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Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  645 Ratings  ·  145 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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"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
Jul 10, 2011 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
May 19, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, nonfiction
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. While there is some interesting information in this book, the writing style often made it jumbled. Instead of being one tale covering the history of taxidermy and renowned taxidermist past and present, Still Life was read more as a collection of essays that repeated the same story, taxidermists love nature and animals and hope to recreate life in their mounts. I didn't get the sense that Milgrom really had any interest in taxidermy or natural his ...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
May 22, 2012 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
Mar 08, 2010 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
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
Feb 04, 2014 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
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.
Sharon Porter
Always good to learn a different perspective and this book definitely did that!
Sarah Rogers
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up as a taxidermist’s daughter, this book hit a nostalgic note for me. I found the history and current climate of taxidermy in the western world fascinating, and I now have plenty of fodder for a few conversations with my dad... heck, maybe I’ll see if he’s still got those muskrats that we started as a father-daughter project years ago (but never finished)!

Something refreshing about this book was the author’s interactions with more conservative taxidermists, curators, naturalists, etc. A
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: death, favorites, museums
I remember, eons ago (okay, like eight years ago) picking this out from the stacks of my high school library. I was fascinated by it, because I considered myself a bit of a strange kid, and what's stranger than taking your housecat and stuffing it to become a permanent living room fixture? Alas, there are no housecats being stuffed in this book, but it is delightfully strange and full of enough fun, morbid, natural history facts to make up for it! There's also some thought-provoking, albeit brie ...more
Janine Rosas
Jan 15, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author's assumption that her feelings toward the field of taxidermy are held by the majority ruined this book for me. Am I one of the few who finds taxidermy a fascinating art form? By constantly stating generalizations such as "No wonder most people find taxidermy creepy" she lumped all readers into one group: nervous, close-minded and queasy. Incredibly disappointing and disrespectful to the subject matter.

Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-of-2017
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Milgrom braids the history of taxidermy with her own amateur foray into the field, keeping the account fresh with descriptions of her encounters with the interesting individuals she meets.
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
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
Jan 08, 2013 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.

Mar 13, 2010 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
Jan 05, 2013 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
Apr 11, 2011 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
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
Jan 28, 2010 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
Jun 18, 2013 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
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
Jun 08, 2010 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
Mar 22, 2010 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*, &
Jan 04, 2012 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
Jun 20, 2011 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
Jan 27, 2013 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
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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. "
More about Melissa Milgrom

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