Jeff Hoke,
The Museum of Lost Wonder
(Weiser, 2006)

Who are we? Why are we here? What happens after death? What is the meaning of life? Jeff Hoke doesn't know either, but as curator of The Museum of Lost Wonder, he's just as curious as you are. And if you're not curious, the Museum is here at last to remedy that situation. Go inside quickly.

The Museum of Lost Wonder has been under construction and open to public perusal for some time. Most of the material has been previously released as black-and-white pamphlets, and some of the grander, full-color displays are available for interactive walkthroughs online for visitors wanting to wander off the written page. But this is the first time all the museum's displays have been available in their full glory to a mass market.

Hoke is a professional museum designer by trade, and it shows in the masterful structure of The Museum of Lost Wonder. The book feels more like a real museum than any text should, with rooms roughly based on alchemical principals, covering the evolution of the universe and everything in it through the alchemical process. There are displays, illuminations and elaborate make-it-yourself models that leave even frequent readers with an inescapable feeling of unexamined rooms and updating displays forever awaiting exploration. Those displays that are visible are gorgeous and always challenging. There are impossible photographs, like the baby dragon's skull, watercolor portraits of a strange wooden cipher-life form called Gnomon, a Tibetan Wheel of Life and the eternally unknowable condensed to black-and-white symbols. As in any good museum, the art is integral to the discussion, not merely a digression.

Besides the immediately captivating displays and experiments, Hoke papers his rooms with essays referencing traditions from Atlantis to America, but never presumes to tell visitors which, if any, theories they should believe. This is a place to honor wonder, not just knowledge. It's possible, maybe even desirable, to leave the museum more confused than when you entered. But with experiments, arguments and new universes pouring out of the halls, it's not possible to leave the museum bored.

The Museum of Lost Wonder is not for everyone, or even for every day. For those bored souls who think pictures mean a book is for children, or those only comfortable with knowledge in its more concrete and tested forms, or just those practical moments when you need to wash the dishes and get food on the table and the kids out the door before the bus comes, the Museum won't do. But for those who still dizzy themselves staring into the sky or see dinner as a grand chemistry experiment, and perhaps most of all for those horrible days when the bus has come and gone because you just can't find any point to getting on for one more ride, The Museum of Lost Wonder is more than an answer. It's an adventure.

by Sarah Meador
28 October 2006

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