Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to negotiate Saturday Los Angeles traffic on our bicycles in order to get to the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles, where the great collection of dinosaur bones from the La Brea Tar pits were exhibited. (Now, many of them are in the Page Museum and elsewhere). The museum had lots of things besides the dinosaurs, though, and it was all fascinating to me. Steven Asma has written a terrific book about how natural history museums came to be, and how natural history became scientific. He kindles (or rekindles) the sense of curiosity that so often opens the eyes of young people to science, and does a great job of explaining how mankind came to understand our place in nature and in evolution. The "pickled heads" in the title refers to those of William Mons, lover of the wife of Peter the Great, and Mary Hamilton, Peter's own lover. Peter had them both executed and their heads preserved. They were kept for many years in the chambers of his wife, Catherine. Stephen Asma has stuffed "Stuffed Animals" with dozens of stories like this, mixed with solid intellectual history.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Stephen T. Asma

Publication Date: 
Monday, January 1, 2001