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on June 18, 2012
This knowledgeable and thought provoking look at rarely recognized fauna will leave the reader pleasantly surprised. What might be another boring
science paper, instead conveys the Author,s appreciation and amazement of the central place these animals hold to our understanding of the tree of life.
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on December 21, 2014
One of those books we didn't want to end. My wife reads books out loud in the car as we drive to work and other places and a few we both fall in love with, Richard Fortey is an excellent story teller.
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on January 14, 2013
Really interesting, and the author's passion for his subject is admirable. Loved the descriptions of remote places he visited. Unfortunately the illustrations, which are crucial to understanding his anatomical descriptions, are tucked away at the back of the Kindle version so you neeed to flick forward and back to find them.
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on October 16, 2012
For the amateur seeking understanding of our origins, this is a great experience. For an arcane but fascinating subject, it is graced with clarity plus a rich bonus of wit. It will save about five miles of running to the dictionary if you read it on your Kindle. The insights regularly jump off the page and are too exciting to share here.
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VINE VOICEon September 24, 2012
Over the years, I have become an avid appreciator of Richard Fortey's books. I find them to be near perfect for the interested, if under-educated, layman such as I am. This is no exception. Having had my own first first-hand experience with horseshoe crabs recently, all the better.

While I do understand the wish on the part of a couple of the reviewers here for more technical biological background and detail, I cannot say that I find that a problem myself, and I suspect that there are many others like me, who have a solid interest, but lack the training and background knowledge to support a more in-depth treatment. I think Fortey has a pretty good idea of who he is writing for. The detail provided allows me to follow where he is going without finding myself bogged down trying to suss the finer points that other scientists, and the more specifically educated, might find more rewarding. By similar turn, though, I am not stupid and Fortey does not "write down" to his readers. What he does is what only the finest popular science writers are able to do: make the world he visits come alive in a coherent and exuberent manner.

And Fortey is a very good writer. He is able to allow his work to become personal to the reader and share his knowlege and experience in a conversational tone. This allows us, as readers, to be part of the conversation and not simply passive bodies in a lecture hall. This is a great big beautiful world we live in, filled with an almost endless pool of fascinating things to know about. I am not in a position myself to be able to explore them all first-hand, and so I am greatful for writers like Fortey who are able do some of that exploring and report back with such a clarity and sense of wonder.
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on August 12, 2012
I saw this book reviewed in the WSJ and it caught my attention as a potentially interesting out of field read. It did not disappoint. This is a remarkably engaging look at survivors from deep time. It is fairly technical and I made regular use of the glossary in the back and the geological timeline in the front. Fortey writes from personal experience - he visited many of the unique ecosystems he describes and saw and handled many of the plants and animals he discusses. This makes for both a scholarly and personal walk through time from deep in the pre-Cambrian up to the last million years. There are a number of take-aways from this book. Life is resilient and capable of great feats of survival. Life is fragile and most of the creatures that roamed the earth are no longer with us. Life shows great continuity and our genome links us to much of the life that came before us. For me this was not a one sit read, but had to be spread out over a week or two. It strikes me as a nice overview for the professional paleontologist and is a wonderful insight into the world of paleontology for the novice. As soon as I finished this I ordered another of Fortey's books - Life ....
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on December 10, 2013
Through describing organisms that have been on earth for hundreds of millions of years, Fortey informs the reader engagingly in the fascinating story of life, including discussions on symbiosis, co-evolution, convergence, parallel evolution, and much more. Geological changes, which play an important role in the story, are also well described. There are quite a bit of digressions, but they are actually equally interesting and brings the reader to the scene of the field work undertaken by the author and his colleagues. Fortey also explains the importance of paleontology together with genetic analysis in helping us to marvel at the elegance of evolution. He also discusses how periods of mass extinctions changed the direction if not drove the process of evolution. Uplifting and at times inspiring, Five stars.
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on November 29, 2012
Fortey holds the history of life on Earth in the palm of his hand. By drawing comparisons between existing organisms and plants and those preserved in fossils, he tells the story of evolution's successes and failures. Besides horseshoe crabs and velvet worms, meet the lungfish, the ginkgo tree, and the elusive tinamou, the most primitive bird alive, and know their struggle to persist - yes, thrive - through eons of time. He has full command of the subject both in the broad sweep and in the details. I appreciated his little asides on the current scientific literature suggesting that this or that consensus view might be wrong, or only partly correct (and thus signaling to the non-scientific reader that the body of science is ever-changing, always going forward by discussion and disagreement). The level of the book is about right: As a (physical) scientist myself I found it somewhat breezy (but I wasn't looking for technical writing), but the layperson should find it just right.

In truth, I rate this book a low 5, as the writing doesn't approach the luminous transcendence of that of nature writers such as Loren Eisley or even John J. Rowlands ("Cache Lake Country"). Fortey is a materialist (as most scientists are), showing wonder in nature as known solely through scientific inquiry. But I believe science cannot answer all questions; at the end of the day there is still mystery and awe in the realization that the whole is not the sum of the parts. The last two chapters pick up a bit on the "big themes", but Fortey also soft-pedals political issues, such as our own role as the cause of a current great extinction, and of climate change. That being said, "Horseshoe Crabs" represents the best in scientific writing in our generation.
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on March 28, 2014
The author takes you on a world wide journey seeking out and examining creatures that share clear structural and behavior characteristics of by gone eras. The author offers a lucid description of creatures and flora as currently found and their ancestors from the fossil record. A must read for those interested in or have a career ambition in biology, paleontology,
I liked the manner in which the author explained rather complex concepts making the scenes, creatures and fossil remains come alive on the page. The illustrations where well selected enhancing the text giving the reader illustrations and examples.
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on February 6, 2013
This book describes the details and importance of of various living animals and plants that have survived for up to 500 million years but it is pleasantly more than that. It is as easy to read as it is informative.

Reading this book is like sitting next to the expert as we experience what it takes to travel the world in search of these living specimens. It is full of gentle, British humor as he sets the scenes in geography and history. You learn a lot and have a few giggles along the way.

I recommend the book but did not rate it the highest beause it is a bit rambling and selective. More travel, leisure reading than academic textbook.
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