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

By Robert McCracken Peck and Patricia Tyson Stroud, photographs by Rosamond Purcell

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012; 456 pages, $75.00

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia is the oldest continuously operating establishment of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Founded by a small group of amateur naturalists in 1812, the Academy, now affiliated with Drexel University, makes its home in central Philadelphia, where it maintains a collection of 18 million specimens and a world-class natural history library. Among its holdings are most of the plants brought back by Lewis and Clark, birds collected by John James Audubon, and artifacts from Robert Peary’s North Polar explorations. To celebrate the institution’s bicentennial, curator Peck and historical biographer Stroud have collaborated on a lavishly executed volume that fills in the backstory to these noteworthy collections—tales of the flamboyant adventurers, scientific rivals, and generous benefactors who made the Academy so unique. Rosamond Purcell’s still lifes of skulls, pinned butterflies, jars of pickled fish, and the like convey a striking impression of the rich variety of the Academy’s treasures.

Recent Stories

Elephant populations continue to dwindle in Tanzania.

With proper safeguards, water currents can be harnessed out of sight.

Barely pulled back from the brink of extinction, California condors are still being poisoned by lead-based ammunition.

Vulnerable everywhere in the wild, lions already face regional extinction.