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Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,397 ratings  ·  183 reviews
Pronged ants, horned humans, a landscape carved on a fruit pit--some of the displays in David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology are hoaxes. But which ones? As he guides readers through an intellectual hall of mirrors, Lawrence Weschler revisits the 16th-century "wonder cabinets" that were the first museums and compels readers to examine the imaginative origins of both...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published November 26th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Will Byrnes
So, you’re waiting at a bus stop in Culver City when you notice an odd little shop (just, you know, stuck in among the zinnias?) and mosey on in. You could be forgiven if you thought for a moment that you might have dropped into a story from the White Hart or one of Joseph Jorkens’ club yarns. But the tales told here are not tall, at least not the ones told by the author. He tells of this very odd place, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, which holds a dazzling array of oddities, many of which i...more
Forrest
Somewhere between a Sotheby's catalog and a bizarre issue of McSweeney's, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder is . . . well, a cabinet of wonder. If Devo, They Might Be Giants, and Talking Heads all ate way too much turkey, then had a collective dream set in a museum, this is the book they'd write. It's one of those great books where the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurred, both by auctorial intent and by the subject matter itself. This is a deliciously misleading book, full of subterfuge...more
Sam
I discovered this little gem amongst the unique and varied volumes for sale at Viktor Wynd's Little Shop of Horrors in London and, just like the shop I found it in, I loved it and was utterly confused by it (in an immensely good way). Upon reading this book you quickly discover that you don't know what is fact and what is fiction, and of course what is a little bit of both. Weschler takes us into the world of the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT) where he allows us to lose ourselves in the dis...more
Maureen
Jul 14, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
There is only one word to describe this book: peculiar. David Wilson, who set up a museum of oddities and curiosities in a storefront in East L.A., is a peculiar man whose interests run from the eclectic to the confabulatory. Some of the most outrageous exhibits turn out to be real, while others, perhaps slightly muted in their presentation, are more constructs of theories of how things might have been. I couldn't help but to think of the family heirloom, passed down from generation to generatio...more
Justin
This is a strange, little, occasionally delightful book inspired by Lawrence Weschler's fascination with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, an offbeat cultural attraction here in Los Angeles. I have never actually visited the museum but have heard it frequently mentioned, which is impressive considering the museum makes virtually no effort to promote itself, charges a nominal "suggested donation" fee for entrance, and operates out of a relatively tiny (compared to your average museum) storefront...more
Kathryn
I first read this in grad school and have since read it many times, as I teach it to my students.

This is about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City (just down the street from us) -- a museum that may (or may not) be filled with fictional exhibits -- things like a human horn, ants that inhale a spore that makes them crazy, and a scientist studying a theory of memory based on forgetting.

Weschler does an amazing job of describing his sense of wonder on discovering the museum, meeting i...more
Eddie Watkins
I only give this book 5 stars because it introduced me to the museum itself, which I managed to visit a few years ago and which will remain one of my most cherished spaces.

After rereading (or rather flitting through) the book after visiting the museum I found it kind of annoying, maybe a little condescending, but I still liked the point Weschler made somewhere in the book that the purpose of the museum is to induce a sense of wonder.
Michael Titus
This is one of the very few books I purchased by merely looking at the cover and title. I've always had a fascination with Wunderkammern, the precursor of the modern day museum. I love museums and this book recounts the remarkable history of their development, from the 16th Century to what we
are aware of today. But the most intriguing thing, to me, about this book is the introduction and investigation of one David Wilson, the accordion-playing proprietor of The Museum of Jurassic Technology in...more
Neil McCrea
Aug 25, 2012 Neil McCrea rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ben Loory
Recommended to Neil by: my sister
This book is both wondrous and edifying. I recommend reading it at a moderate pace over the course of three days for best results in stimulating both your imaginative and rational faculties.

This is a short book about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a queer storefront museum in LA that blurs the categories of natural history, art and technology museums. The displays at the museum are crafted to instill a sense of both wonder and disbelief. Most of the exhibits are authentic if exceedingly unus...more
Noah
A quirky little book about one of my favorite quirky places in the world: The Museum of Jurassic Technology. If you've never been to or heard of the place, this book is a great primer for the wonderful and bizarre experiences within. The book is really just two long essays, one about the eponymous Mr. Wilson who is as odd as the items he has on display in the museum he created, and the other a brief history of Cabinets of Curisoities (AKA Wunderkammer) that are the precursor to modern museums (a...more
Alejandro Teruel
Un extraño e inquietante libro en la que el autor explora al Museo de Tecnología Jurásico (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_o...) y su hermético y hermenéutico director David Wilson.

El museo constituye un ecléctico maridaje con siete partes de gabinete de curiosidades a tres de museo. Como gabinete de curiosidades o Wunderkammer abarca una mezcla personalísima e idiosincrática de exhibiciones que, como las películas de los hermanos Quay, provocan confusión, duda y asombro en el espectador; e...more
Kara
Side note (not that there's a main note): I read this book at the same time as Pastoralia by George Saunders, sometimes swapping back and forth - a few chapters with one, a few chapters with the other.

I do not recommend this, as it completely screwed with my sense of true/false/up/down. And both books do enough of that as it is.
fawn
“Part of the assigned task is to reintegrate people to wonder”


Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder is, at face value, a historical inventory of David Wilson’s extraordinary Museum of Jurassic Technology – a strange museum that echoes those of the times past. But truly, it is much more. Not only is it an ode to the museum, interwoven is the importance of wonder and the historical importance of the Wunderkammer - a cabinet of curiosities. (I hope I used that in the right context!). It is evident as ever...more
Benjamin
Mar 13, 2014 Benjamin added it
Shelves: non-fiction
After going to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, what I really wanted was a knowledgeable friend--someone whose eyes I could catch, who would reflect back to me my own "what the fuck?" expression over a display of two small mice on a piece of toast with a caption that stated that eating mice on toast was a cure for bed-wetting; someone who then could go on to explain what the truth was behind the mice-eating bed-wetting cure, the horn cut off an old woman, the wheel of bells crea...more
Megan
In Part 1 of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Lawrence Weschler takes us on a tour (for lack of a better word) of the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT). His narrative is extremely erratic with no clear order that I could identify. He jumps from one topic to the next without going into depth on a thing. One moment he is talking about a display, the next he is describing the museum’s proprietor then onto another display and then back to some half-hearted fact-finding he had done on the first disp...more
Tinac
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder is a fascinating book that incorporates specific writing styles to make the reader feel as if the book were fiction. Reading this book really does feel like diving into another story, another world.

The nonfiction is built on multiple anecdotes stacked on top of each other that gives a narrative feel, but these stories are all connected by subject matter, or chronological order. In this manner, the reader won't ever experience random blurbs of information being thro...more
Sharon
Hmmmm. It's hard to say what I thought about this book. It was well researched with far too many citations and references within the text, which made the book harder to read. I have great admiration for both the author and Mr. Wilson who runs the museum at the center of this book. At a basic level, the book encompasses an interesting topic, or many really. I loved the tidbits of artifacts and oddities, wonders of the natural world, and also the relationship that developed between Wilson and Wesc...more
Marissa
The best thing about this book is that it pulls you into questioning academic truth, the proper function of museums, and the nature of wonder in a totally fascinating, unpredictable way. I also loved how it's a series of curious stories and personages within a museum within a book examining that museum. The fantastical nature of what the Museum of Jurassic Technology contains and the dry, edge-of-ironic tone made me question that such a place could even exist as I was reading the book, but the i...more
Kay
The suspension of disbelief is a marvelous thing. This rumination/examination of a singular museum and its eccentric curator looks at the boundaries of what's real and what's imaginary. If, like me, you're continually stunned by the things that people believe and accept without question (especially when presented in a convincing manner, or as my mother-in-law once said, "I know it's true -- I read it in the newspaper!" and she was referring to the National Enquirer), then this tour through a mod...more
John
What I felt Weschler did best was depict the notion of wonder into which the Museum of Jurassic Technology taps. My favorite part of the book was his discussion of doubt and wonder in contrast with positivist rationality and "logic." I think that so many people would peruse Wilson's museum and hear about its 16th and 17th century predecessors, and they would simply react by asking, "Why?" What Weschler does so well in this book is departing from (or re-approaching, as it were) the concept of iro...more
DoctorM
The Museum of Jurassic Technology...how can it not on your lifetime Must-Do list? I've never been to Los Angeles; I'm an East Coast/New England kid at heart. But I'd make the pilgrimage to L.A. just to visit the Museum.

Wechsler's essays here are a delight--- sly and clever thoughts about science, the odd by-ways of natural history, and the nature of museums and obsession. A book that'll hold your attention all through a weekend afternoon, a book that'll send you off on your own explorations. Tak...more
Rachel
Oct 16, 2010 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: nf
Weschler writes like a journalist enthralled, and one imagines that he didn't need much help to bring the Museum of Jurassic Technology to life--the concept of the museum itself is fascinatingly enigmatic. Painstakingly crafted exhibits, specialized visual effects, lengthy, authoritative explanations (whose truth mileage varies); stepping with him into this institution that is "like a museum, a critique of museums, and a celebration of museums--all rolled into one" is a seductive journey and a r...more
Kit Fox
Fun and light and informative; to be read by one and all all the time always. The story of the museum itself is pretty intriguing, but the author's approach—and his dips into the history of museum oddities itself—is what really makes this memorable. Weschler was just the right visitor to Wilson's curio cabinet; in the hands of a lesser writer, this would have come off as twee or "it's funny because he's ironically un-ironic about all these odd knickknacks...which makes it both funny and not at t...more
Andrew
Lawrence Weschler has taken his plainspoken but witty, New Yorker-style prose to a book length treatment. And, naturally, I really like it. Weschler takes the shtick at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and does what I sure as hell wouldn't do-- follows up on it to check its truthfulness. I'm not surprised that he comes up blank most of the time, I'm surprised how much truth there actually is. America can really be pretty weird.
Thom Foolery
When you own as many books as we do, you often need some sort of prompt to get to one that has been sitting on the shelf unread. This book was certainly close to my "to read" shelf, so close in fact that I included it on the bookshelf in my new office for my new job. On Day 2 of said new job (i.e., today), I was browsing the website for the Chicago Humanities Festival, planning for tomorrow's meeting with their Executive Director and Artistic Director, and saw that Lawrence Weschler (the author...more
Lynne Marrs
Fiction/non-fiction....the lines are now blurred. What a little gem of a book and exactly what the doctor ordered to escape the world, at least for a couple of days.
Adam S. Rust
I purchased this book at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the subject of this book, while on a recent visit to see my sister in Los Angeles. If you think it's possible you'll find yourself in Los Angeles during the museum's erratic hours I advise holding off on reading this book until you've gone to the museum itself. The vertigo induced by going into the museum cold makes the pleasure of unraveling the mystery (ever so slightly) by reading the book that much more pronounced. If you don't see...more
Wendy Ortiz
Aug 02, 2009 Wendy Ortiz marked it as to-read
Nice to read esp. after just visiting there for the first time.
Josh Luft
Lawrence Weschler's whimsical exploration into the Museum of Jurassic Technology, its founder David Wilson, and the history of museums felt like a wonder cabinet designed just for me. Weschler's book is about wonder itself, and the region it exists in between reality and fantasy, as much as it's about the MJT, Wilson, and museums. The works that really resonate with me tend to exist in that region, wandering back and forth across the borderline. Take the short stories of George Saunders (or Jorg...more
J.
A particularly bizarre and enjoyable book. If you are unaware, it should be noted that the Museum of Jurassic Technology itself doesn't exist anymore, having been torn down about 5 years ago. But it was an impressive place full of beautiful, forgotten pieces from the Jurassic, an era even historians know little about. Also, the author, "Lawrence Weschler" doesn't really exist, but is really just a nom de plume for David Wilson, whose real name is in fact Wilson Davidson, a direct descendent of J...more
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Lawrence Weschler, a graduate of Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz (1974), was for over twenty years (1981-2002) a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his work shuttled between political tragedies and cultural comedies. He is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award (for Cultural Reporting in 1988 and Magazine Reporting in 1992) and was also a recipient of Lannan Lit...more
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