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Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum [Paperback]

Richard Fortey
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2008

‘Dry Store Room No. 1’ is an intimate biography of the Natural History Museum, celebrating the eccentric personalities who have peopled it and capturing the wonders of scientific endeavour, academic rigour and imagination.

Behind the public façade of any great museum there lies a secret domain: one of unseen galleries, locked doors, priceless specimens and hidden lives.Through the stories of the numerous eccentric individuals whose long careers have left their mark on the study of evolutionary science, Richard Fortey, former senior paleaontologist at London's Natural History Museum, celebrates the pioneering work of the Museum from its inception to the present day. He delves into the feuds, affairs, scandals and skulduggery that have punctuated its long history, and formed a backdrop to extraordinary scientific endeavour from Darwin to the present day. He explores the staying power and adaptability of the Museum as it responds to changes wrought by advances in technology and molecular biology – 'spare' bones from an extinct giant bird suddenly become cutting-edge science with the new knowledge that DNA can be extracted from them, and ancient fish are tested with the latest equipment that is able to measure rises in pollution.

'Dry Store Room No.1’ is a fascinating and affectionate account of a hidden world of untold treasures, where every fragment tells a story about time past, by a scientist who combines rigorous professional learning with a gift for prose that sparkles with wit and literary sensibility.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 3rd Impession edition (1 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007209894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007209897
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 82,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Fortey retired from his position as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 2006. He is the author of several books, including 'Fossils: A Key to the Past', 'The Hidden Landscape' which won The Natural World Book of the Year in 1993, 'Life: An Unauthorised Biography', 'Trilobite!', 'The Earth: An Intimate History', and most recently 'Dry Store Room No.1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum'. He was elected to be President of the Geological Society of London for its bicentennial year of 2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Product Description


‘This book is worthy of the place it tells us about, and that is a pretty lofty chunk of praise.’ The Times

‘In this loving survey of his life at the museum, Fortey…is never less than enthused by all the museum's collections.’ Financial Times

‘Fortey…sneaks us behind the scenes with all the glee of a small child seeing for the first time the museum's iconic Diplodocus skeleton. The beauty of the book is that - just like a museum - you can visit the different sections in any order you choose, lingering in the places that most take your fancy … and there is plenty of solid science to enjoy, elucidated with brilliant flair.’ Sunday Times

“There is nothing dry about this exploration of life behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum…Richard Fortey is an amiable, amusing and erudite guide, with a copious supply of anecdotes…Fortey also has a more serious point: that the unglamorous scientific work of taxonomy…is vital not only for the unexpected discoveries it can lead to…but also because it is intrinsically valuable to understand our world during our short stay here.” Independent on Sunday

'His glorious new book is generously illustrated…the tale he tells is often very funny as well as erudite…it is impossible to avoid list–making in reviewing such a book. Really, all that needs to be said is simply read it, and enjoy it.' Country Life

‘This book is worthy of the place it tells us about, and that is a pretty lofty chunk of praise’ The Times

‘In this loving survey of his life at the museum, Fortey…is never less than enthused by all the museum’s collections’ Financial Times

‘Fortey…in his affectionate portrayal of the institution in which he spent his working life…sneaks us behind the scenes with all the glee of a small child seeing for the first time the museum’s iconic Diplodocus skeleton…always authoritative…the beauty of the book is that – just like a museum – you can visit the different sections in any order you choose, lingering in the places that most take your fancy…and there is plenty of solid science to enjoy, elucidated with brilliant flair’ Sunday Times

‘Engaging…Fortey’s writing is enough to make the behind-the-scenes work of the museum totally fascinating…(his) delightful book, like the museum it describes, is both rambling and elegant’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Fortey has a scientist’s regard for fact but a poet’s delight in wonder. This is a rare intoxicating insight into a hidden community intent on unlocking the universe's myriad secrets’ Metro


`Sneaking behind the scenes with the glee of a child... there is plenty of solid science, elucidated with flair' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous stuff. 18 Mar 2008
Dry Store Room No.1 is a wonderful book that allows the reader an insight into the fascinating world of the Natural History Museum, London. In this book Mr Fortey tells us; not only about the exhibits, but also about the work behind them and the men and women who carried out this work. We learn about all sorts of things from the ghastly stenches of the pit where Whale carcasses are stripped of flesh to the curator who obsessively categorized everything including "string too short for further use".

The science parts can occasionally be a bit hard to understand but like another reviewer I see that as my lack of understanding not Mr Fortey's lack of clarity and besides what would life be if we didn't stretch ourselves once in a while.

I thoroughly recommend this for the sort of person who likes a behind the scenes look at life.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life Begins For Fortey 11 Jan 2009
Richard Fortey is brave to include the word "Dry" in the title of this scientific ramble, since "dry" is exactly what a prospective reader could think when confronted with a book about the inner workings of a museum. However, enough gossipy anecdotes are included in with the facts and figures to ensure that a light tone is sustained throughout this long and affectionate look at a major British institution.

The author's love of his subject, London's famous Natural History Museum, shines through this book, and it is no surprise when he informs us that he, like many other scientists in the museum who he has described in this book, after his retirement continues to work there "for nothing."

This may seem like a rather chaotic, even random, book; Fortey makes this point himself saying "It does not pretend to be a comprehensive account...It is just my own collection-projects that caught my eye..."(p317.) However, it is saved from being merely a description of unconnected work and personalities of the Museum by the fact that the author does have a strong, personal message to impart.

Fortey argues forcefully, particularly in the last chapter, for the importance of taxonomy, the naming of names, the identification of species as part of a natural history museum's remit. He contrasts "This fundamental if...unglamorous science" with more easily funded areas of research, more "hypothesis testing" than pure investigations into the organisms themselves. This is an area of conflict the general reader is unlikely to be even remotely aware of, but Fortey explains the clash and argues very clearly for pure taxonomy to be the basis of future funded work.

Reading this book, the reader gets the impression that for our fossil loving author, and many of the eccentric colleagues he describes, their work is a deeply held vocation. It is easy to admire and even envy them, working in such a fantastic and magical place.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful book 7 Sep 2008
This more than just a description of a museum. This is also a journey into the history of the natural sciences and a part biography as well. Well illustarted, Richard Fortey describes an institution that is trying hard (and succeeding if the new Darwin Centre is any guide)to move with the times, make science accesible to the public, yet has more going on behind the scenes than we could ever give credit.

Anyone who lives in or visits London should pay more than one visit to this marvelous place, and thanks to this book they will be well briefed as to what goes and has gone on there.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The title refers to an obscure, hidden room in the non-public section of the London Natural History Museum, which houses all the forgotten, but fascinating animal artifacts that once played a purpose in highlighting some scientific truth to the public or researchers of the museum. The idea is that this book is a similar room for Forty as he recalls the various curious human creatures that inhabit this famous building.

The style of the book reflects this metaphor - at times being almost too exuberant, but at least interesting and imaginative, but at other times, especially when describing the science, becomes somewhat dry and jargon-laden. It also meanders around, somewhat at random.

The book has opening and closing chapters which generally talk about the place and its works, with specific chapters in the middle covering the various departments of the Natural History Museum - animals, plants, minerals, etc. Fortey meanders between revealing elements of the research behind the secret, scientist-based half of the Natural History Museum, and describing its history, both in terms of the building and its originators, and various colourful workers that passed through its doors. He conveys very well the passion, dedication and eccentricities that are consistent themes for everyone who works tirelessly on cataloguing the organic world. The people do come alive, with Fortey's close descriptions of their appearance and characters, even if at times his words seem a little overly dramatic and the act therefore a little desperate to make everyone appear interesting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful as always 11 Aug 2012
By KirkW1
Oh, how I love Richard Fortey... his books, his all-too-rare TV appearances, his love of obscure marine arthropods...

Fortey's 'biography' of the Natural History Museum is everything that my crushingly disappointing first visit to the NHM was not. On my second ever visit to London, I dragged myself to Kensington, jetlagged and with a raging flu, yet hoping to see just a fraction of the collection that I had dreamt of since childhood. What did I find? A kiddy playground of flashing lights, endless interactive 'multimedia' exhibits involving pushing buttons and buzzing noises, and lots of embedded screens showing films of everything BUT the collection. It was one of the biggest letdowns of my life. If there was any science going on, I certainly didn't see it. It felt more like a suburban amusement park.

Perhaps I am being unkind and grumpy, or perhaps I have gone mad and in my flu-ridden state did not see the brilliant exhibits hidden just 'round the corner. But my overwhelming impression was one of disappointment... especially knowing what objects would have been lurking behind the public galleries.

Of course the kiddies need their entertainment, and museums are a great way of engaging them with science early on. But a little bit of content for those of us over the age of 12 would not have gone astray. I can understand a lesser institution resorting to bells and whistles and things that go 'wheee' to get the punters in... but Britain's Natural History Museum??

Anyway, back to Dr Fortey's wonderful book... I can't help but wonder if some of his colleagues are still talking to him after the publication of 'Dry Store Room No. 1'!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and tedious in equal measure I seldom
Interesting and tedious in equal measure

I seldom, if ever write book reviews, but this time I felt moved to write something, when I realised how many other people... Read more
Published 4 days ago by James Powers
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent read - great book
Published 25 days ago by Andrew Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended.
A fascinating romp through the story of the Natural History Museum. I loved the balance of the scientific and the personal.
Published 9 months ago by Roger Lack
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I am reading this on a KIndle-maybe that makes a difference-but oh so difficult to become engaged-so many words (and I like Russian novels). Read more
Published 11 months ago by hildamatilda
3.0 out of 5 stars A resounding meh
I love the NHM and I thought this would be fascinating read, but instead it's just some bloke's memoir of how awesome it was that he got to work at the NHM.
Published 11 months ago by michoverde
4.0 out of 5 stars Good glimpse into the life of a museum!
. Enjoyable reading and recommended for anyone who is passionate about natural history museums and their nostalgic aura. Good bargain!
Published 16 months ago by violet
4.0 out of 5 stars very good book
this is a very good book immensly readable with memorable characters i bought this copy for a friend as I enjoyed it so much
Published 16 months ago by felco secateurs
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
Wonderful reading, as usually by this scientist, who writes as the best poets. I bought all his books, all of them riveting stuff.
Published on 4 July 2012 by Grevisse Jean
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and enlightening book
I reread this just now and found it almost as much fun as it was the first time. It is very entertaining and you might learn quite a bit. Read more
Published on 11 May 2012 by Helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so Dry Store Room no. 1
Not at all a dry book! Another great book by Richard Fortey; humourous, a series of stories about his work at the Natural History Museum, and how it has changed over the... Read more
Published on 8 Feb 2012 by Mr. A. Pearce
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