Book Review: Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

The world is an exceedingly strange place.  Take the Museum of Jurassic Technology, for instance.  It is certainly a museum.  But what the heck is Jurassic Technology?  Well, keep guessing, because the museum’s curator, David Wilson, will only give you an answer that is equal parts satisfying and confusing.  The exhibits in the museum are equal parts baffling and revealing.  All are tantalizingly real, with professional audio and authoritative sounding placards.  You want to believe they’re true.  After all, they’re in a museum.  And some of them are real, but you’re never quite sure which.  Thus begins “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology”.  Weschler describes many of the exhibits on his first visit to the museum and later tries to fact check some of them.  Down the rabbit hole we go.

David Wilson is an anachronism.  Here it is, the 20th century (the book was written in the 1990’s), and here is this beautifully maintained museum of nonsense.  Well not nonsense, but certainly not sense either.  The museum is a throw-back to when rich people collected the oddities of the world and displayed them for public consumption.  Somewhere down the line, logic and reason took over and we now have large museums of peer-reviewed exhibits instead of the hodge-podge collection like Wilson’s.  This is both a blessing and a curse.

The book is split into three parts.  The first part is quite entertaining as it describes both the museum and introduces us to the curator and his family.  I was mildly put off by Weschler’s prolific use of SAT words near the beginning, but I either got used to it or became resigned to the fact that a place as odd as the Museum of Jurassic Technology deserves triple word score words.  The second part kind of lost me.  It goes into excruciating, and often dry, detail of the history of Wunderkammer, or Wonder Cabinets, of which the Museum of Jurassic Technology is a worthy successor.  There is some interesting historical sleuthing here, but Weschler’s use of notes, which can span pages, to add more depth to topics he is discussing really threw me with having to constantly page back and forth from the story to the notes section.  Many of the notes, I was left wondering why he didn’t just include it in the main text.  Part three wraps things up satisfyingly as we travel back to the Museum of Jurassic Technology and are once again treated to the many oddities the Museum has to offer.

The book is a decent read.  It really makes you think.  For instance, after reading about so many truths and half-truths and lies and mischaracterizations associated with the various Wunderkammen, who’s to say that anything Weschler wrote is the truth.  Who’s to say that the Museum of Jurassic Technology actually exists.  After reading “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder”, you’ll look at the world slightly differently than you did going in.

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