A rich and enthusiastic history of Yale University’s impressive Peabody Museum of Natural History.
The Peabody traces its roots back to a Yale undergraduate, Othniel Charles Marsh. In 1866, when Marsh was appointed to a paleontology professorship at Yale, he asked his wealthy banker uncle George Peabody, the father of modern philanthropy, to fund a museum. He generously gave them $150,000, and the second Peabody Museum was born (he had funded Harvard’s Peabody two weeks earlier). As Conniff (The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth, 2010, etc.) notes in this thoroughly enjoyable history of the museum, it would emphasize, at Peabody’s request, “zoology, geology, and mineralogy.” Harvard got the people; Yale got the dinosaurs—and plenty of them, thanks to Marsh. He led numerous expeditions into the West and discovered hundreds of new species (many named after him) while dealing with Native Americans, even befriending Oglala Sioux chief Red Cloud, helping him meet with President Ulysses Grant to discuss treaties. Marsh was involved in the contentious “Bone Wars” with rival paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, but it did lead to both discovering fossils of many of the best known dinosaurs. Conniff covers all the major figures who helped make the museum great: James Dwight Dana (geology), George Bird Grinnell (founder of the Audubon Society), Addison Verrill (maritime fossils), G. Evelyn Hutchinson (ecology), Hiram Bingham III (discoverer of Machu Picchu), and museum director Richard Swann Lull, who testified on evolution at the Scopes trial. Some of the millions of items collected over the years are displayed for all to enjoy, while most lie in the museum’s basement or archives and storage facilities around West Haven, waiting to be rediscovered. Colored, boxed sections highlighting people and events and over 100 illustrations and photos provide a pleasant coffee table–book feel, and 23 pages of footnotes attest to Conniff’s exhaustive research.
Celebrating the museum’s 150th anniversary, this book sparkles with delightful stories and anecdotes about natural history told in a lively style.