|Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms|
The Story of the Animals and Plants
That Time Has Left Behind,
by Richard Fortey
Vintage Books | 2012 | 332 pp.
Fortey - a paleontologist, among other things - brings an easy, pleasant sort of grandfather-scholar approach to dissecting Earth's biological tree, all the way from bacterium to humanoids; he presents history in an unfolding matter-of-fact fashion while also managing to be incredibly personable. There are a lot of scientific names and, if you either never took Latin or you sleepily skimmed through all of your biology lessons, you might think you'd find yourself in some Cretaceous weeds, but Fortey never leaves the reader without a thorough explanation.
He is, at every turn, rich in his poetic imagery, and he presents every gnarled branch in our history with an amicable humor that might make science fun even for someone less inclined to find it so. As with any effective book on the natural sciences, there are also reference pages at both ends of the book. And Fortey has arranged the chapters in such a way that you feel - all the way to the epilogue - as if you have been on this journey with the author across continents, through fields and rainforests, and deep into the past.
One cannot help but appreciate the aesthetically pleasing nature of passages like this:
Compared with human history, the seas are eternal, and the medusae pulse on and on, like an unstoppable heartbeat.Nor could one lack appreciation for the author's frank observation of the attractions of being Norwegian. Nor ignore this stinging assessment:
To give one example, the curious and venomous platypus claw always seemed to have more to do with reptiles than mammals (who, with the exception of critics, entirely lack venom).I know what you're thinking..."wait, platypodes (yes, that's the plural) are VENOMOUS?"
See? This proves my point about Fortey's intellectual appeal: you haven't even picked up this book and already you've learned something new.