Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder

by Lawrence Weschler

ISBN: 0679764895

The odd, the unbelievable, the made-up, the verifiable: all make multiple appearances in this slim volume. Weschler becomes fascinated by the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, along with its creator David Wilson, and he takes the reader along for a ride through wonder.

Not toasted mice, but mice on toast; human beings with horns; spore-ingesting ants; letters sent to an observatory by crackpots; diagrams explaining how memory is an illusion, and a bat encased in a segment of leas wall — these are the kind of things Wilson puts on display and Weschler writes about.

This book isn’t so much a game with factual and fictional playing opposing sides, as it is an exploration of the idea that we want both to know the truth and to be amazed. Weschler takes a look at origins of museums, Wunderkammern, superstitions, and the historical idea of wonder. Not reading the notes printed in the back of the book would be missing half the fun (and a third of the pages) as Weschler is seemingly compelled to weave both a tight narrative and tell us all the little background bits that didn’t quite fit in.

I have zero interest in ever going to LA, though I would like to see the MJT in person. It is a storefront operation, apparently, and one I think I would like. Fortunately this book has given me many pointers to other places (like the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia) and books (foremost Greenblatt’s Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World) to investigate instead.

Wonder, as a concept, isn’t something I’ve spent much time thinking about, and only a fraction of that time have I spent trying to articulate what it is I think. Reading this book, that feels like it might change. Highly recommended.

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