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Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,267 ratings  ·  197 reviews
'Dry Store Room No. 1' is an intimate biography of the Natural History Museum, celebrating the eccentric personalities who have peopled it and capturing the wonders of scientific endeavour, academic rigour and imagination.
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published January 6th 2008 by Harper Press (first published 2008)
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3.71  · 
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 ·  1,267 ratings  ·  197 reviews

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Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of science, British wit, museums
Recommended to carol. by: Wanda
Shelves: science, non-fiction

This book is fabulous, and I tried to do it justice by researching and linking some pictures from the Natural History Museum. But I can't be bothered to fuss with GR's system and annotating my references.

Blog review with pictures:

Text review:

Fortey had me hooked with the idea of the behind-the-scenes maze at the British Museum. There’s something about that that appeals to me; not only knowing the stories, but the physicality of the space. In my first few
Dry Store Room No. 1 was a kind of miscellaneous repository, a place of institutional amnesia. It was rumoured that it was also the site of trysts, although love in the shadow of the sunfish must have been needy rather than romantic. Certainly, it was a place unlikely to be disturbed until it was dismantled. I could not suppress the thought that the store room was like the inside of my head, presenting a physical analogy for the jumbled lumber-room of memory. Not everything there was entirely re ...more
This hilarious memoir makes the case that British eccentrics, particularly of the scientific variety, are an endangered species due to rapid habitat loss. The author spent his entire career as the "trilobite man" at the Natural History Museum in London -- in the Department of Palaeontology, reachable by a door hidden behind a skeleton of a giant sloth in the public gallery, of course -- and he is a gleeful guide to everything that will be lost in a world where research and particularly taxonomy ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Wildly discursive, endlessly fascinating look behind the scenes of the Natural History museum in London. Fortey is a scientist's scientist, a naturalist's naturalist- he's compelled to explain some mind-numbing minutia along the way to imparting interesting facts. Some of his pedantic asides made me laugh out loud because they were such textbook nerd moments. There's a lot of detail here, more even than I wanted, but the narrative is terribly interesting. If you like that sort of thing, and I do ...more
I adore Richard Fortey's writing. His sense of humour matches mine extremely well and I appreciate the literariness of his style. Having worked in libraries and, currently, at a museum, I know how much of the action takes place out of public view. Fortey lets us spy on the secret life of the museum and the museum curators. Its a fascinating world and highly entertaining.

An extremely good read.
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
A lot of reviews comment on how dry they found this book, but I rather enjoyed it. I like Richard Fortey's style of writing, despite his tendency to ramble and get distracted. It's more of a biography or history of the Natural History Museum than a chronicle of the science that goes on there, but there's some of that, too.

I liked the sense of exploring a wonderland -- Fortey plainly finds everything in the Natural History Museum a delight and a revelation, and I shared in that. He got in some ap
Doc Kinne
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fortey is not only a reasonable writer in that he can tell a good story, he also has some important things to say gleaned from his whole career and the British Natural History Museum. He uses this book to say those things, but doesn't quite fall into the preachy area.

While Fortey's line of work is arthropod paleontology, he roams and roves through the Museum as a whole, including plants, minerals, and fungi. Much of the book is telling about his co-workers over the years, and he includes the gre
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Lest you think a museum is a stuffy old building filled with the same antiquated exhibits, here's a book that provides an enlightening look behind the scenes at one of the biggest museums in England.

The amount of material stored in the Natural History Museum is staggering. Literally miles (not to mention kilometers) of all sorts of objects from creepy crawlies found only in a remote part of South America to minerals from right around the corner by comparison. I had no idea the museum employed su
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really quite a bit more interesting than the title might suggest! A few of the sections dragged ("Noah's Ark in Kensington" and "Behind the Galleries," particularly), but mostly Fortey's descriptions of plants, animals, and fossils, and of the men and women who study them, are pretty entertaining. He does tend to get a bit gossipy for me -- I might enjoy his science writing, Without the focus on the institutional politics, even more -- but that might just reflect my total ignorance about ...more
Sara Dovre Wudali
You know how sometimes you get stuck in a conversation with someone who tells you a story about people you don't know and don't care about in excruciating detail? And then just when you are thinking, OK, the next time he takes a breath I'm going to interject and say I have an appointment I really must leave for, pleasure chatting with you? And then right before he breathes, he says something utterly fascinating and you decide it's worth sticking around to hear the rest of that story? And then th ...more
Katherine Kreuter
I had been meaning to read this one for a while, then stumbled upon it in the library. It's a quirky personal history of the Natural History Museum, written by one of its long-serving boffins. This particular boffin is into his trilobites, but he has an outgoing character and wide-ranging curiosity so he can talk competently about biology or geology or any other -ology. There's a lot of good science here, and I have new respect for those who devote their lives to a particular species in the beli ...more
Tory Wagner
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey is a real gem for all those who value the pursuit of science. Fortey, a natural scientist who worked for the Museum, shares his wisdom and experiences garnered through a long and successful career. His dry wit makes for an easy and enjoyable read, but the message of the need for continued support for the sciences is not lost on the reader. His writing is both poetic and a call to arms for the continued support f ...more
Frans Robyns
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A highly entertaining read from an excellent and thoroughly readable science writer. Fortey provides a whistle-stop, yet unhurried tour of the magic that goes on behind-the-scenes at the Natural History Museum. Both the enigmatic charms of specimens soaked in alcohol brought back to the museum by illustrious figures such as Joseph Banks and Charles Darwin, and the incredible work done by the current crop of scientists at the museum who work tirelessly to ever expand the outer-field of human know ...more
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is like Beauty and the Beast.

Let me explain.

Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite fairy tale. I will read adaptations of that story all day long, and well into the night. My favorite part of any version is when Beauty explores the castle. She's alone, and it's quiet, and she's wandering through room upon room of wonders and marvels. Beauty's sense of of awe, discovery, and curiosity perfectly mirrors Fortey's experience wandering through the hallways, storerooms, basements, and att
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Quite a marathon of a read. It’s very thorough, detailed and meticulous in telling the story of the Natural History Museum, and there were some great anecdotes about all sorts of people and happenings.
Shonna Froebel
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book is a personal exploration of the the work going on at the Natural History Museum in London, and the people doing that work. Fortey worked at the Museum for decades, specializing in trilobites. The book tells a little of his own history, but also looks at the various departments contained within the Museum, from his initial wanderings as a young scientist there to those projects that caught his interest over the years. He looks at how these projects relate to the larger world, and how t ...more
Hannah Givens
A charming, rambling fusion of memoir/anecdote and scientific explanation. You get the feeling of working in the Natural History Museum, with all its own idiosyncrasy and history, but you also get a tour of the taxonomic work being done there. I'm not much for natural history museums, all those dead things freak me out, and so I wasn't aware how scientific it is in the background. The miles and miles of specimens used to delineate species and study biological or geological history. It's really f ...more
Apr 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, science-nature
I really enjoyed this book, the balance of information and humour was perfect in keeping my full attention; with other non-fiction books they can become a chore to get through at times but Fortey's humour pushed it along nicely and I am definitely a fan of the way he writes. Once picked up it was hard to put down but also very easy to get back into when picked up again after a break.

Fortey takes us into the secretive world of the museum, to get to know the cogs of the machine, without which the
Kelly Belvis
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me many months to read this book which might make it seem that I didn't enjoy it. However, that's not the case. I especially loved the early chapters in this book which give you a walk through, behind-the-scenes look at London's Natural History Museum. It took me so long to finish it because I lack the discipline to push through non-fiction. Stories propel me forward and compel me to keep reading...even good non-fiction just doesn't do that for me.

This book includes scientific informati
Bookmarks Magazine

"The Natural History Museum is, first and foremost, a celebration of what time has done to life," writes Fortey, whose engaging book similarly commemorates the vast record of life on Earth. As he meanders through the halls of the museum's back rooms, Fortey proves to be an excellent, witty guide to the scientists and specimens that give testament to this history. Far from being a dry read, Dry Storeroom No. 1 weaves together colorful anecdotes about the scientists, their research, and the value

Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is heavy on Taxonomy and how the museum preserves and stores specimens. It is interesting because there are so many different branches of study in natural science. The men and women who do it are true scientist and academics as well as historians. They study and preserve plant and animal species that may become extinct due to man's bad habits. Also, the study of various organisms that the museum researches may one day relieve some of the maladies of underdeveloped nations and those who ...more
Jan 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a delightfully enthusiastic book, most interesting for anyone who has ever visited the museum in question (and anyone who hasn't). It includes some fascinating pictures. And the design of the book is pleasing. The author has a wonderfully intimate manner, and paints almost Dickensian-ly vivid pictures of his colleagues, past and present. Consequently, the book has a convivial, chatty feel. Delightful.
May 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: sciency
I bought this book, excited by the idea of a 'behind-the-scenes' look at the Natural History Museum(s). Instead, I stopped reading halfway through, as this was only a behind-the-scenes account in that it was entirely made up of anecdotes by Fortey about his time at the museum. No real science. No real info. This book should be classed as a biography or memoir.
❂ Jennifer
Dec 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
If you love museums, if you love natural history, if you've ever thought the idea of getting lost in the back rooms of a museum sounded like something you'd put on your bucket list, I think you'll enjoy this book. I loved it - 4.5 stars worth.

More wordey review:
Kobe Bryant
It turns out that working at a museum is just as boring as I imagined
Sarah Leonard
Aug 26, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book could be so interesting, but it's just so dry. I read almost 100 pages and still couldn't get into it, so I gave up.
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love museums. When I went to Europe after I graduated university, one of the top three things I was looking forward to was getting to visit some of the most famous museums in the world. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as well as I hoped they would. Sometimes a museum would be closed on the day I wanted to visit; sometimes schedules for other activities would clash with my own plans and I would have to give way; and on other times I was simply too tired (or sick) to be able to enjoy the v ...more
Mary Warnement
Reading this memoir was like chatting with a recently retired curator I know, so perhaps I've transferred some of my affection for my friend to this author. This seemed to take a long time to read. I set it aside to read Babylon Berlin in time for an author talk, and the last 10 pages took me the last 3 days to read. I started a new subway book on Friday because 10 pages were not enough and I've fallen asleep too fast these past nights. That is no reflection of how much I enjoyed Fortey's memoir ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I snatched up a copy of "Dry Store Room No. 1" during a casual after-work perusal of the library shelves. "The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum," I said to myself, sticking it under my arm with fifteen other books that I will never find the time to read, "That's like Night at the Museum! Only true!"

... it's not like Night at the Museum. And I don't just mean that the dinosaur skeletons and diorama miniatures don't come to life. That's not really what I was expecting. Midnight trysts und
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nature, read-partial
This book started off strong, with a behind the scenes tour from a veteran who has spent all his working life at this venerable institution. For natural history buffs it is obviously fascinating to be introduced to all the workings and characters, from the time the author joined in the 1960s and all the changes since. However as Fortey gets more into the details and nitty gritty of the cast and more obscure collections it is difficult to sustain interest in the goings on. I had to give it up for ...more
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Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was Collier Professor in the Public Understanding of Science and Technology at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol in 2002. His books have been widely acclaimed: Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (Knopf) was short ...more
“A life accumulates a collection: of people, work and perplexities. We are all our own curators. ” 13 likes
“I believe profoundly in the importance of museums; I would go as far as to say that you can judge a society by the quality of its museums. ” 10 likes
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