The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Before there were very many museums, individuals would collect strange specimens from real life–two-headed goats, strange human skeletons, strange artifacts, and so forth; these individuals would then display these items and charge an admission. These facilities were often called cabinets of curiosities. The rise of the public museum, which was often free, led to the decline of the cabinets, and ultimately, their demise.
Nora is an archaeologist who works at a museum in New York City. One day, a strange man shows up. He tells Nora that she has to come along and he needs her help. The man’s name is Pendergast; he claims to be a FBI agent. He takes her to a construction site. What she sees there is something she would not have expected in a million years. Down below, there are old coal tunnels. Inside these coal tunnels are bodies, old bodies. They’re mostly bodies of young adults and teenagers. Each of the bodies has been mutilated in a specific way, part of their spinal column has been removed. She gathers what information she can and leaves.
What follows is a strange story that Nora just couldn’t have expected. It involves a man who had a cabinet of curiosity and a doctor who rented rooms from him. There are tales about a man who wanted to prolong his life. Maybe he figured out how to do it. Maybe he’s still alive. When a rash of similar killings starts up in the city, Pendergast and Nora have to do something about it. They have to figure out if it’s a copycat or if the real mad scientist himself is still alive, over a hundred years later.
What I liked
This book was highly interesting. I liked the mystery. I liked all the science in it. I liked the history in it. I liked the “woo” in it. Woo has its time and its place, but there was just the right amount of woo in this book.
All the explanations about the cabinets of curiosities was educating. I knew of their existence, but I didn’t know the exact nomenclature used. Yes, I also knew that there was quite a bit of those exhibits that were faked. The cabinets sort of held the same status as the freak shows that used to tour around.
Archaeology is an interest of mine; I seriously thought about becoming an archaeologist at one point. It’s a mystery. You find something in the ground and you have to figure out what it was for, why it existed, and who used it. Don’t you just want to know?
The idea of prolonging life is a question we probably should have solved by now. Who knows–maybe someone has. We have managed to live longer, but we haven’t managed to get a great quality of life by doing so. We could all argue that to live a long time, let’s say a hundred and seventy years, that we would want to be young enough, or rather in our prime, to be able to enjoy those extra years. Who wants to live to be a hundred and seventy years old if you’re old, wrinkly, and have to stay in a wheelchair all the time? The most we can expect these days, out of our life span, is about a hundred years, and they’re usually not good years after about eighty. Heck, they may not be good years after seventy. If I had the choice of living to be a hundred and seventy years old, but most of it would suck past ninety, or dying at ninety, I would choose to die at ninety. There’s too much crap in life to add decades on to it that aren’t going to be that great.
What I didn’t like
Despite how interesting this prolonging life debate is, it’s cliche. How many stories have you read that involve some scientist trying to prolong his life for nefarious purposes or even just debauchery? It’s so darn common. Maybe someone does it and shares his discovery with the rest of the world and it’s freely given. It always tends to be someone hoarding this secret for themselves, or offering it to only the very elite. Doesn’t that say something about humanity? Never is something like this given to everyone. This just proves how inherently selfish we can be as humans.
What’s in that strange hole we dug up? You don’t want to know.
If someone found a way to prolong life, do you think they would share their secret?
If you had the choice of living multiple decades more than usual, but it was awful, or dying at a normal age, which would you choose?