Dr. McKenna

Renowned Paleontologist’s Library Returns to Museum

For decades, paleontologist Malcolm McKenna was a fixture at the American Museum of Natural History, where he served as the Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals. A giant in his field, Dr. McKenna, who passed away in 2008, penned hundreds of scientific papers and the book Classification of Mammals Above the Species Level, the standard for taxonomy of mammals both modern and extinct.

But while he made his name in the study of fossil mammals, McKenna was also famous for his belief that being an expert in just one area was not enough—and that well-rounded scientists should have broad interests and draw from a variety of fields.  

“He always wanted paleontology students to have another set of toolkits,” says current Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals John Flynn, who was urged to pursue his interests in paleomagnetics and geologic dating methods while under McKenna’s tutelage in the Columbia University-AMNH Ph.D. program. “Malcolm was insistent that you couldn’t be just a paleontologist.”

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Image: AMNH/ D.Finnin