|Harper Collins Paperbacks|
the guardian Fri 05 September 2008
The Natural History Museum in London's South Kensington houses around 80m specimens. It was built to contain the British Museum's overspill and educate the masses in the wonders of creation and the power of the state. Here Fortey, who worked there for many years as a senior palaeontologist, provides us with a social history of the museum's life and work. This means that Dry Store Room No 1 contains anecdotes such as the curator who created a magnificent back garden with choice architectural finds from the museum skip, and the curator whose room was packed with tottering heaps of paper and mouldy edible Christmas presents. It also means that the book acts as a kind of introduction to the biological sciences, with fascinating discussions of species still being discovered, changes in classification and the mutating history of the Earth. As the relentlessly genial Fortey puts it, "To know about the wonderful excursions that life has taken is to be enriched, to be made aware of the fecundity of our small planet."