You might have thought that the secret life of a natural history museum is what you see in the Ben Stiller movie Night at the Museum, but science writer Richard Fortey tells the real truth in his book Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum. Fortey worked at London’s Natural History Museum as a palaeontologist for over thirty years so certainly has some inside gossip.
For museum-loving tourists, there’s probably no better book to read before the trip than a behind the scenes account of museum life. Fortey takes us inside parts of the museum the public doesn’t usually see (which in this case, apparently, is more than half of the collection). He writes of exploring the hidden corridors of the museum with the excitement of a schoolboy – the only problem is that this makes us as readers want to follow him and we can’t!
Fortey almost became famous, he reports, for burning down the Smithsonian Institution with his smouldering pipe embers in 1976. Luckily security guards noticed the fire. These kind of anecdotes are littered throughout the book and the end effect is that you’ll see the next museum you enter in a different way.
This book could have got too technical or scientific, but Fortey manages to combine information with storyetlling and most of the time keeps it interesting. It turns out to be a treasure suitable for travelers and scientists alike and it’d be great if every museum could offer this kind of inside story to its visitors.