In this absorbing blend of bright-eyed reportage and hands-on participation, journalist Milgrom demystifies the creepy art of bringing dead creatures back to life and dispels the myth that taxidermists merely “stuff animals.” The author’s quest to understand the compulsion of obsessed hobbyists and exacting scientists alike to duplicate what nature has created starts in a New Jersey family workshop, where three generations—including the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History—have mounted everything from three-toed sloths to fireflies. She visits the English sculptor who preserves dead animals for British artist Damien Hirst’s displays; explores the arcane subculture of American taxidermy conventions where hundreds vie for best in show awards; and wanders the halls of the bankrupt Mr. Potter’s Museum of Curiosities as collectors bid for auction lots of Victorian-era displays of squirrels drinking port and “bespectacled gentlemen lobsters.” Though her own squeamish attempts to preserve a squirrel are less than stellar, Milgrom’s initial uneasy curiosity blossoms into genuine appreciation for a true art form, an enthusiasm the author imparts with style in this substantial study.

—Publishers Weekly, starred review