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In lucid prose that’s a real pleasure to read, Karen Rader and Victoria Cain’s new book chronicles a revolution in modern American science education and culture. Life on Display: Revolutionizing U. S. Museums of Science & Natural History in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, 2014) guides readers through a transformation in American science and nature museums as museums moved from a nineteenth-century focus on research and specimen collections to a twentieth-century emphasis on public engagement and display. Written collaboratively over nearly a decade, Life on Display simultaneously develops an argument for a “renegotiation of the relationship between display, research, and education in American museums of nature and science,” and opens up an archive of fascinating (and at times hilarious and moving) stories of members of the museum-going public (some of who gifted dog fleas and dead pets to their local museums), non-human inhabitants of interactive museum displays (including an owl with a penchant for riding in cars and “trim, up-on-their-toes cockroaches”), and museum professionals who painted, debated, made dioramas, invented “Exploratoria,” and occasionally wrote limericks. This is a book for anyone interested in American history, museum studies, visual culture, science studies, the history of education, grasshopper surgery, or Jurassic Park (among many, many other fields it contributes to). It’s a wonderfully engaging history.

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