NonFiction Text Final – Still Life

“Milgrom’s engrossing study of taxidermy is both a general history … and an introduction to figures in its contemporary subculture.”

This is what The New Yorker says about Melissa Milgrom’s book Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. In this book, Melissa follows her friend, retired taxidermist David Schwendeman. Mr. Schwendeman isn’t your normal everyday taxidermist, he was the last chief taxidermist ever employed by the American Museum of Natural History. Everything Melissa learns in this book about how to taxidermy, she learns from him.

This novel is a chronicle of Melissa’s adventures among taxidermists from learning the basics of taxidermy, mingling with the best taxidermists in the world for art, even talk about taxidermy for scientific purposes, and even attempting to taxidermize her own squirrel. How the author wrote this book was take us on this adventure with her and as she did that, she dipped into the history of why this information on taxidermy is important and then brings us back to the past. The number one thing I learned from this book is taxidermy isn’t about ‘stuffing’ an animal, as I’ve always thought, but rather it is an art form.

Overall, the book is rated a high 3 out of 5 stars with very positives reviews from The New Yorker, USA Today, The New York Times, and much more. A review that stood out to me was from A.J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All and The Guinea Pig Diaries, “Who knew a book about dead animals could be so lively? This is a wonderful look at a quirky, passionate, sometimes fanatical subculture.” Which I think has to be a positive review about a book on taxidermy.

There isn’t much to say about the author, Melissa Milgrom, besides the basics. She is the author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. She holds a master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, is a visiting professor at the Pratt Institute, and lives in New York City. On her LinkedIn page, she calls herself a journalist with wide-ranging experience as a public speaker.

Melissa Milgrom has written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, Marvels & Wonders, Travel and Leisure, and Metropolis, among other publications. Since the publication of her book in 2010, she has spoken about taxidermy at Yale, Harvard, The American Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Arts and Design, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and at literary events, conferences, and book festivals.

Melissa’s first book was selected as an Amazon Best Book of the Month and received praise from The New Yorker, The New York Times, People, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. Her style of writing is taking an interdisciplinary approach to culture, which has led her to write in-depth profiles of artists, artisans, inventors, and others whose work and passions speak to society at large. Milgrom’s style of writing is investigative where she researches a topic to have a better understanding of it and then dives into the art to try it out. She likes writing about popular culture, subcultures, and people with eccentric areas of expertise going to places that are possibly misunderstood.

I wish I knew why she wanted to write this book, but I looked at her LinkedIn page, her website, and even her Facebook page. She doesn’t have anything written down as to why she wanted to write this book or what she hopes to accomplish. I’m sure there is an interview somewhere about this, but that is research for another day.

My idea is that she wanted to write this book to give people a different perspective on taxidermy without putting her own opinion into this piece. She never said ‘I dislike…’ or ‘I like…’ or ‘I think…’, she just gave the facts and wrote what she saw. I definitely have a different view on taxidermy after reading this book. What I thought was just a weird, kinda morbid, pastime/hobby. I now see it as an art form and another way of expression, taxidermist try to capture life. Such as an artist tries to capture still-life.

I’m not the only person who thinks this way, Lisa V (satyridae), reviews: “Oh, this was fun! Yep, a book about taxidermy was fun. Milgrom delves into the history of taxidermy, and takes us on a fascinating natural history adventure in the process. She also, at the end, mounts her own squirrel. There are journeys into reconstruction of extinct animals as well as forays into fine art. It’s a delightful book, if you like that sort of thing. The writing is workmanlike, the storyline linear and clear. Nicely done.” So, whatever Milgrom was trying to get across, didn’t just change my view but another’s, and probably much more as well. She doesn’t even have to write this to change the mind of others but rather for her to learn more about the taxidermy industry.

Nonetheless, taxidermy is weird, but I do have a better understanding of why people do it now because I’ve read this book. You can be freaked out by something but still have an understanding of it. I find now, I am much more educated on the topic and can have an opinion about the topic and justify my opinion because this book talks about the different aspects and uses for taxidermy because it’s just not for decoration but also science. Overall, I would recommend this reading to a friend or anyone who asks about it. It’s an interesting read if you’re in the mood to learn about something and have a deeper understand for taxidermy.


  1. What is the definintion of a novel?

    “Milgrom’s style of writing is investigative where she researches a topic to have a better understanding of it and then dives into the art to try it out.” This is the how.

    “I definitely have a different view on taxidermy after reading this book.” This is the why, I think.

    It’s a bit different, but I’ll go with it, Diane.

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