why.

Rating: 2/5       288 pages, 2000


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Too bad it wasn't better! The problem with institutional histories is that they can end up being a catalogue of names and names and more names. My brain can't keep up with it.

Jeane said...

Exactly. I could have read an entire book on any one of many subjects that were briefly presented in here.