The Rarest of the Rare
Nancy Pick, Mark Sloan & Edward O. Wilson
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
n his Foreword, Joshua Basseches, Executive Director of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, tells us that its specimens make up '
one of the nation's great research collections devoted to the natural world.
' In his Introduction, Edward O. Wilson speaks of the specimens as '
the closest approach humanity can contrive to an actual time machine
', and explains why these kinds of collections (later called '
vast libraries of DNA
') are so valuable to research in biology and to modern conservation science.
n overview of '
Natural History at Harvard
' includes a brief mention of misadventures that befell intrepid scientists while collecting specimens (shades of
), and describes a real life murder mystery ('
The Mastodon Murder
'), as well as covering the history of the museum. We are told that '
Behind every specimen in this book is a good story ... of wealthy explorers, obsessive collectors, bone hunters, mushroom seekers, and visionary scientists.
' These tales (written by Nancy Pick) are organized into six themed chapters -
Emblems of Biodiversity
- and enhanced by Mark Sloan's beautiful photography.
he cover photo is that of '
Meriwether Lewis's Woodpecker
', collected while seeking a river route to the Pacific in 1806, at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson. '
Alexander Agassiz's Glass Sponge
' (composed of silica) was dredged from about 1700 feet under the ocean. '
Frail Child of the Air
' is a fossil butterfly, and also the title of a children's butterfly guidebook. '
They Dined on the Titanic
' tells us about Ruth Dixon Turner, who specialized in the study of '
'. Read '
' to find out what a '
' is, be amazed at the size and volume of the '
Elephant Bird Egg
', wonder at the Australian project to restore the '
', and learn about '
' and much, much more.
The Rarest of the Rare
for its fascinating accounts of the stories behind a sample of specimens from the huge collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which in turn represents only a sample of the extraordinary diversity in the world around us.
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