AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery by Lyle & Rachel Klein Rexer

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery

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The golden age of expeditions sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History has more than enough potential to be a riveting picture-book topic, but it gets curiously wooden treatment from freelancers Rexer and Klein. As the museum launches its largest fund-raising drive ever, it hardly comes as a surprise that a chronicle of the museum's exploits afield, principally from the 1880s through the 1930s, should be released. It was the institution's heyday of collecting--real Indiana Jones material (with all the attendant questions of dubious acquisition, a thorny issue to which the authors give a wide berth). Starting with a brief look at the museum's early years, the volume quickly gets to the meat and potatoes: Franz Boas taking measure of the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest; Roy Chapman Andrews (probably Steven Spielberg's model) of Gobi fame; Theodore Roosevelt and CÆ’ndido Mariano da Silva Rondon whacking through the lianas along the River of Doubt; Margaret Mead and her Samoan schoolgirls; Barnum Brown and his dinosaur bones--all heroic, near-mythic figures in anthropological and archaeological circles. The august museum, even in the midst of this chest-thumping, wouldn't write a thriller about its 125-year history, but these dramatic explorations beg for more than deadpan handling (""Andrews dreamed of finding the missing skull. The next day, after Andrews had been searching only a short time, there it was""). Adding badly needed color are the many exquisite, bewitching, hand-tinted lantern slides; brief sidebars display a flair for writing that the main text can only envy. Best here are the period photographs: Allow them to transport you, put grit in your teeth, chill in your bones.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Abrams