The Rarest of the Rare
The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History
by Nancy Pick
The Harvard Museum of Natural History is my favorite museum in the entire Boston area. It has the atmosphere of a throw-back to an earlier era of first-order science, when collecting and classification where the primary activities of adventurer-scientists. The display cases are stunning; seeing the thousands of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects collected from all over the world gives an appreciation of the diversity of life that raw numbers read from a book can’t begin to instill - and the best part is: it’s free on Sunday mornings, so wondering through its displays is a great way to start the day.
The opening section of The Rarest of the Rare gives a general history of the museum itself as well as its place in the history of science. It evolved from a general repository of curiosities to an important resource for scientific research, classification and education.
Most of the book though is a survey of some of the most interesting specimens in the various collections. Each example is given its own short essay, so the book can be browsed in any order. The museum has examples of the Tasmanian Tiger, a near-complete skeleton of a Dodo bird and many other sadly extinct species. There still are a few curiosities such as one of the only complete specimens returned form the Lewis and Clarke expedition, the Lewis’s Woodpecker. The vivid photography of Mark Sloan brings out the detail of all the specimens described.