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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book Review: Still Life by Melissa Milgrom


Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom
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 give a great feeling for taxidermy. She has done her research, and goes back a couple of hundred years. You learn about the beginning of the Smithsonian Institute, the fathers of taxidermy, and the history of zoology. As recently as 200 years ago, a lot of people didn't believe in extinction. When it started to gain some advocates, they often weren't the same people who believed in evolution. (Even Thomas Jefferson didn't believe in extinction!)

The author meets a variety of interesting characters, including Emily Mayer, the taxidermist for artist Damien Hirst. She goes to an auction of a famous Victorian taxidermy collection in Daphne du Maurier's hometown. She goes to the annual taxidermy world competitions in the US and UK. And in the end, Ms. Milgrom herself stuffs a squirrel.

The book was interesting, fun, informative, well-written, and made me feel thoroughly sane. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who likes this kind of odd history.

2 comments:

Tammy said...

I'm dying(no pun intended) to get my hands on this quirky little book! Thanks for the review. :)

Kristen said...

This sounds great. I think you caused me to put it on my wish list a while back but it's nice to hear that it's worthy of its spot on the list. :-)