Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History

Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History

by Douglas Preston

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Overview

Dinosaurs in the Attic is a chronicle of the expeditions, discoveries, and scientists behind the greatest natural history collection every assembled. Written by former Natural History columnist Douglas J. Preston, who worked at the American Museum of Natural History for seven years, this is a celebration of the best-known and best-loved museum in the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345347329
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/12/1987

About the Author

Douglas J. Preston is the co-author with Lincoln Child of the celebrated Pendergast series of novels, including such best-selling titles as Fever Dream, The Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness, and Relic, which became a number one box office hit movie. His solo novels include the New York Times bestsellers Impact, Blasphemy, The Codex, and Tyrannosaur Canyon. His most recent nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a film starring George Clooney. Preston is an expert long-distance horseman, a member of the elite Long Riders Guild, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He has travelled to remote parts of the world as an archaeological correspondent for The New Yorker. He also worked as an editor and writer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and taught nonfiction writing at Princeton University. Preston is the Co-president of International Thriller Writers, and serves on the Governing Council of the Authors Guild.

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Education:

B.A., Pomona College, 1978

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Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Ella_Jill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is divided into three parts. In the first (fairly short) part the author discusses the founding of the museum, in the second he describes the major specimen-gathering expeditions organized by the museum, and in the third he takes the reader on a tour of the museum, including the parts unseen by the general public. Douglas Preston is an excellent writer and manages to make anything he writes about sound interesting, even the history of the founding of the museum or the process of reducing a corpse to a skeleton. He introduces all the key personalities associated with the AMNH who¿ve made it one of the premier natural history museums in the world, starting with Albert Bickmore who succeeded in getting the museum off the ground after two false starts (the first attempt failed when only $700 were collected for the future museum; the second was killed off by Tweed when he couldn¿t see how he could profit from it and didn¿t want to create a precedent). Bickmore, fresh from a three-year expedition to the East Indian archipelago during which he survived an earthquake, a fall into a crater of a volcano and a landslide, managed to impress even people Tweed couldn¿t afford to offend, such as J. P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt. But it took Morris Jesup, a self-made millionaire with a sixth-grade education, to understand what would make the museum popular with the public, bring it an endowment and organize over a thousand expeditions to all the corners of the earth. The golden age of exploration (1880-1930) was started by Franz Boas who wanted to prove the migration of men to the New World through the Bering Straight. He hired two Russians, Waldemar Borgoras and Waldemar Jochelson, who were exiled by the tsar to Siberia to collect data among the natives there. In the years to come they crisscrossed Siberia from the Chinese border to the Arctic by packhorses and sled dogs and on rafts, while Berthold Laufer, a German hired by Boas, collected data in China, undeterred even by the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion. Boas himself did fieldwork among the Pacific Indians, collecting lots of valuable data, but regretting the necessity for numerous potluck dinners, casual chit-chat and other trappings of social life that he had to endure in the process. The Museum also funded a number of polar expeditions, including many of Robert Peary¿s. Jesup made a deal with him, pulling strings to keep him on leave from the Navy in return for specimens for the museum, such as a 30-ton meteorite from Greenland, the largest ever recovered. Douglas Preston also describes the lively dinosaur wars between rivaling paleontologists, which escalated to such heights as to land them in tabloids ¿ a spot now firmly secured by movie stars and politicians ¿ and to shock their colleagues across the ocean ¿ although why that would be, I cannot see, since, according to Bill Bryson¿s descriptions in A History of Nearly Everything in the chapter appropriately titled ¿Science Red in Tooth and Claw¿ some British paleontologists of the time could be quite vicious themselves. A series of expeditions in Central Asia discovered the first dinosaurs¿ eggs and fossils of early mammals which had co-existed with dinosaurs. Members of these expeditions had to contend with Mongolian bandits, Chinese civil wars and sandstorms so strong that after one of them the sandblasted windshields had to be knocked out of the vehicles to enable the drivers to see ahead. Preston says that the leader of these expeditions, Roy Chapman Andrews, was allegedly the real-life prototype of Indiana Jones. One of their vehicles carried a mounted machine gun, and ¿Andrews had no qualms about training his guns on an obstructive border guard or petty Mongolian bureaucrat to get what he wanted. As for bandits, he seemed to welcome an exciting confrontation.¿ Originally, Andrews obtained a job scrubbing the museum¿s floors, then began collecting whales, eventually joined expeditions to Alaska an
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