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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,438 ratings  ·  299 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, 171 pages
Published November 26th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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 ·  2,438 ratings  ·  299 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
Recommended to El by: Leslie
One of my favorite museums in the US is The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the reasons for that is they have this Chamber of Wonders which includes arms and armor (boo, hiss, no one cares) and this one room that's filled with all these marvelous and strange... things. And it's this room that I just adore to pieces and could spend hours in just because.

Also there's this painting, The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector's Cabinet (1621-23) that I can stare at fore
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own
This is a mind-bomb of a book. It starts out very small (160 pages, including generous footnotes), but somewhere in the reading, it pops open inside your head, like a popcorn kernel, with a loud "PTHUNK!" And suddenly, large swaths of your brain-space are being employed to process the implications of this strange, little-known museum out in west Los Angeles.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, if you're not familiar, is curated and owned by Mr. David Wilson. It's operated at a net loss for years,
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
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Xan Shadowflutter
May 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020_reads
Have you ever wondered if that museum exhibit you are looking at so intently is fake? No, of course not. It's a museum. Well, perhaps a second look is warranted when the exhibit is found in Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder. Many of his exhibits are factual, but every so often he sneaks in a fake one, and it is your job to figure out which are the fakes.

Little did I know there is an entire museum subculture out there that specializes in mixing fake exhibits with real ones. Some curators like to me
Oct 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Eddie Watkins
May 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Next time you visit LA, here is what I'm demanding that you do:

1. Go to the Museum of Jurassic Technology
2. Eat a few doors away at India Sweets & Spices
3. Read this book

The time after that that you visit LA, you will want to:

1. Go to the Museum of Jurassic Technology
2. Stay at the Museum of Jurassic Technology twice as long as you did the first time
3. Eat a few doors away at India Sweets & Spices
4. Read a book anywhere near as good as Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder

It's a book about the stranges
Jan 07, 2015 rated it liked it
A detailed account of the Museum Of Jurassic Technology's origins and likely influences, cannily cross-referenced and researched, but ultimately reported by someone who I wouldn't actually enjoy visiting the museum with. By the end I had to wonder if the fastidiousness of the history was an overcompensation for a lack of imagination. ...more
Ed Erwin
May 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is a fascinating place that for the right person will fill you with a sense of wonder. Different exhibits make you wonder in different ways, from "Is this real?" to "How is that possible?" to "Why is this in a museum?" or "Is this even a museum?". Intentionally or not, this is probably the most 'Pataphysical place I've ever been to. (A close second would be the sort of "side-show" that once accompanied performances by the bands Idiot Flesh and Sleepytime Gorilla ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nf-unsorted, us-calif
An odd little book. Quirky. While I was reading, two words kept coming to mind: arcane and erudite. Now neither of the words are ones that I use on a daily basis, so I checked the definitions in a dictionary.

arcane: understood by few, mysterious or secret
erudite: showing great knowledge or learning

They both fit this book. I was expecting to learn about a man's cabinet of natural 'oddities,' or at least what seemed odd to some collector at some time. Actually, this is more of a brief history of t
Michael Titus
Aug 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Neil McCrea
Aug 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
If you happen to be in downtown Culver City, you might notice a small nondescript store with the name Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is overflowing with wonders such as the Megaloponera foetens (the Cameroonian stink ant), the Sonnabend Model of Obliscence, and a small diorama of an urn surrounded by French (or Flemish?) moths. Not to worry, each article has a wonderfully descriptive and embellished narrative to explain to the common folk about the piece. If you are still confused, just read ...more
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Museum of Jurassic 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
Dec 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-gen
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.
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this about ten years ago, long before I was actually able to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Visited three years ago when visiting LA. The book captures, then analyzes the levels of irony in the collection and in the originator, who regularly mans the ticket desk. For people willing to suspend disbelief long enough to immerse themselves in the experience, both the book and the actual museum are unforgettable experiences. For magicians, Ricky Jay is/was an active supporter. His co ...more
Aug 24, 2018 added it
Shelves: miscellaneous

The book left me feeling off balance, much, I’m sure, as a visit to the actual Museum of Jurassic Technology will leave you feeling off balance, in a what-was-that-song-that-just-happened kind of way.

Weird, weird, weird, and a reminder that all the weirdness currently on the internet existed long, long before computers were invented.
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
David Bowie loved this book and it's about one of the most interesting places in Los Angeles, so what other recommendation do you need?

I was surprised to learn how many exhibits are actually based in reality and can't wait to revisit the Museum of Jurassic Technology on a future trip to Southern California.
Matt Mazenauer
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: can-loan, favorites
One of my favorite curiosities, fascinating precisely because it is such an enigma, meets a dedicated journalist looking to dig deep into its story. Such a fascinating quick read that expands to encompass the history of museums themselves and was over all too soon.
Rob Townsend
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Everything about this curious book was perfect!
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This was not for me despite the subject matter being extremely up my alley.
Mar 13, 2014 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
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 16, 2020 rated it liked it
There's a mention of 'Corona' meaning 'crown' buried in the final note of this short book. Nice timing: I've just come across this during the Coronavirus pandemic... ...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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