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January 02, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC: An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History by Douglas J. Preston (St. Martin's: $13.95; 244 pp., illustrated). One of the world's great repositories of both natural and man-made objects, the American Museum of Natural History in Central Park offers visitors an array of treasures that includes two Tyrannosaurus rex skulls, 1.6 million beetles, the largest collection of skunks in formaldehyde and the skeleton of P.T. Barnum's famous elephant, Jumbo. Preston's informal accounts of the museum's collections and collectors range from the dinosaur "wars" waged by the rival 19th-Century paleontologists Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh and the career of the dashing Roy Chapman Andrews (who reportedly served as the model for Indiana Jones) to the 1964 robbery in which Roland "Murph the Surf" Murphy made off with the Star of India and the DeLong Star Ruby. Preston's conversational history is hardly comprehensive--the Museum's holdings are too vast to be chronicled in a single volume--but it offers some delightful armchair adventures.

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