An insider’s account of “what a natural history museum curator does.”
After more than 30 years as a research scientist at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, one of the world’s largest natural history museums, Grande (The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time, 2013, etc.) steps back to describe the inner workings of these institutions devoted to the study of biology, anthropology, geology, and human culture. Drawing on his own life and career, he reveals the critical role of curators whose fieldwork advances scientific knowledge and makes possible the exhibitions so popular with the museumgoing public. As a working-class kid from the Minneapolis suburbs, Grande was smitten by natural history when he received a 52-million-year-old fossil fish as a gift. He earned a doctorate in evolutionary biology, joined the Field Museum in 1983, and has spent several weeks each summer for the past four decades engaged in fieldwork in the fossil-rich Wyoming desert that produced the prized fish of his youth. In this profusely illustrated book, he captures the excitement of scientific discovery and the “passion and competitive drive” of successful curators as they pursue wide-ranging research interests in caves, oceans, rain forests, and other locations around the world. His thumbnail accounts of colleagues’ work involving everything from mushrooms and ants to meteorites and ancient civilizations offer readers an opportunity to watch top curators in action. Grande also provides detailed accounts of controversies, such as the legal battle over the museum’s iconic T. rex skeleton named SUE; the long-standing tensions between academic and commercial fossil collectors; and his field’s “fierce debates” about systematic methods. A strong believer in the need to help nonscientists understand science, the author brings curatorial work to life through absorbing stories about fossils, gems, and other natural objects and the men and women who find them.
Certain to appeal to aspiring curators as well as anyone who has wondered what goes on behind the exhibitions.