A Glorious Enterprise
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science
Robert McCracken Peck and Patricia Tyson Stroud. Photographs by Rosamond Purcell
Winner of the 2012 Literary Award from The Athenaeum of Philadelphia
"To leaf through A Glorious Enterprise is to see history unfold. Two hundred years in the making, this beautiful book is a paean to the Western Hemisphere's oldest natural history museum—the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia—and the passionate men and women who shaped its reputation. Like a sophisticated cabinet of curiosities, the tome brims with treasures illustrating the museum's 18-million-piece collection."—Audubon
"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
"A handsome volume that should be in all serious collections on the history of the natural sciences."—Library Journal
"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
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.
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 Natural History of North America, 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).