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A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science

By: Robert McCracken Peck and Patricia Tyson Stroud

464 pages, 269 colour illustrations

University of Pennsylvania Press

Hardback | Feb 2012 | #198336 | ISBN-13: 9780812243802
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NHBS Price: £48.99 $59/€55 approx

About this book

Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia stands today as the oldest natural history museum in the Western hemisphere. Early expeditions organized at the Academy were of central importance to the exploration of America's western wilderness, and the plant and animal specimens that were brought back formed the foundation of a collection that today contains some eighteen million items. What began as a small gathering of devoted amateurs has grown into a vibrant international center for scientific education and research.

"A Glorious Enterprise", the first complete history of the Academy, tells the story of the brilliant and passionate men and women who endeavored to acquire and disseminate knowledge of the natural world. Thomas Jefferson, John James Audubon, Robert Peary, Ernest Hemingway, and James Bond are just a few of the colorful Academy associates profiled in this lively narrative. Naturalist and historian Robert McCracken Peck and historical biographer Patricia Tyson Stroud take readers behind the scenes of the Academy, recounting the signal moments and achievements that shaped its first two hundred years--from its landmark discoveries in North America and around the world, through the construction of its famed dioramas in the 1930s, to the pioneering work of Academy scientists in water pollution and conservation long before these were topics of popular concern. The book is richly illustrated throughout with hundreds of archival images and stunningly original works by acclaimed photographer Rosamond Purcell that cast specimens from the Academy's collections in a new light.

Like Academy members on a quest for wondrous specimens, lovers of the sciences, American history, museums, and libraries will want to add "A Glorious Enterprise" to their collections. Filled with lively anecdotes, captivating biographical details, and fascinating facts, this beautiful and enlightening history will be treasured for years to come.

A book to remember. . . . To wander through 'A Glorious Enterprise' is to absorb the nineteenth century's passion for botany and zoology; the twentieth century's mania for exploration of distant, difficult or desolate places; and present-day preoccupations. . . . All of these tales are fascinating, but the book's true fascination comes in its color photographs and illustrations, scores of them.
- Cornelia Dean, New York Times

"Magnificent in both its scope and its ambitious physicality, 'A Glorious Enterprise' is a fascinating miniature museum in and of itself, exploring the cultural history of natural history with equal parts rigor and romanticism--the hallmark of great science."
- Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"A fascinating history, lavishly illustrated, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, America's earliest scientific institution. The book's eighteen chapters offer not a single narrative, but a set of panels in which are figured episodes and topics that carry us from the beginning of the nineteenth century up to the present. For those who do not already know the Academy, 'A Glorious Enterprise' should prompt a visit to the displays and library of this extraordinary home of scientific research."
- Charles Gillispie, Professor Emeritus of the History of Science, Princeton University


Chapter 1. A Gathering of Gentlemen: The Founding and Early Years
Chapter 2. The Lure of the West: Exploration and Exodus
Chapter 3. A Widening Sphere
Chapter 4. The American Woodsman Comes Calling: John James Audubon and the Academy
Chapter 5. The American Golgotha: Defining Race in the Early Republic
Chapter 6. Gorillas Grab the Limelight: Paul Du Chaillu, John Cassin, and the Professionalization of Science
Chapter 7. The Marvelous Bipedal Masterpiece: Religion, Politics, and Public Display
Chapter 8. Fossils, Finders, and Feuds: Leidy, Hayden, Cope, and Marsh
Chapter 9. "I Must Have Fame": Robert Peary Explores the Arctic
Chapter 10. Early Man at the Academy
Chapter 11. Volcanoes to Caverns: Exploring for Minerals
Chapter 12. Academy Expeditions, 1928 to 1960
Chapter 13. Dioramas Defy the Great Depression
Chapter 14. Science and Celebrity: The Academy Goes Hollywood
Chapter 15. Visions in Microscopes: Water Quality and the Environment
Chapter 16. Regrouping and Looking Forward in the Postwar Years
Chapter 17. Reaching Out: Festivals and Friends
Chapter 18. The Academy's "Glorious Enterprise" Completes Its Second Century

Milestones in the Academy's History
Presidents of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Trustees of the Academy of Natural Sciences
Awards and Medals

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Robert McCracken Peck is Senior Fellow and Curator of Art and Artifacts at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including "Land of the Eagle", "A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes", "Headhunters and Hummingbirds: An Expedition into Ecuador", and "All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins" (with Valerie Bramwell).

Patricia Tyson Stroud is an independent scholar who lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and East Blue Hill, Maine. She is the author of the award-winning books "The Emperor of Nature: Charles-Lucien Bonaparte and His World" and "The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon's Brother Joseph" as well as "Thomas Say: New World Naturalist", all published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rosamond Purcell has exhibited internationally, and her work has been featured in "Smithsonian", "National Geographic", and "Slate". Her books include "Swift as a Shadow: Extinction and Endangered Animals", "Owls Head: On the Nature of Lost Things", and "Illuminations: A Bestiary" (with Stephen Jay Gould).

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