Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects

In this insightful book, Jack Ashby, the former Manager of the Grant Museum (at UCL) offers something that I feel is unique within a science book. Ashby tells the story of life, evolution and how natural history museums work by selecting 100 objects from the Grant Museum and explaining the story of each specimen. By doing so the writer also has the opportunity to explore the quirks of such collections, their biases and how they are still aiding science in the modern age. If you have never been to the Grant Museum, I highly recommend it – you can find my review of it here.

I’m fortunate enough to have completed one of my Master’s projects at the Natural History Museum in London, one of my favourite places on Earth. When you work with an animal collection, you come to realise a few things about the specimens that you’re presented with. In some cases, the animals or plants currently held in museums are the only representatives of their entire species (this is more so true for fossils or extinct animals). Every specimen has a story to tell in regards to it’s collection, curation and biology. I used this information to help provide a window into the past to investigate land use change in Asia over the past 150 years and how this has affected the amphibians of the continent. Unfortunately natural history museums are very unnatural (as delegates of this year’s TetZooCon will only know too well) and Ashby does a great job of explaining this.

Due to the book’s unconventional format, it is not a book to be read cover to cover but instead to be used as a reference or read in a number of sittings. Like most of the books I review, I read my copy whilst commuting between Canterbury and London so do bear this in mind. Hopefully if you do pick up a copy it will provide a new insight to the natural world and give you plenty to think about!

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