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Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  543 Ratings  ·  135 Reviews
Taxidermy is everywhere these days—from hip restaurants to posh clothing stores. Yet few realize that behind these "stuffed" animals is a world of intrepid hunterexplorers, eccentric naturalists, and museum artisans, all devoted to the paradoxical pursuit of creating the illusion of life.Into this subculture of intensely passionate animal lovers ventures journalist Melissa ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 2nd 2011 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,652)
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Melki
"What you need for this kind of work is a strong stomach and lots of patience."
94-year-old Lillian Schwendeman, skinner and creator of artificial ears.



I'm pretty sure everything you will ever need to know about taxidermy (unless you decide to try it for yourself,) is contained in this book. From its beginnings to its staggering popularity during the Victorian Era to its use in contemporary art - it's all here.

Here are just a few fun and amazing things to be learned:

---The jackalope was invented
...more
Donna
Jul 15, 2011 Donna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
While this book definitely has its moments, it's more about telling tales from the world of taxidermy and the author's time spent in it than providing a broader view of the subject. The writing style frequently got in the way of the content thanks to jumpy chapters, sentences that were sometimes unclear, and awkward transitions between the author's experiences and her research.

My biggest issue with the book was that the author didn't seem to care much about her subject. She brushed right past a
...more
Danelle
Feb 15, 2012 Danelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy, Melissa Milgrom takes us on a journey that's equal parts fascinating and disturbing. There's a journalistic feel to the writing; it's not a manual and it's not a history, but it is a little of both. Milgrom spent years researching this book; it's both informative and interesting - a 'behind the scenes' glimpse into a world you're typically not allowed to peek at, or perhaps, would even want to.

I am a huge museum geek - I love visiting museums. I blame my t
...more
Ethan Gilsdorf
Imitation of life

A tour of the hidden subculture of taxidermy — with recipes

By Ethan Gilsdorf | Boston Globe, March 14, 2010

When the Parisian taxidermy shop Deyrolle went up in flames two years ago 90 percent of the inventory was lost to the fire and smoke — thousands of specimens, from fossils to beetles, rabbits to polar bears, some reaching back to the store’s 1831 origins.

The loss touched not only natural history buffs, but casual window shoppers like myself. When I lived in Paris, I’d bring
...more
Laura
For a peek into the world of taxidermy and the history of natural history museum exhibits, this isn't a bad place to start.

However, I'm losing patience with books where the writer is so busy inserting herself into the story that she becomes the focus instead of her subject. Milgrom's constantly creeped-out reaction was distracting to say the least. It's as if she wasn't quite comfortable with the fact that she was publishing a book on taxidermy and wants to make sure the readers know that she i
...more
Virginia
Jun 02, 2012 Virginia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in a gift shop at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, which I did not think was that far a stretch at the time, but looking back, this was an interesting decision on the part of the Smithsonian. Chapter 4 of this book covers in detail the ways in which the Smithsonian, in revamping their displays in the early 2000’s, systematically and needlessly destroyed irreplaceable artifacts of great historical, artistic, and biological value in the name of “co ...more
Joyce
I had assumed taxidermy would irresistibly appeal to the Brooklyn hipster through its combination of painstaking labor and massive ironic potential. But although the author certainly lives in the proper borough and appears to be of the proper background, she works hard to approximate the kind of unmediated emotion -- shivery fear, creeped-out-ness, abandon -- in which she evidently finds true beauty.

There are sizeable historical loops here, but the two biggest storylines concern two very differe
...more
Sara
The material about taxidermy itself was pretty interesting, but I had a hard time warming to most of the people we meet and Milgrom's hesitance, reluctance, and discomfort with the whole concept never really got resolved, which I guess is the point but also made me never really buy into it either.
Ana
Mar 07, 2016 Ana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable book about an often misunderstood craft which sometimes aspires to art.
I'm of two natures when it comes to taxidermy. I hate seeing trophies on walls and the recent 'renaissance' of taxidermy a a decorating trope left me cold and sad. But I also love natural history museums and the amazing examples of taxidermy that can be found at good ones.
This book made me realize the tremendous amount of work and knowledge that goes into making an exemplary piece of taxidermy.

The chapter on Emily M
...more
Kathleen
From the prestigious world of museum collections and recreations to competitions between NRA enthusiasts, Milgrom tours the world of taxidermy. I found the discussion of Victorian collections of animals posed anthropomorphically most interesting, but her own attempt to stuff a squirrel was honest and funny enough.

It's interesting to look so closely at such a maligned art, particularly because Milgrom does maintain a certain journalistic distance, allowing the reader to wonder if the breaking up
...more
Sharon Porter
Always good to learn a different perspective and this book definitely did that!
Elizabeth Desole
Mar 24, 2014 Elizabeth Desole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I have a love/hate fascination with this topic, I'm still not quite sure why the author chose this subject to write about. However, she did a pretty good job of writing a thorough overview of the taxidermy "industry" : the beautiful and the ugly and the tacky middle. It seems it would be difficult to write a dry book about this topic, but this was particularly entertaining. I probably would've appreciated fewer of her comments about being creeped out though. I mean, seriously, what did ...more
g
Apr 02, 2010 g rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Taxidermy came up in several books I read recently ( Beatrice and Virgil and Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing ), and I love places like the Bone Room and Paxton Gate, so after I saw this announced as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, I put my name on the library queue for it. It's a fun and easy read, and I like how the author moves back and forth between present day and historic taxidermists. The affection the author has for the art form is in most cases quite understated, though, and ...more
Lee Anne
Backstory: There's a new book out called The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy by Dave Madden. When I read about that book in BookMaster (the in-house Barnes & Noble computer system), it mentioned Still Life. I vaguely remembered it, and I thought I'd get them both from the library, flip through them, and pick one to read. When I got them, I thought I'd just read both, starting with Milgrom's, since it came first and has a better cover, and see how two books o ...more
Chloe
Jan 21, 2013 Chloe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oftentimes when I pick up a book of non-fiction, I'm filled with a mixed feeling of dread and excitement. Because I'm picking up the book in the first place, I'm obviously excited to read it and learn about the particular subject. On the other hand, I dread the very plausible and unsavory potential of the book: an interesting subject which has been somehow written into a book that is an utter bore. Luckily, this book turned out to be worth the excitement and not a let-down in the least.

Milgrom'
...more
Steven
Nov 02, 2015 Steven rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I do love to read some of the weirdest books. "STIFF: the Curious Life of the Human Cadaver" comes to mind. And that book was incredible: funny, informative, insightful, and packed with details that, for better or worse, illuminate a dark and mysterious subject.

STILL LIFE did not go quite as far. It is not still born, but it does not thrive. It begins healthy enough, loaded with many of the most unusual facts about taxidermy. The book brilliantly explores the question of whether taxidermy is art
...more
French Giant
I've always had an odd fascination with taxidermied animals...Maybe it stems from my childhood crush on dinosaurs & my associated yearning to become a paleontologist, or perhaps it's because my dad was a somewhat avid hunter who had one of his deer heads mounted and placed directly above our living room TV. It used to stare down at us day after day and every Christmas we put a Santa hat on it. It did not seem amused.

With all of that said, I never acquired a taste for hunting and never went d
...more
Robert Beveridge
Melissa Milgrom, Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

For some reason, I always seem to leave nonfiction to stew for quite a while before I review it. I finished this book close to two months ago (April 24th, and I'm writing the opening of this review on June 22nd) and still am not entirely sure what to say about it. I had the same problem with Bella Bathurst's The Wreckers, and while I didn't like this one quite as much as I liked that one, I still enjoyed this a
...more
Carin
Jul 12, 2010 Carin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, I wanted to read this book from the minute I heard about it! What's not to love? A short nonfiction book about a random, bizarre hobby that is weird and strange. I was guaranteed to learn new useless facts, my favorite!

And Ms. Milgrom doesn't disappoint. The world of taxidermy is isolated and closed-off. Understandably so, since it's also really misunderstood, and the participants feel a little self-conscious about their world. Ms. Milgrom has managed to penetrate the insiders and really giv
...more
Misa
Mar 22, 2010 Misa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the curious
Recommended to Misa by: Goodreads win
Won from Goodreads

I had no previous interest in Taxidermy, yet how could I resist such a title if there was a chance I'd win it as a freebie. (If anything, it'd be a great gag gift for someone.)

After receiving it I read reviews of it to see if it would be worth my time reading or if it was so destined to be a gag gift...& it got some good reviews & I ended up intrigued by the subject matter so I decided to read it...& I really enjoyed it!

While I can't say this is a *MUST READ*, &
...more
Tiffany
Apr 16, 2011 Tiffany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Right, so ... taxidermy. Why pick up a book on taxidermy, of all subjects? I'll read just about anything, frankly, and when I saw this book on the New book shelf at the library, I remembered that I'd also wanted to read "Stiff" by Mary Roach (who I've also recently read) and never got around to it. So I picked up "Still Life," and I was very pleasantly surprised through the entire course of the book. While Milgrom goes out of her way to clarify how taxidermists feel about themselves (conflicted, ...more
Danny
Jan 11, 2013 Danny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was rummaging in an antique store in Alabama when I came across a plaque with two deer hooves sticking out of it. "That's weird," I thought, and proceeded to buy it. Because why not? Only later did I find out it was intended as a novelty gun rack. I never had a gun to put in it, and I've since lost the thing, but I remember those hooves clearly. They held a bizarre fascination. But aside from rabbit's feet I got for a quarter from vending machines, and visits to natural history museums and ant ...more
Erica
Jul 21, 2012 Erica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a book about contemporary taxidermy, this is your book. Milgrom treats her subject (its practitioners and their craft) just right--with a bit of fear and skepticism, but also with dignity and awe. I gave it only three stars because I really, really yearned for more on the history of taxidermy in America--especially its roots with Charles Willson Peale in his early national Philadelphia museum. There was only one page on him, and honestly, if I wanted a historical study ther ...more
Az
Jun 09, 2010 Az rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Still Life takes an unsettling topic, admits that it's unsettling, and moves on from there. I think Milgrom's writing works because she sounds like a regular person--sure, she has third generation Smithsonian taxidermists to show her around, but she isn't one herself. Nor does she strive to be. She views many of taxidermy's practices with a mix of wonder and revulsion.

I think taxidermy fits a discussion I once read about anatomical drawing--that it is intensely difficult because the goal is th
...more
Allison
Aug 09, 2014 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Immensely enjoyable. Milgrom takes us inside the world of the taxidermy industry with a sharp eye, an open mind, and a healthy dose of incredulous good humor. The writing is engaging and spirited, and the semi-journalistic (she does not hide her sympathies) accounts of taxidermy shops, historical figures, museum displays, and competitions is really quite interesting, even for those, like myself, who had no real interest in the subject prior to reading the book.
Anna
Jul 26, 2011 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up in the used book section of a book retailer. I had no idea how interesting it would be! I've never given much thought to taxidermy beyond the popular belief that hunters love to stuff their kills. And, growing up in a small town, there ARE definitely a few taxidermy shops run out of peoples' homes.

But what I didn't even consider before now was the rich (and sometimes dark) history of taxidermy, and the roles that it plays all over the place even today. Milgrom uses most of
...more
Kris
Mar 27, 2013 Kris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very entertaining and very interesting. If you've ever liked a diorama in a natural history museum, you'll love reading about how it was created, and the passion the taxidermist put into his/her work, bringing this animal to life in the most realistic way possible. Having said that, the chapter on Potter's collection of taxidermy is totally worth a google image search, because he did a lot of non-realistic taxidermy. And that leads me to my only objection about this book. There are ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Although some critics initially wondered if they would find the subject matter interesting, all seemed fascinated by Milgrom's look at the craft of taxidermy. Certainly, it's a quirky book, filled with bizarre, proud characters and gruesome details. Yet while most reviewers praised Milgrom's clear-eyed, compassionate reporting, a few quibbled over the uneven prose, the weak links between chapters, and the lack of personal insight into Milgrom's choice of topic. A couple also commented that the n ...more
Audacia Ray
Favorite non-fiction book I've read so far in 2010!

I first learned of this book last fall at The Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest at Union Hall in Brooklyn, when the author Melissa Milgrom gave a short talk and then acted as a judge of the contest. I went right home and put it on my to-read queue and then patiently waited for the book to make its debut this spring.

I totally loved the book - the behind-the-scenes stuff about taxidermy shops, conventions, and natural history museums is really
...more
Oana
Jul 19, 2010 Oana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the vein of Susan Orlean's Orchid Thief, this is one of those nonfiction books where the author is very visible. Which is to say, if you like your nonfiction authors keeping a distance, you might be irked. However, I did find Ms. Milgrom likeable and humble when her attempt at a taxidermied squirrel faced the judges at the taxidermy championship.

Aside from that, I left this book with a lot of questions I wished had been answered. I appreciated the author's postscript for the aftermath of the
...more
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MELISSA MILGROM has written for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Travel & Leisure, among other publications; she has also produced segments for public radio. She has a masters degree in American studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Milgrom resides in Brooklyn, New York. "
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