By Beth Py-Lieberman
For the past few decades, Richard Conniff has turned his story-telling talents into a kind of one-man industry with copious magazine articles published not only in Smithsonian, but National Geographic, the New York Times, The Atlantic and other prestigious publications. And from his nine books, including Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time, The Ape in Corner Office and The Natural History of the Rich, he’s earned his credentials as a passionate observer of the peculiar behaviors of animals, and humans.
Naturally, such a corporate undertaking was met with a degree of journalistic skepticism: “I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t think I could find a great story or a great narrative arc in one museum.” But then the prize-winning science writer starting digging into the backstory of the New Haven, Connecticut, establishment and what tumbled forth included scandals, adventure, ferocious feuds and some of the wildest, or deranged, derring-do of the scientific world.
On the occasion of the publication of Conniff’s new book House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties and the Story of Life on Earth, we sat down to discuss the Peabody Museum—the wellspring of some the most distinguished scholarship of our times.
What was the spark that really got you going on this entire project?
I began with John Ostrom and his discovery of the active, agile, fast dinosaurs in the 1960s and the beginning of the dinosaur revolution. His life sort of runs right up through the discovery that modern birds are just