Another Review at MyShelf.Com

The Rarest of the Rare
Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

By Nancy Pick and Mark Sloan

      With absorbing words by Nancy Pick and spectacular photographs by Mark Sloan, The Rarest of the Rare tells the history of the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The university has been associated with science from its founding in the early 1600s. Though it was founded to educate ministers, astronomy was added to the curriculum in 1680.

    From there, other sciences were added, especially biology. The collections of rare species and strange forms of life began as "cabinets of curiosities." Many specimens were donated over the years, but all did not survive. They were displayed in Harvard Hall. But in 1764, Harvard Hall was destroyed in a fire. The two telescopes, given when the astronomy course began, were lost along with fossils, minerals and stuffed animals. Harvard had to begin again.

    You might ask why anyone would collect stuffed animals. In that time collecting them from the wild was the only means most biologists had of studying them closely. Now, studying the live animals in their natural habitat is far more informative. Still, the old specimens are valuable. Now, scientists can compare the DNA of the old specimens with that of the new. That way, we can tell what changes have been taking place.

     This book doesn’t show the usual dinosaur bones and common minerals. The authors show us the items we wouldn’t see anywhere else. Shown here is the Lewis woodpecker, gathered by Meriwether Lewis himself on his expedition to explore the Louisiana purchase for a waterway across America to the Pacific. The story behind the acquisition is included. If you are interested in biology and natural history, read The Rarest of the Rare. I found it fascinating and informative. I’m sure you will too.

The Book

Harper Resource / HarperCollins
November 1, 2004
Nonfiction / Science
More at 



The Reviewer

Jo Rogers
Reviewed 2005
© 2005