Synopses & Reviews
From one of the world’s leading natural scientists and the acclaimed author of Trilobite!, Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
and Dry Storeroom No. 1
comes a fascinating chronicle of life’s history told not through the fossil record but through the stories of organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, throughout time. Evolution, it seems, has not completely obliterated its tracks as more advanced organisms have evolved; the history of life on earth is far older—and odder—than many of us realize.
Scattered across the globe, these remarkable plants and animals continue to mark seminal events in geological time. From a moonlit beach in Delaware, where the hardy horseshoe crab shuffles its way to a frenzy of mass mating just as it did 450 million years ago, to the dense rainforests of New Zealand, where the elusive, unprepossessing velvet worm has burrowed deep into rotting timber since before the breakup of the ancient supercontinent, to a stretch of Australian coastline with stromatolite formations that bear witness to the Precambrian dawn, the existence of these survivors offers us a tantalizing glimpse of pivotal points in evolutionary history. These are not “living fossils” but rather a handful of tenacious creatures of days long gone.
Written in buoyant, sparkling prose, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a marvelously captivating exploration of the world’s old-timers combining the very best of science writing with an explorer’s sense of adventure and wonder.
"Compared to sponges and cyanobacteria, human life is in its infancy. In this delightful account, former Natural History Museum (London) paleontologist Fortey (The Hidden Landscape: A Journey into the Geological Past) gives us the stories of those plants, animals, and other creatures that have survived from Earth's early days the planet's 'true marathon runners.' We encounter the horseshoe crab sealing off wounds with its strange blue blood, the leisurely lungfish surfacing for a puff of air before returning to sweep the mud of Australia's Mary River, and the rainbow of extremophile bacteria huddling within the sulphuric maws of Yellowstone's boiling geysers. Fortey examines factors that might have contributed to these species' longevity and, mourning the threat from climate change and invasive species that looms over these ancient organisms, contemplates what these creatures might teach us 'as a metaphor for the brevity of human history in the face of true persistence.' In his quest, Fortey treks to a variety of far-flung locales, from the quaint fishing villages perched on Delaware Bay to the stark, windswept cliffs of Mistaken Point on the coast of Newfoundland, and misty Chinese mountain peaks ribbed with primeval stands of gingko trees. Despite the odd title, even those squeamish about worms will find Fortey's enthusiastic excavations charming. Agent: David Godwin Associates Limited." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
One of the world's most gifted natural scientists--acclaimed author of Dry Storeroom No 1, Life, Earth,
--now gives us a fascinating book that reveals what the narratives of living creatures tell us about the history of evolution.
Evolution does not simply obliterate its tracks as more advanced organisms evolve. Scattered across the globe, organisms and ecosystems that survive from far earlier times can speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. It is these animals and plants that Richard Fortey visits in the field, taking the reader on a voyage to the exotic, and sometimes everyday, places in which they live. Landscapes are evoked, boulders are turned over, seas are paddled as he explains the importance of understanding plants and animals as pivotal points in evolutionary history itself. Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms is a journey across the globe and across time that weaves a rich and brilliantly delineated tapestry of how life and our planet have evolved together.
About the Author
Richard Fortey was a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London until his retirement in 2006. He is the author of several books, including Fossils: The Key to the Past; The Hidden Landscape, which won the Natural World Book of the Year in 1993; Life: A Natural History of Four Billion Years of Life on Earth; Trilobite!, which was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Earth: An Intimate History; and Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum. He has won the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing About Science from Rockefeller University and the Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society. He was president of the Geological Society of London during its bicentennial year in 2007 and is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Oxfordshire.
Table of Contents
TABLE OF GEOLOGICAL PERIODS
The Search for the Velvet Worm
Life in Hot Water
An Inveterate Bunch
Of Fishes and Hellbenders
Heat in the Blood
Survivors Against the Odds