An absorbing blend of bright-eyed reportage and hands-on participation... and a genuine appreciation for a true art form, an enthusiasm the author imparts with style.

—Publishers Weekly, starred review

It's easy to dismiss taxidermy as a kitschy or morbid sideline, the realm of trophy fish and jackalopes or a throwback to the dusty diorama. Yet it is a world full of intrepid hunter-explorers, eccentric naturalists, and gifted museum artisans, all devoted to the paradoxical pursuit of creating the illusion of life.

Into this subculture of passionate animal lovers ventures journalist Melissa Milgrom, whose journey stretches from the anachronistic family workshop of the last chief taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History to the studio where an English sculptor preserves the animals for Damien Hirst's most disturbing artworks. She wanders through Mr. Potter's Museum of Curiosities to watch dealers vie for preserved Victorian oddities, and visits the Smithsonian's offsite lab, where taxidermists transform zoo skins into vivacious beasts. She tags along with a Canadian bear hunter—the three-time World Taxidermy Champion—as he recreates an extinct Irish Elk using DNA studies and Paleolithic cave art for reference; she even ultimately picks up a scalpel herself. Transformed from a curious onlooker to an empathetic participant, Milgrom comes to understand not only what drives the very best taxidermists in their desire for perfection, but why people in our era of ecological awareness and high technology still find taxidermy so alluring. Straddling science and art, high culture and kitsch—like taxidermy itself—STILL LIFE celebrates the beauty in the uncanny.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN 978-0-618-40547-3 | $25.00 | March 2010 | Popular Culture | 320 pages | 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"

© 2010 Melissa L. Milgrom  All rights reserved.