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DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the American Museum of Natural History by Douglas J. Preston

DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the American Museum of Natural History


Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's

Delightfully rummaging survey, somewhat whimsical, of the history and holdings of Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History, by a longtime museum staffer. The largest private museum in the world, it is a fantastic complex of well over 1000 rooms housing more space than the Empire State Building and serviced by 200 scientists and technicians, 600 employees, and 1000 volunteers. No more than two percent of its collection is on exhibit on its 700,000 square feet of floor space; the rest is squirreled away in 23 interconnected buildings. ""The Museum defies reasonable description and enumeration, it possesses the most spiders, the most beetles, the most dinosaur bones, the most fossil mammals, the most whales, the most plant bugs, and the most birds of any museum in the world""--as well as the largest hippo on record and P. T. Barnum's famed circus elephant Jumbo. When one considers the Museum's 2 million butterflies and 5.5 million wasps, a sense of madness drifts over the mind. Who needs 5.5 million wasps, or 2 million butterflies? Planned for Central Park, the museum was first seen as a great Paleozoic Museum based on London's Crystal Palace. It was begun, but when Boss Tweed came to power in 1870 and found he could not bilk the city for work on the museum, he scotched the project, had its foundations plowed under and his henchmen sledgehammer the dinosaur collection. Physically today, going by its original plans, the museum is still only two-thirds built, but its collections--both permanent and ongoing--are ""the real museum."" Preston takes a grand tour of the museum's library of bones, its labs, vaults, corridors and storage rooms, stopping here and there to report on the first findings of some unusual specimens and give a gripping history of New York's cockroaches or of gorilla and elephant life in darkest Africa. For all libraries and great fun.