The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland's Most Unusual Museums

A. Kendra Greene (Author)


"Filled with charming illustrations, this delightful book about Iceland's 265 museums is as quirky and mesmerizing as the country's dreamscape itself." --Forbes

Mythic creatures, natural wonders, and the mysterious human impulse to collect are on beguiling display in this poetic tribute to the museums of an otherworldly island nation.

Iceland is home to only 330,000 people (roughly the population of Lexington, Kentucky) but more than 265 museums and public collections--nearly one for every ten people. They range from the intensely physical, like the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which collects the penises of every mammal known to exist in Iceland, to the vaporously metaphysical, like the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, which poses a particularly Icelandic problem: How to display what can't be seen? In The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, A. Kendra Greene is our wise and whimsical guide through this cabinet of curiosities, showing us, in dreamlike anecdotes and more than thirty charming illustrations, how a seemingly random assortment of objects--a stuffed whooper swan, a rubber boot, a shard of obsidian, a chastity belt for rams--can map a people's past and future, their fears and obsessions. "The world is chockablock with untold wonders," she writes, "there for the taking, ready to be uncovered at any moment, if only we keep our eyes open."

Product Details

$22.00  $20.24
Penguin Group
Publish Date
May 12, 2020
4.9 X 0.9 X 8.3 inches | 0.7 pounds

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About the Author

A. Kendra Greene is a writer and artist who has worked at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Chicago History Museum, the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, and the Dallas Museum of Art, where she was a writer in residence. She has an MFA in nonfiction and a graduate certificate in book arts from the University of Iowa and has been the recipient of a Fulbright grant, a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, and a Harvard Library Innovation Lab Fellowship. She lives in Dallas, Texas, where she is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Texas, a guest artist at Nasher Sculpture Center, and an associate editor at Southwest Review.


"Unseen treasures are hidden in the corners of Iceland--and inside this book. Glittering with whimsy and speckled with small drawings, The Museum of Whales provides a much-needed detour to a place most of us won't ever get to see." --Newsweek

"A delightful one-of-a-kind journey . . . Insightful . . . Greene turns what easily could have become a mere cabinet of curiosities into a thoughtful and complex work. . . . Almost as hard to classify as it would be not to enjoy, Greene's expertly assembled blend of travel writing, history, museum studies, and memoir proves as memorable as any museum exhibition." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A beguiling and witty assessment of a country's obsessive urge to curate . . . There's an air of Italo Calvino's fantastical Invisible Cities wafting its way throughout." --Kirkus Reviews

"A masterpiece. By way of exploring the many humble, arguably eccentric museums of Iceland, Greene gives us a portrait of humanity that is quietly, cumulatively thrilling, as startling in its many revelations as the collections and collectors she portrays. Greene is the best kind of guide: funny, probing, generous of mind and heart, fully alive to the essential human yearning expressed in these miraculous little museums. Read this book. You will be happier, and richer in spirit, for it." --Ben Fountain, bestselling author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

"Greene's voice is probing and hilarious; her sentences are vivacious and wild. This is the gold standard by which all future essays about Icelandic penis museums will be measured." --Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

"So attentive and meticulous and compassionate a voice, a touch, that every light and feathery (avian, human) thing here gathered--into this curatorial piece about our curatorial passions, about having, naming, meaning--seems pristine in all its qualities, unaltered in the handling, in the open palm presenting it. Greene knows to hold it out a bit, away from her, into the cold Icelandic air, to let the subtler meanings of the thing escape the thing, extend the taxonomic thing beyond itself." --David Searcy, author of Shame and Wonder

"Like a dream both feverish and freezing, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See works on the reader elementally. As the sentences unspool their disarming lyricism, carrying with them the flotsam and jetsam of strange fact and stranger interpretation, Greene allows delight to converse with revulsion, incantation with nightmare, tradition with oddity." --Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Preparing the Ghost

"Kendra Greene has brought together so much of what makes good storytelling: the compelling and untrammeled subject of museums, the dark mystery of human motivation, and the eviction of the quiet, unbidden black island we call Iceland. This is a book that opens a pathway into the depth and variegated distances of the human heart, enriching the experience we call: to be alive." --Kurt Caswell, author of Getting to Grey Owl

"A delightful, lyrical tribute to those who gather, record, and preserve. This is a book brought to life by its own subject matter: by curiosity, obsession, and the desire to share with others our own sense of wonder." --Malachy Tallack, author of The Un-Discovered Islands

"Kendra Greene understands that a museum can itself be an obsessive work of art, the long fuse of a fever dream that must be shared. And share she does, her wit and deep curiosity casting sparks across every page." --Philip Graham, author of The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon

"´╗┐The setting may be Iceland, but Greene's brilliant prose--by turns funny and powerfully poetic--explores a much more universal human instinct to collect and save. This is a book about our imagination's ability to see what is not there--to pull mythic tales from real things and to find truth in our missing pieces. A beautiful, buoyant read." --Christine Coulson, author of Metropolitan Stories