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Rarest of the Rare SEPTEMBER 2015

The wonderful world of the Harvard Museum of National History

Stepping into the Harvard Museum of Natural History is akin to stepping into a freezeframe of nature itself, caught mid-bite, mid-leap, mid-pounce. A treasure trove of wonders from the far reaches of nature, captured from jungles, hunted from the skies; traded and bartered for by explorers as fascinating as the specimens they bore home; scientists and madmen who reached into the chaos of the natural world and catalogued it, studied it, and left us a legacy that only grows. For the museum is not a relic – a snapshot of a golden age long gone, something nostalgic and static – but a vital building block in modern biology. As Edward O. Wilson states in the Foreword to The Rarest of the Rare, our newly republished survey of the museum’s collections, more than 85% of species on the Earth are yet to be described. Our world may be shrinking, but in its hidden corners lurk creatures, plants and organisms that we risk losing forever – before we even know that they exist. 
Reissued by popular demand, and in paperback for the first time, The Rarest of the Rare thrums with the energy that built the Museum of Natural History. Beautiful illustrations pick out the highlights of the collection – from the fragile filigree of boa constrictor bones to the weight of a rare Elephant Bird Egg; Tasmanian tigers (now lost forever) prowling in glass cabinets; Darwin’s trophies from his famous trip on the Beagle; and many more. Woven in amongst the detailed descriptions of the exhibits are the stories of those who found them; the explorers who made the museum possible. 

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age SEPTEMBER 2015

New book accompanies historic new exhibition at the Science Museum in London

On 4th October 1957, Russia launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. Four years later Yuri Gagarin followed, the first man to venture into the cold dark reaches of space. What was it like for him, alone in the airless void, surrounded by untouchable stars? On his shoulders rested the dreams of a nation – for over a century Russian culture had been saturated with dreams of space travel, of cities on the moon, of travel to foreign planets. He swung around the planet in silence, and beneath him the space race surged on, mankind reaching higher, further; developing new technology; and always, always dreaming of those distant stars.

It is a peculiarly human characteristic: we dream of space, of the seemingly unreachable, of the near-impossible. Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age is a landmark new exhibition at the Science Museum in London tracing Russia’s unique development of this characteristic – for it was Russians who first entered space; who first sent up dogs, then men and women; who carried out the first spacewalk, and who led the way with developing space stations. But space travel is much more than the politics of the age, or the bold adventurers who went where no one had gone before. Behind these barrier-breaking feats lay a huge programme of rocket science, space technology and medicine, and the stories of these support activities behind the scenes are often as absorbing as the high-profile achievements.

The accompanying book, edited by Doug Millard, which Scala is publishing in collaboration with the Science Museum, brings together essays from expert contributors – from the daughter of the first woman into space, to Aleksandr Lazutkin who experienced the horror of a fire in orbit – along with illustrations of all the objects in the exhibition and additional historical images.

During September and October 2015 the book will be available only from the Science Museum, which is releasing it in paperback. From 30th October it will also be available as a hardback from all good bookstores.

The exhibition Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age opens at the Science Museum on 18th September 2015. You’ve got a little time before then – go outside, look up at the sky and think about the men and women who got there; what they have achieved; and the legacy they left. How we are still reaching onwards and upwards, and how sometimes – just sometimes – we achieve our wildest, strangest dreams.

New guidebook published on All Hallows by the Tower church SEPTEMBER 2015

Famous London church is situated next to the Tower of London

In the heart of London, All Hallows by the Tower reaches towards the sky, an oasis of ancient calm in the bustling metropolis that has grown up around it. Founded around the year 675, the church has remained a symbol of Christian light and charity, the beating heart of a community that reaches from Tower Hill to the City of London, and to places beyond. 

Founded five centuries after the arrival of Roman centurions to British shores, the church started life as a wooden building; imagine a mass of huddled Anglo-Saxons praying for salvation from the marauding Vikings as winter winds sang outside. The Vikings settled down in time, London absorbing another generation of warriors, but All Hallows is a patchwork of eras, reflecting its history. It includes the oldest surviving Saxon arch in the City of London, which itself is made from earlier Roman floor tiles. Medieval stonework gives way to the spike of a Cromwellian church tower. The font cover is exquisitely carved by Grinling Gibbons. In the eighteenth century, church registers were secreted in a dry lead cistern to prevent alteration by pro-Puritan revisionists – a common practice then by officials who wished to paint Cromwell in a brighter light (conveniently forgetting his famous invocation to be depicted ‘warts and all’).

The church was badly bombed in the Second World War but was resurrected by an international restoration campaign. Appropriately, the altar features a phoenix rising triumphant and eternal in a blaze of holy fire, while stained-glass windows glow with the bright hues of contemporary artwork. Everywhere you turn is a fresh part of history, weighted with significance. The air in the church is heavy with the past, and ready for the future.

Scala’s new guidebook to the church takes the visitor on a pilgrimage through its many ages, highlighting the key pieces of decoration – but more than that, it provides a guide for a tale that stretches back to the foundation of our city and will continue after we are gone.